Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.

In [2019] EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.

Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.

At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’

Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’

In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.

That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.

Geert.

 

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UB v VA (Tiger SCI): The CJEU dots the i’s on forum rei sitae in insolvency.

In C-493/18 UB v VA, proceedings took place between UB, on the one hand, and VA, Tiger SCI, WZ, as UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, and Banque patrimoine et immobilier SA, on the other, concerning the sale of immovable property originally owned by UB and mortgages granted over that property by UB and the action taken by WZ to have those transactions declared ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.

A little bit of factual background may be useful – for that reference is best made to the judgment. Essentially, an avoidance (insolvency pauliana) action was launched given suspicious transactions between UB and his sister. On 10 May 2011, UB was, on his own petition, declared bankrupt by Croydon County Court. On 1 July 2011, WZ was appointed UB’s trustee in bankruptcy, with effect from 6 July 2011.  At WZ’s request, Croydon County Court authorised WZ on 26 October 2011 to bring an action before the French courts in order, first, to have the bankruptcy order registered and, second, to obtain a ruling that the sale of the properties referred to in paragraph 12 above and the mortgages granted over those properties to VA (‘the sales and mortgages at issue’) were transactions at an undervalue or for no consideration under the relevant United Kingdom bankruptcy law provisions. WZ thus sought a decision authorising the restitution of those properties to UB’s bankruptcy estate, for the purposes of their disposal. The French courts granted the declaration.

The legal issue under consideration is the reach of the Insolvency Regulation’s establishment of jurisdiction for the courts of the Member State of COMI. Does it extend to an action by a trustee in bankruptcy appointed by a court of the Member State in which the insolvency proceedings were opened (here: the UK) the purpose of which is to obtain a declaration that mortgages registered over immovable property situated in another Member State (here: France) and the sale of that property are ineffective as against the bankruptcy estate.

The CJEU correctly emphasises that the Insolvency Regulation old or new does not impose any rule conferring on the courts of the place where immovable property is located international jurisdiction to hear an action for the restitution of those assets to the bankruptcy estate in insolvency proceedings. Furthermore, concentrating all the actions directly related to the insolvency proceedings before the courts of the Member State within the territory of which with those proceedings were opened is consistent with the objective of improving the efficiency and speed of insolvency proceedings having cross-border effects. Support for this ex multi: Wiemer & Trachte.

The English courts therefore should have exercised jurisdiction per vis attractiva concursus – the file before the CJEU does not reveal its hesitation to do so. It does reveal that UB claims among others that the insolvency proceedings in England had already been concluded and presumably therefore the pauliana time-barred.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.2.10.1

 

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A few recent examples of English Courts and English law’s knack for regulatory competition.

Happy 2020 reading, all!

At the back of my mind I have a number of interesting examples of the English Courts and English law’s awareness of the relevance of courts and substantive law in regulatory competition. I post them here together by way of illustration.

Sir Vos’ speech on how English law on cryptoassets should develop so as to boost the
confidence of would-be parties to ‘smart’ legal contracts; a further analysis of same by the ‘UK jurisdiction taskforce’, and Outer Temple’s reaction to ditto.

Also however RPC’s review of Davey v Money [2019] EWHC 997 (Ch), in which Snowden J declined to cap a litigation funder’s liability for adverse costs at the amount of funding provided: essentially adding a potential risk to be considered by third-party litigation funders and illustrating that attractive as England may be as a forum for litigation, the sector is not a free for all.

Finally, the English courts are not of course alone in the realisation of the issues: witness this 2017 report by the French Supreme Court: ‘”Le juge et la mondialisation”.

Geert.

 

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Agbara et al v Shell. Recognition /enforcement, ordre public and natural justice. Shell Nigeria ruling refused registration in the High Court.

[2019] EWHC 3340 (QB) Agbara et al v Shell Nigeria et al (thank you Adeole Yusuf for flagging) illustrates what many a conflict teacher initiates classes with. There is some, but often limited use in obtaining a judgment which subsequently cannot be enforced where the defendant’s funds are. Coppel DJ refused to enter registration of a 2010 Nigerian judgment by which claimants were awarded 15,407,777,246 Naira (approximately £33 million today) in damages in respect of the pollution of land occupied by them following the rupture of a pipeline maintained by Shell in 1969 or 1970.

Brussels Ia does not apply to recognition and enforcement of an ex-EU judgment hence the common law was applied (clearly with due deference to international comity yet the standards of natural justice nevertheless being determined by lex fori, English law). Natural justice was found to have been infringed by the proceedings at issue. This included an impossibility for Shell to cross-examine witnesses and an unusually swift completion of proceedings following the dismissal of a procedural argument made by Shell. Shell’s subsequent bumbling of the appeal via procedural mistake was not found by Coppel DJ to alter the findings of infringement of natural justice.

Obiter the factual mistakes made in the calculation of damages leading to the award and the opaque inclusion of punitive damages were also found to stand in the way of recognition and enforcement.

The ruling has some relevance for Article 33/34 BI1’s Anerkennungsprognose.

Geert.

 

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Supreme v Shape: Dutch Appellate Court rules on the merits of immunity and A6 ECHR, takes Luxembourg by surprise.

Update 14 January 2020 see also review by Rishi Gulati here, with cross-references to the postings on gavclaw.com.

With the festive season approaching, I am happy to give the floor to María Barral Martínez, currently trainee at the chambers of Advocate General Mr Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona for her update on Supreme et al v Shape.

On 10 December, the Den Bosch Court of Appeal delivered its judgment on the main proceedings of the Supreme et al. v SHAPE case. The case concerns a contractual dispute between Supreme (a supplier of fuels) and SHAPE (the military headquarters of NATO). Supreme signed several agreements (so-called “BOA agreements”) to supply fuels to SHAPE in the context of a military operation in Afghanistan-ISAF-, mandated by the UNSC. Supreme also signed an escrow agreement with JFCB (Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, a military headquarters subject to SHAPE´s authority) to cover mutual potential payments after the mission/contract termination. In December 2015, Supreme instituted proceedings in the Netherlands against Shape/JFCB requesting the payment of certain costs. Moreover, Supreme sought, in the context of a second procedure, to levy an interim garnishee order targeting the escrow account in Belgium. The latter proceedings -currently before the Dutch Supreme Court- triggered a reference for a preliminary ruling (case C-186/19 « Supreme Site Services»)  as already commented in an earlier post, related to the Brussels I bis Regulation.

In the judgment on the merits, the Appellate Court addressed the Brussels I bis Regulation as well, albeit briefly. The Appellate Court asked parties whether the reference to the CJEU impacts the proceedings on the merits. Both parties were of the opinion that it was not the case. Moreover, the Court itself considered that since Shape and JFCB only invoked in their defence immunity of jurisdiction the parties had tacitly accepted the Dutch court’s jurisdiction.

In regards to the question of immunity of jurisdiction, the Dutch Appellate Court granted immunity of jurisdiction to Shape and JFCB on the basis of customary international law. It found it was inconclusive that immunity of jurisdiction in respect of Shape and JFCB flows from the provisions of the Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters Set up Pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty (Paris Protocol 1952), or the Agreement on the Status of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Ottawa’s Agreement).

On the role of article 6 ECHR, contrary to what the District Court ruled on the judgment under appeal, the Court of Appeal held that Supreme had a reasonable dispute settlement mechanism available to it to submit its claims. Article 6.1 ECHR therefore would not be breached.  It argued that the judge must perform a case by case analysis in order to determine whether the international organisation offers reasonable alternative means to protect the rights enshrined under article 6.1 ECHR, and if needed set aside the immunity of jurisdiction of the international organisation. The Court concluded that the Release of Funds Working Group, which was agreed by the parties to settle any possible contractual differences, can be considered, under Dutch law, as a reasonable dispute settlement mechanism and therefore, the Court has no jurisdiction.

At the public hearing in C-186/19 held in Luxembourg on 12 December, the CJEU could not hide its surprise when told by the parties that the Dutch Appellate Court had granted immunity of jurisdiction to Shape and JCFB. The judges and AG wondered whether a reply to the preliminary reference would still be of any use. One should take into account that the main point at the hearing was whether the “civil or commercial” nature of the proceedings for interim measures should be assessed in the light of the proceedings on the merits (to which interim measures are ancillary, or whether the analysis should solely address the interim relief measures themselves.

Maria.

 

 

 

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Prato Nevoso Termo Energy. The CJEU on end of waste, precaution and renewable energy.

In C‑212/18 Prato Nevoso Termo Energy the CJEU held on the not always straightforward concurrent application of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) 98/2008 and the various Directives encouraging the uptake of renewable energy. It referred i.a. to the circular economy and to precaution.

On the face of it the economic and environmental benefits of the case may seem straightforward. Prato Nevoso operates a power plant for the production of thermal energy and electricity. It applied for authorisation to replace methane as the power source for its plant with a bioliquid, in this case a vegetable oil produced by ALSO Srl, derived from the collection and chemical treatment of used cooking oils, residues from the refining of vegetable oils and residues from the washing of the tanks in which those oils were stored. ALSO has a permit to market that oil as an ‘end-of-waste’ product within the meaning of relevant Italian law , for use in connection with the production of biodiesel, on condition that it has the physico-chemical characteristics indicated in that permit and that the commercial documents indicate ‘produced from recovered waste for use in biodiesel production’.

Prato Nevoso was refused the requested authorisation on the ground that the vegetable oil was not included in a relevant Italian list, which sets out the categories of biomass fuels that can be used in an installation producing atmospheric emissions without having to comply with the rules on the energy recovery of waste. The only vegetable oils in those categories are those from dedicated crops or produced by means of exclusively mechanical processes.

The argument subsequently brought was that the refusal violates Article 6 WFD’s rules on end-of-waste, and Article 13 of the RES Directive 2009/28. That Article essentially obliges the Member States to design administrative procedures in such a way as to support the roll-out of renewable energy.

The CJEU first of all refers to its finding in Tallina Vesi that Article 6(4) of Directive 2008/98 does not, in principle, allow a waste holder to demand the recognition of end-of-waste (EOW) status by the competent authority of the Member State or by a court of that Member State. MSs have a lot of flexibility in administering EOW in the absence of European standards. That the use of a substance derived from waste as a fuel in a plant producing atmospheric emissions is subject to the national legislation on energy recovery from waste, is therefore entirely possible (at 39). A13 of the RES Directive has no impact on that reality: that Article does not concern the regulatory procedures for the adoption of end-of-waste status criteria.

Nevertheless, the MS’ implementation of the RES Directives must not endanger the attainment of the WFD, including encouragement of the circular economy etc. and likewise, the WFD’s waste hierarchy has an impact on the RES’ objectives. A manifest error of assessment in relation to the non-compliance with the conditions set out in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 could be found to be a MS violation of the Directive.

At 43: ‘It is necessary, in this case, to examine whether the Member State could, without making such an error, consider that it has not been demonstrated that the use of the vegetable oil at issue in the main proceedings, in such circumstances, allows the conclusion that the conditions laid down in that provision are met and, in particular, that that use is devoid of any possible adverse impact on the environment and human health.’ At 44:  ‘It is for the national court, which alone has jurisdiction to establish and assess the facts, to determine whether that is the case in the main proceedings and, in particular, to verify that the non-inclusion of those vegetable oils in the list of authorised fuels results from a justified application of the precautionary principle.’

At 45 ff the CJEU does give a number of indications to the national judge, suggesting that no such infringement of the precautionary principle has occurred (including the reality that specific treatment and specific uses envisaged of the waste streams, has an impact on their environmental and public health safety). At 57: It must be considered that the existence of a certain degree of scientific uncertainty regarding the environmental risks associated with a substance — such as the oils at issue in the main proceedings — ceasing to have waste status, may lead a Member State, taking into account the precautionary principle, to decide not to include that substance on the list of authorised fuels’.

An important judgment.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

 

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A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al. Anti-suit pro arbitration does have its limits.

In A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” [2019] EWHC 2729 (Comm), Carr J refused an ex parte application for interim relief seeking (i.a.) anti-suit and discontinuation of Russian proceedings, pro agreed arbitration in London. Defendants are domiciled at Russia, France and Switserland. At 33 ff Carr J lists five reasons for refusal, despite as readers will know the English courts’ general willingness to assist arbitration. Three of her reasons jump out: the lack of full and frank disclosure (ia relating to contractual provisions); the lack of immediate urgency requiring ex parte application; and some of the measures sought being more than just interim measures (assessment of that nature required evidence by a Russian law expert on the further continuation, if any, of Russian proceedings following anti-suit).

A good reminder that these applications are neither straightforward nor should be taken for granted.

Geert.

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

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