Geert van Calster

Geert is an independent legal practitioner and academic. An alumnus of the College of Europe, Bruges (promotion Stefan Zweig), Prof van Calster is the Head of Leuven Law's department of European and international law. Geert is a visiting professor at Monash University (Melbourne) and at the China-EU School of Law in Beijing, and a visiting lecturer at King's College, London. He was previously i.a. a visiting lecturer at Oxford University. He was called to the Bar in 1999 after having worked as of counsel to a City law firm since 1995, and practices in the areas of Private international law /Conflict of Laws; WTO law; (EU) environmental law; and EU economic law.

Homepage: https://gavclaw.wordpress.com

Hong Ziyun v Chan Kwan Ming. A reminder of the one-stop shop principle in Hong Kong.

In Hong Ziyun v Chan Kwan Ming [2019] HKCFI 2125, Chan J at the end of August summed up the Hong Kong approach (as it is that of the common law) to consolidation of jurisdiction at 31: ‘the approach of the courts should be to favor resolution of all disputes associated with a transaction in one jurisdiction.’ That is the so-called one stop shop or one stop principle (whether or not hyphenated).

As Herbert Smith Freehills note, in a host of related loan documents only one of the documents contained an express jurisdiction clause (in favour of the court of Xiamen in Mainland China). The defendants applied for and obtained a stay of proceedings in Hong Kong in favour of Mainland China. HSF summarise the reasoning (the judgment itself is not too long and logically structured) helpfully as follows:

  1. When there is no express jurisdiction clause, the applicable law is that which has the “closest and most real connection” with the transaction.
  2. Most of the defendants’ business was in Mainland China. They also spent most of their time in Mainland China. On the evidence presented, the court was unable to place significant reliance on the permanent “residence” of any of the defendants in Hong Kong as showing any real or closest connection with Hong Kong.
  3. The location of the debt, currency, and place of performance of the loans as well as the execution of and governing law clause in the SA all had a strong connection with Mainland China.

Geert.

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Heiploeg: Transfer of undertakings, employee protection and pre-packs. The Dutch Supreme Court Advocate-General on the implications of CJEU Smallsteps.

I am no expert in all things insolvency and restructuring. I have an interest in it because of the conflict of laws issues (see the Insolvency Regulation) and the relationship with Brussels Ia. I am also interested in the labour law implications of corporate restructuring. These trigger highly relevant ethical, economic, and legal concerns.

Directive 2001/23 protects employees’ rights in the event of transfer of undertakings. The position of employees of course may be seen by potential investors as a hurdle to get onboard. Employees are inevitably on their cost cutting horizon. (For emperical Dutch research see Aalbers et al here and review in NL of same on Corporate Finance Lab).

The Directive exempts (Member States may provide otherwise) bankruptcies ‘proper’ and analogous insolvency proceedings. (They have to be under the management of what the Insolvency Regulation now calls an insolvency practitioner: an insolvency trustee, in other words). In C-126/16 Smallsteps, the Court held that pre-packs also known as ‘hushed bankruptcies’ do not qualify: since such a procedure is not ultimately aimed at liquidating the undertaking, the economic and social objectives it pursues are no explanation of, or justification for, the employees of the undertaking concerned losing the rights conferred on them by Directive 2001/23 (at 50).

Frederik De Leo reported here more extensively and with more knowledge of the issues, on the implications of Smallsteps, including implications for both the Dutch and the Belgian Statutes and proposals on pre-packs and corporate restructuring. On the Dutch implications, Robert van Moorsel had interesting insight here (in Dutch).

In Heiploeg, which was initiated before judgment in Smallsteps but is still being litigated (by Trade Unions), the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad is now essentially asked to apply the various conditions which the Court of Justice imposed for the bankruptcy exception of Directive 2001/13 to apply. Its procureur-generaal (essentially here fulfilling the role of an Advocate-General at the CJEU) opined in a well-documented Opinion on 1 November 2019 (apologies for late reporting: the Opinion traveled all sorts of corners in my briefcase) and proposes that the Supreme Court annul the lower court’s application of Smallsteps (which had found that the conditions for exception from the employees’ rights Directive did apply).

The Opinion is not I fear accessible to non-Dutch speakers – I am hoping proper experts will report more extensively once the Hoge Raad’s judgment is out.

Geert.

 

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Two negatives a positive make? A brief report on anti anti-suit in (among others) continental courts.

A flag on anti anti-suit. Steve Ross reports here on the Paris Court of First Instance (Tribunal de Grande Instance) judgment in RG 19/59311 IPCom v Lenovo /Motorola granting a preliminary injunction.  IPCOM GmbH & Co. KG is an intellectual property rights licensing and technology R&D company. Lenovo/Motorola a telecommunications company. As Steve writes, the French Court held that it had jurisdiction over the case with regard to a patent infringement claim and ordered Lenovo to withdraw the motion for an anti-suit injunction which that company had brought before the US District Court of the Northern District of California in so far as it concerns the French part of the patent.

Steve notes (I have not read the actual judgment) that ‘according to the French Court, the international French public order (ordre public) does not recognise the validity of an anti-suit injunction, except where its purpose is to enforce a contractual jurisdiction clause or an arbitral clause. Under all other circumstances, anti-suit injunction proceedings have the effect of indirectly disregarding the exclusive power of each sovereign state to freely determine the international jurisdictional competence of their courts.’

Peter Bert also reports last week a German anti anti-suit injunction at the Courts in Munchen, also for IPR cases.

For progress in the US anti-suit (one ‘anti’ only) application see order here.

Juve Patent report (as does Peter) that the High Court, too, has issued a (partial) anti anti-suit in the case however I have not been able to locate the judgment.

Note that continental courts (see in the French case) finding that anti-suit in general infringes ordre public is an important instruction viz future relationships with UK court orders post Brexit (should the UK not follow EU civil procedure).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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Anti-suit and arbitration. Enka Insaat ve Sanayi v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al.

[2019] EWHC 3568 (Comm) Enka Insaat ve Sanayi v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al. is the very swift follow-up to [2019] EWHC 2729 (Comm) which I review here. I flag the case mostly for:

  • at 8, Baker J siding with Males J (and myself) per Nori Holding, that West Tankers is still good authority following Brussels Ia despite Wathelet AG’s suggestions in Gazprom;
  • the brief reference at 9, as to whether under Rome I injunctive relief for threat of contractual breach is covered by lex fori or lex contractus. Baker J concludes that issue simply by reminding us that Rome I does not apply to arbitration agreements;
  • At 47 ff the discussion of choice of law in spite of no express clause having been included to that effect. Specifically, with reference to Sulamerica, whether choice of seat may imply choice of law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1. 

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Ships classification and certification agencies: The immunity ship ain’t sailing according to Szpunar AG in Rina.

In C‑641/18 Szpunar AG opined on Tuesday and notes that the request of the referring court brings to mind the current debate about the influence of human rights on private international law. It seeks to ascertain whether and, if so, to what extent the scope of ‘civil and commercial’ in the Brussels Ia Regulation may be influenced by the interest in ensuring access to the courts, a right guaranteed by Article 47 Charter.

(The case itself is subject to Brussels I which did not yet include ‘acta iure imperii’. As the AG notes at 56, this is merely a clarification following CJEU interpretation of the previous concept.

Relatives of the victims, along with survivors of the sinking of the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98, a ship sailing under the flag of the Republic of Panama, which happened in 2006 on the Red Sea and caused the loss of more than a thousand lives, have brought an action before the District Court, Genoa against the companies Rina SpA et Ente Registro Italiano Navale. Claimants argue that the defendant’s certification and classification activities, the decisions they took and the instructions they gave, are to blame for the ship’s lack of stability and its lack of safety at sea, which are the causes of its sinking.

Defendants plead immunity from jurisdiction. They state that they are being sued in respect of certification and classification activities which they carried out as delegates of a foreign sovereign State, namely the Republic of Panama. They argue activities in question were a manifestation of the sovereign power of the foreign State and the defendants carried them out on behalf of and in the interests of that State.

The AG first of all reviews how the principle of customary international law concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States relates to the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. He starts his analysis noting that in the absence of codification at international level (international conventions on the issue not having met with great success), the principle concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States remains to a large extent governed by customary international law.

There is little use in quoting large sections of the Opinion verbatim so please do refer to the actual text: the AG opines (referring ia to C-154/11 Mahamdia) that it is unnecessary to refer to the principle of customary international law concerning State immunity from jurisdiction when considering the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. Those principles he suggests do play a role when it comes to enforcing any exercise of such jurisdiction against the will of the party concerned.

At 46: ‘the distinction between disputes which are civil or commercial matters and those which are not must be drawn by reference to the independent criteria of EU law identified by the Court in its case-law. Consequently, an act performed in the exercise of State authority (acta iure imperii) from the perspective of the law relating to immunity, is not necessarily the same as an act performed in the exercise of State authority according to the independent criteria of EU law.’ (The latter as readers of the blog will know, are not always clearly expressed; see ia my review of Buak).

In the second place, the AG then considers whether an action for damages brought against private-law entities concerning their classification and/or certification activities falls within the scope of BIa. At 83, following extensive review of the case-law (almost all of which I also reviewed on the blog and for earlier cases, in Chapter 2 of the Handbook), the AG opines that neither the fact that the acts in question were performed on behalf of and in the interests of the delegating State nor the possibility of the State’s incurring liability for harm caused by those acts, in itself conclusively characterises those acts as ones performed in the exercise of powers falling outside the scope of the ordinary legal rules applicable to relationships between private individuals. 814/79 Rüffer also makes a non-conclusive appearance.

At 95 then follows the core of the factual assessment: defendants’ role is limited to carrying out checks in accordance with a pre-defined regulatory framework. If, following the revocation of a certificate, a ship is no longer able to sail, that is because of the sanction which, as the defendants admitted at the hearing, is imposed by Panama law. Not acta iure imperii – the issue falls under Brussels Ia.

Finally, must as a result of a plea of immunity from jurisdiction a national court decline to exercise the jurisdiction which it ordinarily derives from the Regulation? In a section which will be interesting to public international lawyers, the AG reviews international and EU law (particularly Directive 2009/15) and concludes that there is no principle in international law which grants immunity to certification agencies in cases such as the one at hand.

To complete the analysis, the AG opines that should the Court disagree with his views on immunity, the national court’s views on jurisdiction would not be impacted by the right to court guarantees of the Charter, for there is no suggestion at all that the victims would not have proper access to Panamian courts for their action.

Note of course that the Opinion does not address lex causae.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1.

 

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Suing the Chief of the Israeli General Staff in The Netherlands. Ismail Ziada v Benjamin Gantz tests Dutch forum necessitatis rules.

Since the news broke in Mid-September of a Dutch claimant of Palestinian descent, suing former Chief of the General Staff Benjamin Gantz in The Netherlands, I have regularly checked ECLI NL for any kind of judgment. So far to no avail. I report the case now summarily, for it will be good to have a judgment (presumably first interlocutory: on the jurisdiction issue) to chew on.

The claim invokes the Dutch forum necessitatis rule (Article 9 CPR; other European States have similar rules), often also known as ‘universal jurisdiction’ however clearly the rule has its constraints. Claimant’s lawyer, Meester Liesbeth Zegveld, argues the application of the rule here. The piece includes assessment of sovereign immunity, and the involvement of Article 6 ECHR. Its outcome will also play a role in issues of corporate social responsibility and jurisdiction.

Clearly the moment I have a court opinion I shall post more.

Geert.

 

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The mooted Flemish ban on fireworks displays. A concise primer (with referral) on exhaustion, property rights (ECHR) and the internal market (TFEU).

Anyone short of exam essay Qs, consider the planned Flemish ban (with room for local, event-related exceptions) on fireworks displays. Akin to the issues in Ivory Ban or pet collars, at the core of the legal analysis is the legality of use restrictions on goods lawfully marketed in other Member States (see also my brief review of Amsterdam’s booze bikes here).

The exhaustive effect or not of EU secondary law will have to be discussed, as will Article 34 TFEU (including consultation and commissioned research issues and of course proportionality), and indeed A1P1 (Article 1, first Protocol) ECHR.

(For a recent more locally relevant issue, see the Supreme Court’s (Raad van State) December 2019 annulment of an Antwerp highway code rule banning the use of quads and introducing a strict exemption policy).

Geert.

 

 

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