Archive for category Conflict of Laws /Private international law

Caribonum Pension Trustee v Pelikan. Ability of foreign defendant to satisfy a judgement is not a pre-requisite to a claimant obtaining a judgement.

Facts in [2018] EWHC 2321 (Ch.) Caribonum Pension Trustee v Pelikan are summarised by Anthony Garon here. A suggestion of abuse of process /Fraus was rejected by Clark M. Of interest to the blog is the suggested reason for abuse: Pelikan AG argued that the claim was an abuse of process because a relevant guarantee would not be enforceable in Switzerland and that there were insufficient non-Swiss assets to satisfy the claim.

At 40 however Master Clark holds that the ability of a defendant to satisfy a judgement is not a pre-requisite to a claimant obtaining a judgement. Claimant’s counsel convincingly submitted that it was pursuing the claim for the simple and appropriate purpose of securing payment of the sums due under a holding structure-related Guarantee; and that that was not an abuse of process.

Geert.

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Almazeedi v Penner. Independence of the judiciary in international commercial courts.

[2018] UKPC 3 Almazeedi v Penner at the Privy Council was recently brought to my attention by Christopher Grout. The case concerns a challenge to the independence of a judge sitting in the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands.

Judge in the present case was Cresswell J, former judge of the High Court of England and Wales from 1991 to 2007. Following his retirement from that position, he became in 2009 an additional judge of the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court, sitting ad hoc from time to time as required. The Division consisted of the Chief Justice and two other full-time judges, together with three additional judges sitting part-time, one of whom was Cresswell J. From a time late in 2011, he also became a Supplementary Judge of the Civil and Commercial Court, Qatar Financial Centre (although he was not in the end instructed or renumerated there).

Cresswell J was the judge assigned with the conduct of a winding-up petition and associated applications and thereafter with the winding-up of BTU Power Company (“BTU”). The entire economic interest in BTU was held by its preference shareholders who were in the main Qatari interests with strong state connections, and to a minor extent Dubai Islamic Bank. The present case involves a challenge to all aspects of Cresswell J’s activity. The challenge is made having regard to Cresswell J’s position as a judge in Qatar and to the involvement in the proceedings before him of these Qatari interests and of Qatari personalities representing or interested in them.

No suggestion of actual bias at any time in either court was ever made. The question relates rather to whether the fair-minded and informed observer would discount the risk of unconscious bias. The Privy Council held such observer would not so discount: at 34: ‘with some reluctance, [we have] come to the conclusion that the Court of Appeal was right to regard it as inappropriate for the judge to sit without disclosure of his position in Qatar as regards the period after 26 June 2013 and that this represented a flaw in his apparent independence’.

Note the dissenting opinion by Lord Sumption at 36 ff, who notes ‘Sir Peter Cresswell is not alleged to have done anything which could raise doubts about his independence. The case against him rests entirely on the notion that he might be influenced, possibly unconsciously, by the hypothetical possibility of action being taken against him in Qatar as a result of any decision in the Cayman Islands which was contrary to the Qatari Government’s interests. Hypothetical possibilities may of course found a case of apparent bias, but since there are few limits to the possibilities that can be hypothetically envisaged, there must be some substance to them.’

‘The notional fair-minded and informed observer whose presumed reaction is the benchmark for apparent bias, has only to be satisfied that there is a real risk of bias. But where he reaches this conclusion, he does so with care, after ensuring that he has informed himself of all the relevant facts. He is not satisfied with a look-sniff impression. He is not credulous or naïve. But neither is he hyper-suspicious or apt to envisage the worst possible outcome.’

I believe Lord Sumption’s approach is the better one. Yet it was not carried hence in international commercial courts the standards have become very exacting indeed.

Geert.

 

 

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The Hague Judgments project rolls on. And a quick note on [2018] FCA 549 Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese.

Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese [2018] FCA 549 was signalled to me by Michael Mitchell back in early May – now seems a good opportunity briefly to report on it. The Federal Court of Australia issued an anti-arbitration injunction to restrain a multinational food conglomerate from pursuing arbitration in New York. Kraft had pursued litigation in Australia which not only sought to restrain the respondent from certain radio and television advertising, but also sought final relief including damages.

Parties had agreed to mediate and arbitrate under the dispute resolution provisions of a Master Agreement for licensing of IP. Bega had acquired certain rights from Mondelez (a company in the Kraft group), including certain trademark rights that Kraft had licensed to Mondelez pursuant to the Master Agreement.

Of interest to the blog is the myriad number of issues that led the Court to issue the injunction, among others the fact that what was sought included interim relief, the position of which when it comes to enforcement is not entirely clear in the New York Convention. Throw intellectual property, mediation as well as arbitration, common law doctrine principles such as the Aldi rule in the mix, and the jurisdictional soup becomes quite attractive as well as complex. Precisely why intellectual property is hotly debated in the Hague Judgments project and likely to be excluded from it.

That latter brings me to the second part of the blog title: the HCCH have issued a Revised Draft Explanatory Report, and a document on the possible exclusion of anti-trust matters from the Convention as reflected in Article 2(1)(p) of the 2018 draft Convention. Both signal the continuing difficulty of the roll-out of the Hague Process, as well as continued intent to let the train roll into its end destination; although one wonders how many wagons will have been left behind en route.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2.

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Protection of privacy and private international law. Interim ILA report.

A short post effectively to deposit relevant documentation on the issue of privacy and private international law – which I frequently report on on the blog (e.g. use tag ‘rtbf’, or ‘internet’, or ‘privacy’, ‘Facebook’, or ‘Google’; see i.a. my recent posts re Facebook, Google , Schrems, etc.

Max Planck Luxembourg have the interim report on the International Law Association’s draft guidelines on jurisdiction and applicable law re privacy on their website, featuring many of the cases I have reported on over the years.

Happy reading.

Geert.

 

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Floating/Invalid Choice of Law Clauses. The Singapore High Court in Shanghai Turbo.

Marcus Teo has excellent analysis of Shanghai Turbo Enterprises Ltd v Liu Ming [2018] SGHC 172. The issue is well-known in contract law as such and takes one or two special forms in conflicts: what is the fate of a contract as a whole, and /or of contractual clauses individually, when part of a clause is defective.

In the case at issue, the relevant contractual clause read

This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China and each of the parties hereto submits to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China.”

As far as the choice of court part of this clause is concerned, non-exclusive choice of court comes with strings attached, depending on the laws of the States concerned: under the editorship of Mary Keyes, Michiel Poesen and I have contributed to an extensive comparative volume on same wich is forthcoming. However for choice of law one need not look at the specific laws of a State to appreciate that this clause thus formulated is simply a lame duck. No clear choice of law is made at all. The pragmatic solution is to ignore the useless clause and determine the proper law of the contract in the absence of a valid expression of parties’ autonomy. Yet conceptually an argument can, and has been made that to do so ignores the very high relevance of the lex contractus in the very contract formation – a conceptual quagmire which in EU law is addressed by Rome I’s ‘bootstrap’ principle.

In the case at issue, the High Court follows a pro-validation approach (favor contractus): the invalidity of the choice of law clause does not affect the formation of the main contract. A commercially sensible solution which Marcus analysis critically in excellent detail.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.7.

 

 

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BUAK. Bot AG on the concept of ‘court’ in the Brussels I Recast.

In Case C-579/17 BUAK (Bauarbeiter-Urlaubs- u. Abfertigungskasse v Gradbeništvo Korana d.o.o.) Bot AG opined end October – the English version is not yet (if ever) available. The case was formulated by the referring court as one on the scope of application of the Recast – in particular the social security exception, and the ‘civil and commercial’ charachter. However the AG suggests this is a question which the referring court by now ought to be able to answer itself, given the extensive case-law of the Court. Instead, the question is turned into one on admissibility, namely whether BUAK, a quango in the social security arena (here: the Construction Workers’ Leave and Severance Pay Fund requiring from a Slovenian company additional wages resulting from rules on posted workers) qualifies as a ‘court’ within the meaning of Article 53 of the Regulation.

This proviso now reads ‘The court of origin shall, at the request of any interested party, issue the certificate using the form set out in Annex I.’ The equivalent provision in Brussels I (Article 54) read ‘The court or competent authority of a Member State where a judgment was given shall issue, at the request of any interested party, a certificate using the standard form in Annex V to this Regulation.’ – emphasis added.

The Advocate General suggests that where issues relevant to Brussels I Recast (particularly: whether the issue falls at all within its scope) have not yet been discussed prior to the authority being asked to complete the Brussels I Recast form, such authority ought to be able to issue preliminary review requests to the CJEU. However (at 54) such authority qualifying as such (where it is a different authority from the court having taken the decision), ought to be exceptional: the whole point of the enforcement Title of the Regulation being speed and swiftness.

All in all an interesting turn of events.

Geert.

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

 

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National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon. Branches’ activities, Article 7(5) Brussels I Recast and engagement of Article 30.

Thank you Ali Malek QC who acts for claimants (and who as I have noted, is a busy and efficient bee in international litigation land) for alerting me to a further episode of Kazakhstan v BNYM. This current jurisdictional challenge is part of a long-running saga relating to the enforcement of a Swedish arbitration award dated 19 December 2013 in favour of the “Stati parties”, the Second to Fifth Defendants, and against the Second Claimant, the Republic of Kazakhstan (“RoK”).

Many of the issues are ex-Brussels I Recast and /or Lugano Convention yet I report on them anyway for they reveal interesting issues on the relationship between foreign courts relevant to attachment (and enforcement generally), and courts with jurisdiction on the merits.

In [2017] EWHC 3512 (Comm) National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon (BNYM) which I reviewed here, Popplewell J had dismissed claims essentially designed to establish that BNYM is not obliged or entitled to freeze assets of the National Fund by reason of Belgian and Dutch court attachment orders.

Teare J has now held a few weeks back – helpfully in [2018] EWHC 3282 (Comm) also summarising the many proceedings which the blog has not always reported on. Trigger for this latest instalment of proceedings is claimants having sought to challenge a Belgian conservatory attachment before an “Attachment Judge” of the Belgian court. The Attachment Judge upheld the attachment order in a judgment dated 25 May 2018.

RoK seeks a declaration that the debts or assets held by BNYM(London) and said to be subject to the attachment order are in fact held by BNYM(L) solely for the National Bank of Kazakhstan (“NBK”), the First Claimant. They therefore submit that the attachment order has no subject-matter, because there are no assets to attach. The Claimants contend that this question was referred to this court by the Belgian court.

A provision of Belgian law cited by the Attachment Judge, article 1456(2) of the Belgian Judicial Code, provides as follows: “If the third-party debtor disputes the debt claimed by the creditor, the case is brought before the competent trial judge or, as the case may be, the case is referred to the competent trial judge by the enforcement court.” Further proceedings are now pending in Belgium, in which the Stati parties seek to convert the ‘conservatory’ attachment order into an ‘executory’ attachment order. In those proceedings, the Stati parties have raised a number of arguments in support of their contention that the GCA assets are properly held for RoK (rather than merely NBK). These include Belgian-law arguments relating (inter alia) to piercing of legal personality, sham trusts, and “abuse of law”.

The crucial consideration discussed by Teare J in current proceeding is that the Stati parties submit that there is no “serious issue to be tried” (hence no jurisdiction) as between the Claimants and the Second to Fourth Defendants, (i.a.) because “the declarations sought […] will not affect the Belgian Court’s decision” since that Court “faces a number of Belgian law arguments unrelated to the GCA with regard to the ROK debt question”.

There was a dispute between Belgian law experts as to precisely what had been remitted by the Attachment Judge to the High Court and it is worth repeating each assertion in full: at 28-29

‘The evidence of Mr Brijs (the Stati parties’ Belgian law expert [GAVC fellow Leuven Class of 1993] ) is that “a pure question of English contractual law will not resolve the core dispute” because “a Belgian enforcement court would still have to evaluate – amongst other things – the arguments raised by the Stati parties under Belgian attachment law” such as piercing legal personality, sham trusts, and abuse of law. Further, “the Belgian Enforcement court did not decide the arguments – not because the judge “envisaged” that these arguments should be resolved by an English Court or because the Belgian Enforcement Court found that it could not decide them (when in fact it can) – but solely because the Belgian Enforcement Court considered that it did not need to decide them… It is difficult to conceive why an English court should decide on e.g. matters that concern Belgian public policy, or on the question whether there is a sham trust structure to the prejudice of the creditors and what the sanction/effect thereof is on the Belgian attachment.”

The evidence of Mr Nuyts (the Claimants’ Belgian law expert [GAVC colleague and learned friend extraordinaire ) is that “[t]here is nothing in the Belgian judgment to show that the Belgian Court envisaged the English court deciding only some of the issues, and not the arguments raised by the Stati parties such as piercing of legal personality, sham trust, and abuse of law. These arguments had been raised at length by the Stati parties in written submissions in the Belgian proceedings, and the Belgian Court has distinctly decided not to address any of these arguments, leaving them to be decided by the English Court… The Belgian Judgment holds in general that the “challenge” relating to “the debt of the third party” must be referred to the English court… [and] that it is for the English court to decide in general “whether or not a debt exists from BNYM towards Kazakhstan”.”

It is Mr Nuyts’ evidence that convinced Tear J. At 31 ‘In this case, however [GAVC despite Meester Brijs’ correct statement that there are circumstances in which the enforcement court is competent to decide on the merits], the enforcement court has clearly decided that the English court is the competent court to decide the merits.’ At 35 the relevant passages of the Belgian Court are copied:

“The seized-debtor is entitled to challenge the declaration from the garnishee before the attachment judge. However, this challenge relates to the debt of the third party and must be referred to that trial court in the proceedings on the merits, under article 1456, 2nd para. BJC. The competent trial court is, as stated by Kazakhstan itself, the English court who must apply its own national substantive law. […] Both requests relate to the subject-matter of the attachment, notably whether or not a debt exists from BNYM towards Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan disputes the existence of such debt. The attachment judge cannot and may not settle such dispute, but only the judge on the merits. The judge on the merits is, as already mentioned above, the English court who must apply its own national law.”

That finding on the scope of referral to the English courts, also plays a role in the assessment of abuse: at 46: ‘I do not consider that it is an abuse of process for the Claimants to raise in these proceedings issues not argued before Popplewell J or the Court of Appeal in the earlier English proceedings. First, those proceedings served a different purpose, namely, the determination of BNYM(L)’s contractual entitlement to freeze the GCA assets and in particular the scope of clause 16(i). Second, it appears that the Claimants did in fact seek to raise the wider issue, or something like it, before Popplewell J. but were not permitted to because the Stati parties were not before the court. Third, it would be odd, to say the least, for this court to hold that these proceedings were an abuse of process in circumstances where the issues raised by the proceedings had been referred to it by the Belgian court. It cannot, I think, be in the public interest to frustrate the order of the Belgian court. On the contrary, comity and the public interest point to these proceedings serving a legitimate and proper purpose.’

Finally, a cursory look a the forum conveniens issue is warranted: at 58-61:

  1. Mr Sprange, for the Stati parties, submitted that “England is not a proper forum for a claim against the Second to Fourth Defendants, where that claim seeks (on the Claimants’ case) to conclusively determine issues of the validity of a Belgian executory attachment, which are properly the subject of Belgian attachment law for a Belgian attachment judge to decide”.
  2. Mr Malek, for the Claimants, submitted that the real dispute is not about “the validity of a Belgian executory attachment”, but rather “whether there is an obligation owed by BNYM London to RoK capable of forming the subject-matter of a Belgian attachment.” Further, he submitted that the effect of the Belgian Attachment Judge’s decision was to determine that England was the appropriate forum. Mr Malek relied upon this decision as giving rise to “an estoppel of a particular, autonomous, EU kind”; in the alternative, he submitted that it was a strong factor to be weighed in the analysis of the appropriate forum. Finally, Mr Malek submitted that the only realistic alternative to the jurisdiction of the English court would be the Belgian court, and that “the Belgian court is materially worse placed than this Court because it would be investigating matters by reference to an English-law governed contract, the GCA (so far as issues of Kazakh law, or facts in relation to the relationship between NBK and RoK, are concerned, the Belgian court enjoys no advantage over this Court).”
  3. I am unable to accept Mr. Sprange’s submission. This court will not be asked to determine the validity of the conservatory attachment order made in Belgium. Rather, it will be asked to determine what, if any, assets constitute the subject-matter of that order. The Belgian Attachment Judge plainly considered that a dispute concerning the content of the attachment – which, on its terms, constitutes only such assets (if any) as are held by BNYM(L) for RoK under the GCA – is a question for this court.
  4. The fact that the Belgian court has referred the dispute to this court is a cogent reason, indeed a compelling reason, for concluding that this court is a proper forum for determining the dispute. It would not be in accordance with comity to send the dispute back to Belgium. There is no need to consider Mr. Malek’s further submissions.

I quite like Ali Malek QC’s idea of “an estoppel of a particular, autonomous, EU kind”; linked to considerations of mutual trust, one assumes.

Finally, one of the defendants is based in Gribraltar and against it, (now) Article 8(2) Brussels I Recast applies, re third party proceedings. There is little to none CJEU authority. At 68 ‘I consider that the wording of article [8](2) is wide enough to encompass a situation in which a person is a proper party to a dispute between other parties to which he has a “close connection”, so long as that dispute has not been “instituted solely with the object of removing him from the jurisdiction of the court which would be competent in his case” and at 69 ‘This is a case in which “the efficacious conduct of proceedings” demands the presence of Terra Raf in this jurisdiction. I therefore find the requirements of article [8](2) to be satisfied.’

Teare J’s findings on this point also mean he need not consider (now) Article 7(5)’s jurisdiction for activities arising our of branch activity on which as I noted, I also have my doubts.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11, Heading 2.2.14.

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