The Antwerp court of first instance in CMB (Bocimar NV), ‘The Mineral Water’: In dubio pro reo or a perfect excuse for forum shopping?

The Antwerp court of first instance (criminal section) has held last Friday, 25 June (I have copy of the judgment (in Dutch) on file) in the prosecution against CMB (an Antwerp based shipowner; specifically: Bocimar NV) and a number of individuals for the alleged illegal transport of waste, in the shape of the discarded ship the Mineral Water, destined for beaching at Chittagong, Bangladesh (the same location of relevance in Begum v Maran).

The Mineral Water was built in 1999, bought by CMB in 2007. A decision was made ‘end 2015’ (the judgment does not clarify specific date and /or circumstance of that decision) to sell  her, with a view to recycling. That sale was approved on 19 January 2016 by Bocimar Board Decision, to a cash buyer based on the British Virgin Islands, when the ship was anchored at Fangcheng, China. Actual transfer of the ship happened at Malaysia a few weeks later. The ship’s registry was changed from Antwerp to Niue after the transfer and she was beached at Chittagong in February.

The case is a criminal prosecution which of course carries with it a high burden of proof. Seeing as the ship sailed under Belgian flag, the principled application of Belgian and EU law was not as such disputed. Neither do the original owners dispute that at the time of the January 2016 decision, the ship met with the definition of waste ia per CJEU Shell. However defendants argue the EU Waste Shipments Regulation – WSR does not apply for, they argue, the Mineral Water never sailed in European waters and was not physically exported from the EU with a view to recycling (p.5 in fine).

[The court later (p.8) notes this is not quite correct: occasionally EU ports were used for (un)loading and in 2015 there was rare bunkering at Malta].

The court held for the defence. Core to the decision is Article 2, 30 31 and 32: the definitions of ‘import’, ‘export’, ‘transfer’. The prosecutor seeks support in Article 2.22: ”country of dispatch’ means any country from which a shipment of waste is planned to be initiated or is initiated’. The court however held that neither the place of decision nor the flag State is of relevance to the territorial scope of application of the WSR. (Note the contrast on that point with the Ships Recycling Regulation – SRG 1257/2013, not applicable to the facts at issue).

One imagines more on that issue can and should be said upon appeal.

The countries of dispatch, transfer and destination of the ship are all ex-EU. Importantly, at p.8 the court notes there is no indication that the owners would have gamed the system to ensure the ship lay outside EU territorial waters at the time of the decision to discard.

The case shows the importance of the flag State in the SRG (itself not free of difficulties; the IMO Hong Kong Convention should avoid gaming). Of note is also that the place of decision-making (relevant for conflict of laws: locus delicti commissi, eg under A7 Rome II as discussed in Begum v Maran) did not play a  role. The crucial element was the almost complete lack of physical contact between the ship and the EU.

One assumes the prosecution will appeal.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2015, Chapter 3.

Applicable law (Article 4 and 7 Rome II) in the Dutch Shell climate ruling. Not quite as momentous as the core message.

I have an article forthcoming on the application of Rome II’s Article 7, ‘environmental damage’ rule. Last week’s widely reported first instance ruling in the Dutch Shell climate case will of course now feature.

I reported on application of A7 in Begum v Maran. There I submit, the Court of Appeal engaged without sufficient depth with the Article. It held against its application. Xandra Kramer and Ekaterina Pannebakker then alerted us to the use of Article 7 in last week’s momentous Milieudefensie v Shell (umpteen) ruling [Dutch version here, English version here], in which Shell by a first instance judge has been ordered to reduce its CO2 emissions. In that ruling, too, the judges leave a lot of issues on Rome II underanalysed. The conclusion  however goes in the opposite direction: the court held A7 is engaged and leads to Dutch law as the lex loci delicti commissi (Handlungsort or ldc).

I have taken the Dutch version of the judgment as the basis for the analysis for the English version is a touch under par when it comes to the finer detail. The Dutch version it has to be said is not entirely clear either on the conflict of laws analysis.

Firstly, Milieudefensie argue that A7 is engaged, and it suggests it opts for Dutch law given the choice left to it by that Article. Whether it does so as lex loci damni (Erfolgort or ld) or lex loci delicti commissi is not specified. It is reported by the courts that in subsidiary fashion Milieudefensie argue that per A4(1)’s general rule, Dutch law is the lex causae: that has to be Erfolgort.  (Lest the court inaccurately reported parties’ submissions here and the argument made under A4 focused on Article 4(3)’s displacement rule) [4.3.1].

The judges further report [4.3.2] that parties were in agreement that climate change, whether dangerous or otherwise, due to CO2 emissions constitutes ‘environmental damage’ in the sense of A7 Rome II (and the judges agree) and that they were in disagreement on the locus delicti commissi. Milieudefensie argue that Shell’s holding policy viz climate change and emissions, dictated from its corporate home of The Netherlands, is that Handlungsort. Shell argue that the place of the actual emissions are the Handlungsorts (plural), hence a Mozaik of applicable laws. (This nota bene has interesting applications in competition law, as I suggest here).

Then follows a rather sloppy reference to Jan von Hein’s note bene excellent review of Article 7 in Calliess; distinguishing of the arguments made by Shell with reference to ia product liability cases; and eventually, with reference to ia the cluster effect of emissions (‘every contribution towards a reduction of CO2 emissions may be of importance’ [4.3.5]) and the exceptional, policy driven nature of A7, the conclusion [4.3.6] that the holding policy is an independent cause of the CO2 emissions and hence imminent climate damage and obiter [4.3.7] that A4(1) would have led to the same conclusion.

The ruling will of course be appealed. It would be good to get the application of Article 7 right, seeing as environmental law is a core part of strategic and public interest litigation.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

Mutton dressed as lamb. The ‘new’ proposed proportionality angle to the innovation principle.

A quick post on an issue I actively published on last year, including with Kathleen Garnett: the innovation principle. My post here is a bit of a documentation gateway on same. I just wanted to draw readers’ attention to two developments.

First, the European Risk Forum which stood at the cradle of a proposed innovation ‘principle’ has been rebranded into the ‘European Regulation and Innovation Forum’ – ERIF. This of course even more than ‘Risk Forum’ is meant to conjure up positive feelings: who could possibly be against Regulation let alone innovation? It calls itself a think tank but it is in fact a trade association – interest group.

Further, the focus of the campaign has now changed. No longer it seems is the introduction of a new innovation principle the aim of the campaign. Rather, a restrictive take on regulation using cost benefit analysis and ‘proportionality’ – both existing principles of e.g. EU environmental law and at odds e.g. with the recently proposed essential use idea within the EU’s chemicals policy. It seems ERIF looks among others to the EU’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board to keep proposed laws in check.

Worth keeping an eye on, I suggest.

Geert.

Okpabi v Shell. The Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal and the High Court on jurisdictional hurdles in parent /subsidiaries cases. Guest blog by professor Robert McCorquodale.

Update 12 07 2021 Shell have now dropped further jurisdictional objections. The Nigerian daughter companies will therefore be joined to the case at the High Court, together with the English-incorporated mother corporation (Shell dual list in England and The Netherlands).

Those who combine my excitement of having professor McCorquodale contribute to the blog, with his enthusiasm at the end of his post, may find themselves in a perennial game of complimentary renvoi.

Robert, who represented interveners CORE in Okpabi v Shell (one-line summary in live tweeting here), signals the jurisdictional take-aways. The wider due diligence context of the case is considered by Ekaterina Aristova and Carlos Lopez here, Lucas Roorda signals ia the merits bar following the jurisdictional findings and Andrew Dickinson expressed his hope of an end to excessively lengthy jurisdictional proceedings here.

 

Okpabi v Shell: Judges’ Approach to Jurisdictional Issues is Crucial

In Okpabi v Shell [2021] UKSC 3, Nigerian farmers brought a claim against Shell’s parent company (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary (SPDC) for environmental and human rights impacts of oil pollution. The claim had been struck out at the initial state on the basis of lack of jurisdiction in relation to the actions of SPDC, and this decision had been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court unanimously swept aside these decisions. It held that when considering issues of the court’s jurisdiction over such a claim, a court must start from the basis that the alleged facts of the claim are true and from there determine if the claim has a real prospect of success.  The defendant should not bring evidence of its own to dispute the alleged facts unless the facts are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable, as otherwise it risks showing that there is an issue to be tried.  If a judge engages with the evidence and makes findings on it in a summary judgment, the more likely it is that the decision to strike out will be overturned. Further, the Court considered that there was a danger of a court determining issues which arise in parent/subsidiary cases without sufficient disclosure of material documents in the hands of the defendants. Both courts below had acted incorrectly and conducted a “mini-trial”, and so the appeal by the claimants was successful.

The Court affirmed Vedanta that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that the Caparo test was inapplicable to these types of cases. The Court also clarified the scope of the duty of care by making clear that control is not determinative, it is the level of management involvement by the parent which is crucial. A parent company’s group-wide policies and standards were relevant in this respect. The Court, unfortunately, did not refer in its decision to any comparative law cases or international developments, even though these had been drawn to its attention.

This decision embeds the position that parent companies can have a duty of care towards those affected by a subsidiary’s actions, and that de facto management is a factor to consider. It examined the legal process by which courts consider these jurisdictional issues and made it much harder for a judge to strike out a case at the jurisdictional stage unless the facts on which the claim is based are demonstrably untrue or unsupportable. This could enable quicker proceedings towards the merits in these types of cases.

—Robert McCorquodale – it is my honour to contribute to this excellent blog.

Safety-Kleen. On the definition of waste and probably not the best use of the Shell authority.

Decisions on the definition of waste under the EU waste framework Directive 2008/98 inevitably involve quite a bit of factual analysis and Safety-Kleen UK Ltd v The Environment Agency [2020] EWHC 3147 (Admin)  is no exception.

Safety-Kleen UK Ltd, the Claimant, provides specialist mechanical parts washers, containing kerosene, to businesses, such as those undertaking automotive repairs and to small engineering businesses. They are used for cleaning the parts of heavy oil, grease, paint, ink, glues and resins. The machines enable a cleaning process by physical means, such as scrubbing and automatic agitation with kerosene, and by kerosene acting as a solvent. Safety-Kleen collects the used kerosene from its customers in drums and replaces it with cleaned kerosene. Safety-Kleen takes the drums of used kerosene back to a depot, empties them into a sump or reservoir and then rinses out the drums with used kerosene from the reservoir, to which the now re-used kerosene returns. From there, the re-used kerosene is pumped into the “dirty” tanks, whence it is tankered away to a different company for a specialised industrial waste recovery or regeneration process, by which the dirty kerosene is distilled and cleaned. The cleaned kerosene is returned to a Safety-Kleen depot, and placed into the cleaned drums.

There was no issue but that the dirty kerosene, when it reached the “dirty” tanks at the depot was “waste”, within the WFD, and remained waste when transferred to the depot for distillation and waste until it was cleaned for re-use by customers. Until 2017, there had been no issue between Safety-Kleen and the Environment Agency but that the used kerosene was waste when it was collected by Safety-Kleen from its customers’ premises. However, in 2017, Safety-Kleen concluded that the kerosene did not become waste until it had been used for the cleaning of the drums back at the depot, and was sent to the “dirty” tanks, to await removal for recovery or regeneration. The Agency thought otherwise.

Ouseley J discussed the classics with particular focus on Arco Chemie and  Shell, and at 50-51 a rather odd deference even in judicial review, to what the regulator itself held. The EU definition of waste is a legal concept; not one to be triggered by the Agency’s conviction. Nevertheless he reaches his ‘own judgment’ (52) fairly easily and, I believe on the basis of the facts available, justifiably, that the kerosene is being discarded by the holder, it being ‘indifferent to what beneficial use Safety-Kleen may be able to make of it back at the depot’ (at 56).

Claimant’s reliance on Shell seemed not the most poignant, seeing as the case here is not one of reverse logistics but rather one of truly spent raw materials on their way to perhaps receiving a second life following treatment.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, OUP, second ed, 2015.

My thoughts on the polluter pays principle in an interview with the European Environment Agency.

Seeing as legacy pollution issues, essential use etc. have brought this very much in the news again, I thought I’ld flag an interview I had with the European Environment Agency magazine on the operationalisation of the polluter pays principle. That’s it. That’s the post.

Geert.

EU environmental law, with Leonie Reins, 2017, Chapter II, 7.

Sappi Austria: CJEU tries to keep a common sense approach to supporting the circular economy and maintaining the objectives of EU waste law.

Case C‑629/19 Sappi Austria Produktions-GmbH & Co. KG and Wasserverband ‘Region Gratkorn-Gratwein’ v Landeshauptmann von Steiermark in which the CJEU held on Wednesday is in my off the cuff view (I did not research it in the recent case-law) the first case where the CJEU specifically mentions the objectives of the circular economy to support its interpretation of the core definition of ‘waste’ in the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98.

Sappi operate a large industrial paper and pulp production plant in Gratkorn (Austria). On that site is also a sewage treatment plant, operated jointly by Sappi and the Wasserverband, which treats waste water from paper and pulp production as well as municipal waste water. During the treatment of that waste water, which is required by national law, the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings arises. That sludge is therefore made up of both substances from industrial waste water and substances from municipal waste water. Sewage sludge which is produced in the sewage treatment plant is then incinerated in a boiler of Sappi and in a waste incineration plant operated by the Wasserverband, and the steam reclaimed for the purposes of energy recovery is used in the production of paper and pulp.  hat authority found that, admittedly, the majority of the sewage sludge used for incineration, namely 97%, originated from a paper production process and that this proportion could be regarded as having ‘by-product’ status within the meaning of Paragraph 2(3a) of the AWG 2002. However, that does not apply to the proportion of sewage sludge arising from municipal waste water treatment. That sewage sludge remains waste. Since there is no de minimis limit for the classification of a substance as ‘waste’, the authority assumed that all the sewage sludge incinerated in the industrial plants of Sappi and of the Wasserverband must be classified as ‘waste’.

The CJEU first of all holds that there is no relevant secondary law which provides the kinds of qualitative criteria for sewage sludge to meet with the objectives of the WFD. If there were such laws, and the sludge meets their requirements, it would be exempt form the WFD. It then reminds the referring court, of course, of the extensive authority on the notion of waste (most recently C-624/17 Tronex) yet is happy to provide the national Court with input into the application in casu.

In principle, the sludge is waste, the Court holds: it is a residue from waste water treatment and it is being discarded.

However, the referring judge suggests that the sludge may meet the requirements of A6(1) WFD as being fully ‘recovered’ before it is used in the incineration process. It is there that the CJEU refers to the circular economy: at 68:

it is particularly relevant that the heat generated during the incineration of the sewage sludge is re-used in a paper and pulp production process and that such a process provides a significant benefit to the environment because of the use of recovered material in order to preserve natural resources and to enable the development of a circular economy.

Per C‑60/18 Tallinna Vesi, the recovery of sewage sludge entails certain risks for the environment and human health, particularly linked to the potential presence of hazardous substances. For the sludge at issue here not to be waste, presupposes that the treatment carried out for the purposes of recovery makes it possible to obtain sewage sludge with a high level of protection of the environment and human health, such as required by the WFD, which is, in particular, free from any dangerous substance. For that purpose, it is necessary to ensure that the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings is harmless (at 66). The CJEU concludes, at 67

It is for the referring court to determine whether the conditions laid down in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 are already met before the sewage sludge is incinerated. It must in particular be determined, as appropriate, on the basis of a scientific and technical analysis, that the sewage sludge meets the statutory limit values for pollutants and that its incineration does not lead to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts.

There are as yet no EU standards for the full recovery of sewage sludge, hence the ball of end of waste status is once again in the Member States’ court.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.

Tanchev AG in Esso supports broad application of animal welfare to REACH chemicals registration process.

In Case C‑471/18 P in which Tanchev AG Opined last month, Germany is asking the CJEU to set aside judgment in  T‑283/15 Esso Raffinage ECHA by which the General Court annulled entitled a European Chemical Agency (‘ECHA’)  letter entitled ‘Statement of Non-Compliance following a Dossier Evaluation Decision under  [REACH]’. The letter concerned the outcome of ECHA’s compliance check of Esso Raffinage’s registration dossier for a particular chemical substance. The main thrust of its appeal is that the REACH Regulation does not provide for further examination by ECHA of the conformity of the information submitted with the first compliance check decision, and that this matter falls within the competences of the Member States pursuant to the REACH enforcement provisions. In support of its position, it argues that a registrant must conduct animal testing specified in the Evaluation Decision, and cannot submit adaptations at that stage.

Esso and ECHA find themselves in an unusual alliance with animal rights activists who argue that a registrant must be able to submit adaptations in lieu of performing animal testing specified in a first compliance check decision.

The case mostly concerns the respective competences of Member States and ECHA under Reach, I highlight it here for the AG’s emphasis on the relevance of animal welfare in the Regulation: consideration of animal welfare through the reduction of animal testing is one of the objectives pursued by the REACH Regulation. At 158: ‘Viewed more broadly, as indicated by Esso Raffinage and [NGO], the promotion of animal welfare and alternative methods to animal testing in the REACH Regulation reflects Article 13 TFEU, pursuant to which, in formulating and implementing the European Union’s policies, the European Union and the Member States are to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.’

Animal welfare has come a long way since Michael Rose and I submitted it in CJEU C-1/96 Compassion in World Farming.

Geert.

 

French neonicotinoids measures and administrative compliance under EU law. The CJEU takes a view protective of Member States’ room for manoeuvre.

The ‘transparency’ or ‘notification’ Directive 2015/1535 (the successor to Directive 98/34) featured twice at the CJEU yesterday. In Case C‑711/19 Admiral Sportwetten, the Court held that a national tax rule that provides for taxation of the operation of betting terminals does not constitute a ‘technical regulation’ that needs to be notified under the Directive. In Case C-514/19 Union des industries de la protection des plantes it held more directly than Kokott AG had opined, that France had validly informed the Commission of the need to take measures intended, in particular, to protect bees by banning the use of 3 active substances of the neonicotinoid family which had been authorised for use under the relevant EU procedure. That procedure is regulated by Directive 1107/2009 on plant protection products.

The complication in the case in essence is a result of the dual procedure for national safeguard measures as a result of the existence of both the PPP and the notification Directive. May a communication of a Member State under the Notification Directive, double as notification of emergency measures under the PPP Directive? The CJEU held it can, provided the notification contains a clear presentation of the evidence showing, first, that those active substances are likely to constitute a serious risk to human or animal health or to the environment and, second, that that risk cannot be controlled without the adoption, as a matter of urgency, of the measures taken by the Member State concerned, and where the Commission failed to ask that Member State whether that communication must be treated as the official provision of information under the regulation.

The Court referred to its findings in C-116/16 Fidenato, that a Member State’s power, provided by an EU act, to adopt emergency measures requires compliance with both the substantive conditions and procedural conditions laid down by that act (a requirement, I would add, which conversely also applies to the European Commission), but adds that a notification to the Commission under Article 71(1) of Regulation 1107/2009 requires only that the Member State concerned ‘officially informs’ that institution, without having to do so in a particular manner.

More generally, the Court emphasises the principle of sound administration imposed upon the EC, which explains its insistence on the EC having proactively to ensure the Member State concerned be aware of its obligations under the EU law concerned or indeed adjacent law. A certain parallel here may be made with the rules of civil procedure which require from those soliciting the courts that they approach the court with clean hands.

The Court in essence, I submit, finds that, the consequences for the Member State concerned in failing to meet the requirements for it to be able to make use of a safeguard provision in secondary law being so great, the conditions imposed on them must be met by a strict due diligence on behalf of the European Commission.

Of note is that the judgment does not entail any finding on the substantive legality of the French ban.

Geert.