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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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Is the innovation principle compatible with a European Green Deal?

Rather than blogging my own piece on this week’s CEPS study (in which no mention is made of the covert study supporting same), I am happy to reblog the analysis of one of the co-authors of my earlier paper on same. Excellent analysis with which I agree entirely.

BLING

K J Garnett

On the day before Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s new team was voted in by the European Parliament, an independent, Brussels-based, think-thank CEPS published their third report on the Innovation Principle : ‘Study supporting the interim evaluation of the innovation principle’. With von der Leyen promising to tackle climate change and promote a European Green Deal now would be a good time to examine whether the innovation principle fits in with this vision for greater sustainability or whether its true intention is to curb Europe’s strict environmental laws?  

As lawyers we are familiar with general principles and those practicing European law are familiar with the fact that the EU applies a number of general principles : proportionality, subsidiarity, substantive & fundamental human rights, precaution,… Authority for the EU’s legal principles stems from primary law, typically the Treaties themselves or, more rarely, when the CJEU…

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AMP Advisory v Force India Formula One Team. Formation of contract under English law.

In [2019] EWHC 2426 (Comm) AMP Advisory & Management Partners AG v Force India Formula One Team Ltd (in liquidation), Moulder J leads a most complete and interesting analysis of the formation or not of a contract, oral or written, under English law. I keep this post short for it is mostly intended for library purposes and for the benefit of my comparative law colleagues, who are best served by simple reference to the judgment.

Geert.

 

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Lloyd v Google. Court of Appeal overturns High Court, establishes jurisdiction viz US defendant. Takes a wider approach to loss of control over personal (browser-generated information) data constituting ‘damage’.

I reported earlier on Lloyd v Google at the High Court. The case involves Google’s alleged unlawful and clandestine tracking of iPhone users in 2011 and 2012 without their consent through the use of third party cookies.

The Court of Appeal in [2019] EWCA Civ 1599 has now overturned the High Court’s approach, nota bene just a day before the CJEU’s Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook judgment.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) had rejected jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent. In essence, Warby J held that both EU law (reference is made to CJEU precedent under Directive 90/314) and national law tends to suggest that “damage” has been extended in various contexts to cover “non-material damage” but only on the proviso that “genuine quantifiable damage has occurred”. This did not mean that misuse of personal data could not be disciplined under data protection laws (typically: by the data protection authorities) or other relevant national courses of action. But where it entails a non-EU domiciled party, and the jurisdictional gateway of ‘tort’ is to be followed, ‘damage’ has to be shown.

The Court of Appeal has now overturned. A first question it considered was whether control over data is an asset that has value. Sir Geoffrey Vos C at 47 held ‘a person’s control over data or over their BGI (browser-generated information, GAVC) does have a value, so that the loss of that control must also have a value’. Sir Geoffrey did not even have to resort to metanalysis to support this:  at 46: ‘The underlying reality of this case is that Google was able to sell BGI collected from numerous individuals to advertisers who wished to target them with their advertising. That confirms that such data, and consent to its use, has an economic value.’ And at 57: ‘the EU law principles of equivalence and effectiveness (‘effet utile’, GAVC) point to the same approach being adopted to the legal definition of damage in the two torts which both derive from a common European right to privacy.’

(The remainder of the judgment concerns issues of reflection of damage on the class).

Conclusion: permission granted to serve the proceedings on Google outside the jurisdiction of the court.

All in all an important few days for digital media corporations.

Geert.

 

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Proposition Walhalla. ‘The algorithms of the law must keep pace with new and emerging technologies.’

Update 17 January 2020 the European Commission reportedly has a different view and is preparing a proposal to ban this use temporarily.

‘The algorithms of the law must keep pace with new and emerging technologies’ is the opening sentence of Hadon-Cave LJ and Swift J in R v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and others [2019] EWHC 2341.

The central issue is whether the current legal regime in the United Kingdom is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR (automated face recognition) in a free and civilized society. The High Court finds it is. No doubt appeal will follow. I leave the assessment of the findings (discussing in particular Article 8 ECHR: right to respect for one’s private and family life, one’s home and one’s correspondence) of the Court to others. It is the opening sentence which drew my attention as, inevitably, it did others’. It is a sentence upon which one can hinge en entire regulatory /new technologies course. Must the algorithms of the law (whatever these may be) keep pace with technology?  Or rather, guard against the challenges of same?

Discuss.

Geert.

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Call for papers with tight deadline. Macao Writers’ Workshop for Early-Career Environmental Law Scholars.

I shall be spending a few weeks as a distinguished (yes, me!) visiting scholar at University of Macau in September. As part of my commitments there I shall be joining

  • Professor Paulo Canelas de Castro (University of Macau)
  • Professor Qin Tianbao (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Ben Boer (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Alexander Zahar (Wuhan University)
  • Professor Benoit Mayer (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

in the committee for a workshop on the writing of academic articles in the environmental law area. That’s quite a committee if you ask me.

We shall be assisting around twelve early-career environmental law scholars to publish an original research article on environmental law in English in an international top-tier journal.

At this moment we are looking in particular for a number of scholars based outside PRC to join the excellent Chinese candidates. All info is here. Deadline is tight: initial short abstract and CV are due Friday next, 7 June.

Geert.

 

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Kiobel v Shell in The Netherlands. Court confirms jurisdiction anchored unto mother holding and qualifies the suit as one in human rights: not tort. Also orders limited use of documents obtained in US discovery and limited continuation of the trial.

Update 26 July 2019 the English version of the judgment is now available here.

In January 2017 I reported that Ms Kiobel, following failure to convince the USSC of jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, subsequently initiated proceedings in the Dutch courts to try and sue Shell over the case. (Evidently unrelated to the pursuit of Shell in The Netherlands on environmental grounds – a case which is still pending upon appeal).

The court in first instance at the Hague on 1 May accepted jurisdiction against

  • both the mother holding. That was not at all under discussion: this is done via Article 4 Brussels Ia’s domicile rule. Use of Article 33 /34’s forum non conveniens-light mechanism was not suggested;
  • two English-incorporated Shell daughters using Article 8(1) of the Brussels I a Regulation; and
  • the Nigerian daughter company. Against the Nigerian daughter company, jurisdiction needs to be anchored unto the Dutch mother holding using Article 7 of the Dutch CPR, which is a near carbon copy of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, whose CJEU authority is followed by Dutch courts in the interpretation of the Dutch residual rule.

Coming so soon after the UKSC in Vedanta the Dutch case has received quite a bit of attention. After first not considering an English translation (not surprisingly; these are the Dutch courts, not a World Service), the clerks have now announced that there will be one, coming up some time soon.

Readers of the blog will expect me to hold the judgment against a clear jurisdictional and conflict of laws lens – in doing so, I fear I have to be a little bit less optimistic than media soundbites following the case.

Jurisdictional issues were in the end dealt with fairly summarily. Most attention went to issues of evidence and discovery, as well as a first review of the substance of the case.

Of note is:

  • At 4.3: acceptance by all parties of of Nigerian law as the lex causae; if need be, choice of law by all parties for Nigerian law as the lex causae. Rome II is not applicable ratione temporis. The case has this in common with the Milieudefensie case against Shell. This being a civil law jurisdiction, ius novit curia applies. The court has taken into account parties’ submissions on Nigerian law yet has also conducted its own research. Foreign law is ‘law’ in the civil law; not ‘fact’ as in the common law.
  • Claimants suggest that in the events in Ogoniland Shell acted as one organisation and treated the issue as one engaging the Shell concern as a whole (4.7 in fine);
  • Claimants purposedly do not wish their claim to be qualified as one engaging piercing of the corporate veil; duty of care; shareholders responsibility; or tort of negligence. Rather, as one engaging the Shell concern directly in a suit on infringement of human rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Nigerian constitution. Tort is only suggested as an alternative should the court not follow the arguments on the basis of human rights (4.8).
  • At 4.12 the Court accepts the horizontal direct effect of human rights under Nigerian law, referring for that finding to Nigerian case-law. At 4.19 the Court notes the absence of statutes of limitation for human rights violations under Nigerian law: thus qualifying this as an issue of substance (lex causae), not procedure (lex fori). It revisits the statute of limitation issue at 4.47 ff (holding that under Nigerian law the suits can still be brought).
  • At 4.26 the court applies A8(1) BIa and A7 Dutch CPR in globo, given the same lines of interpretation, and finds succinctly that all conditions (Kalfelis; Roche Nederland; The Tatry) are met. It remarks at 4.26 in fine that given the same situation of law and fact, it was predictable for all parties that they might end up being sued in any of their corporate siblings’ domicile.
  • At 4.27 the court discussed summary dismissal. As seen in Vedanta, despite Owusu European courts are within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. However this only applies against non-EU based defendants. Application of Article 8(1) does not allow such summary dismissal for EU-based defendants (see also C-103/05 Reisch Montage). The Hague court reviews summary dismissal only vis-a-vis the Nigerian defendant but finds succinctly that the suit is not prima facie without merit. There is a serious issue to be tried.
  • At 4.28 interestingly the Court rejects relevance of the High Court and the Court of Appeal‘s dismissal of jurisdiction in Okpabi, arguing that these courts employed ‘English law’. This underscores the argument I have made elsewhere, that there is a serious blank in the discussion on lex causae for the duty of care or, depending on the case, the piercing issue. The Dutch court here notes without hesitation that the English courts apply lex fori to that test, and so therefore, I am assuming, should they (meaning Dutch law in their case)?
  • At 4.29 it looks as if the Court considers some kind of reflexive argument which defendants seem to have made. Namely that the Dutch courts should respect the exclusive jurisdictional head under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) – FREP Rules, for the Federal High Court in cases involving alleged infringement of human rights. However the Dutch court considers this a mere internal jurisdictional distribution rule, which does not hinder the Dutch courts in their assessment of the claims. There is no written or unwritten rule in Dutch private international law which suggests such deference to a Nigerian civil procedure rule.

Importantly, a great deal of attention at 4.30 ff  goes to the debate on the use of documents obtained in US discovery, in the Dutch proceedings. A fair amount of these had to be returned following a confidentiality agreement in the US proceedings. Claimants make recourse to Article 6 ECHR to regain access for use in the Dutch proceedings however the Dutch court curtails much of that. Common law discovery rules are notoriously more claimant friendly than those of the civil law (a comment also made by Marsh CM in Glaxo v Sandoz). It leads to Shell not having to turn over quite a large part of the documents claimants had hoped to use. [Note 18 May 2019 in my original post of 17 May I had ‘common’ law and ‘civil law’ accidentally mixed up in the previous sentence].

At 4.58 ff the Court then turns to the substance of the case for case management reasons, with a view to determining which parts of the claim may be made subject to further proof. It holds in a way which I imagine must have been very disappointing for claimants. Only limited claims (of the Nigerian daughter’s involvement in the bribing of witnesses) will be allowed to continue.

The court held that claims of controlling meddling in the Nigerian court proceedings were not proven with sufficient force for these claims to continue – instead it held that Shell’s policy of silent diplomacy, in line with its business policies, had been consistently carried out.

All in all I would suggest claimants have scored clear points on jurisdiction, minor points on discovery and a disappointing outcome for them on substance. Albeit that the witness bribe leg may still lead to a finding of human rights infringement.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2.

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