Dooley v Castle: Court of Appeal overturns jurisdictional objections, claims over alleged offshore pension scam can continue.

Dooley & Ors v Castle Trust & Management Services Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 1569  is the successful appeal against Russen HHJ’s first instance judgment which I discussed here – readers best consult that post for context, before reading on. For reasons I explain in that post, judicial relations between the UK and Gibraltar pre-Brexit engaged the Brussels 1968  Convention.

Carr LJ wrote the reasons for overruling the judgment, and the Court of Appeal does find there is jurisdiction in E&W. [35] she reminds us of the evidentiary burden at the jurisdictional stage

For the purpose of the evidential analysis, the standard lies between proof on the balance of probabilities and the mere raising of an issue. On contentious factual issues, the court takes a view on the material available if it can reliably do so; if a reliable assessment is not possible, there is a good arguable case for the application of the gateway if there is a plausible (albeit contested) evidential basis for it. The test is context-specific and flexible, and if there is an issue of fact the court must use judicial common sense and pragmatism, making due allowance for the limitations of the material available at an early point in the proceedings.

[41] ff the judge is held to have wrongly treated the relationship between Article 5 (mostly known for forum contractus and forum delicti reasons but also including a trust forum: A5(6) concerning trust-related claims in the courts of the trust’s domicile) and Article 13 (the forum consumptoris). [43] Articles 13 to 15 make up an entirely separate and self-contained section and there is no need or indeed allowance to first check whether Article 5’s conditions apply (including on the conditions for a ‘contract’ to exist), subsequently to check whether A13 ff (including the conditions for a ‘consumer contract’ to exist) apply with a consequence of disapplying A5. Both Opinion AG and judgment in CJEU C-96/00 Gabriel are called upon in solid support.

[48] Jurisdiction under Article 13 is thus a self-standing lex specialis and derogation from the general rule in Article 2. If jurisdiction is not established under Article 13, it may nevertheless arise under Article 5(1). But it is not necessary to establish jurisdiction under Article 5(1) in order to make it out under Article 13.

[49] The Judge’s error on this issue was material, in the light of his conclusion that any claim against Castle would fall within Article 5(6) (and so could not fall within Article 5(1)).

Continuing then on A13, the contentious issue is whether the Judge was wrong to conclude that the pensioners did not have the better of the argument for the purpose of A13:  i) that the proceedings were “proceedings concerning” contracts between the pensioners and Castle for the supply of services; and, if so, ii) that in England and Wales the conclusion of the contracts was preceded by specific invitations addressed to the pensioners.

Re i), [55] the Judge appears to have concluded that there was no contract, by reference to the lack of clarity as to the services to be provided by Castle beyond the contents of the Welcome Letter. On appeal Castle concede that a contract for services did exist between each pensioner and Castle, however that the services to be provided by Castle under each contract were limited to the technical execution of the relevant Deed of Adherence in each case and that therefore the proceedings, which made no complaint about the technical execution of the Deeds, were not “proceedings concerning a contract”.

Carr LJ [57ff] insists that the existence of a trustee-beneficiary relationship does not preclude the co-existence of a contract between the same parties, and, referring to language with strong ‘contract’ echo in the marketing, holds that there was indeed a contract between each of the pensioners and Castle, a relationship that went beyond mere technical execution of the deeds.

[61] ff then deals with ii), with the Court holding there is a good arguable case that each pensioner received (in the State of their domicile) a specific invitation addressed to them, such invitation crystallising at the moment that Management Services sent or handed them an application form. Carr LJ suggest that such an invitation might be sufficient for A13(3) purposes without more: A13 does not contain any express requirement for a connection between the invitation and the trader; the focus is on the existence of a sufficiently strong connection between the contract and the country of domicile of the consumer. However the claimants concede that there was a further requirement, namely that the invitation had to be made on behalf of the trader, here Castle. Arguendo, [66] Carr LJ holds 

there is a plausible evidential basis for the proposition that there was some sufficient connection between MS and Castle, including the possibility that MS was acting for Castle as a “middleman” of the type envisaged in the Schlosser Report (by cross-reference to the Giuliano/Lagarde Report). It is, for example, not in dispute that MS obtained Castle’s application forms and provided them to the pensioners. It appears that MS procured or facilitated production of all the complex documentation and declarations as required by Castle from the pensioners in the build-up to the application forms and transfers themselves.

[68] ff are the proceedings then “proceedings concerning” the contracts in question? The Court holds they are, at a general level for the proceedings are not about mismanagement of the trusts once established, but rather that the pensioners should never have entered the Schemes in the first place, and at a more specific level for the claims to relate to specific issues in the services agreement.

The claims can now proceed to trial where, as I noted before, applicable law will be one of the contested issues.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.1 and 2.2.9.2.2.

 

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