Fong Chak Kwan v Ascentic. The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal aligns the damage jurisdictional gateway with the UKSC’s Brownlie approach.

This post is one for the comparative binder. Fong Chak Kwan v Ascentic Limited and Others [2022] HKCFA 12 (many thanks to Poomintr Sooksripaisarnkit for alerting me to the judgment) discusses a variety of issues, the one of interest to the blog is the tort gateway for a tort allegedly committed outside of Hong Kong. The ruling on that issue was delivered by Lord Collins, a former UKSC judge who continues to sit in the Hong Kong judicial system (unlike others who have withdrawn from the Hong Kong courts in light of the region’s rule of law issues).

[67] Direct damage was sustained on the Mainland, with indirect damage only in Hong Kong.

The First Instance judge [68] ‘in line with the majority judgments of Lady Hale and Lord Wilson in [UKSC Brownlie] .., and being unpersuaded by the minority view of Lord Sumption, decided that (a) the expression “damage” in Gateway F was not limited to damage which completed the cause of action; (b) the expression was not limited to direct damage as opposed to indirect/consequential damage; (c) where damage was felt in more than one jurisdiction, indirect/consequential damage qualified under Gateway F if it was of some significance; (d) the expression was to be given its ordinary and natural meaning, which embraced indirect/consequential damage; and (e) the consequences of a wide interpretation were sufficiently addressed by the discretion as to forum conveniens.’ 

The Court of Appeal [69] ‘like the judge, held that the reasoning of the majority in Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Inc was to be preferred to that of the minority. Damage included all of the heads of damage which might be suffered as a result of tortious conduct, including all the detriment, physical, financial and social which the plaintiff suffered as a result. The natural and ordinary meaning of Gateway F was clear, and there was no basis for drawing a distinction between direct and indirect damage. Nor was there any basis for applying the European jurisprudence on the Brussels Convention and Brussels I Regulations. Finally, the expression “the damage” in Gateway F did not mean that all the damage, or the damage which completed the cause of action, had to be sustained in Hong Kong.’

[74] ff Collins NPJ provides a historic and geographical comparative (Commonwealth) tour d’horizon, confirming the lower courts’ view.

[107]-[108] ‘(I)n the light of the legislative purpose, the natural and ordinary meaning of the word “damage” is just that, and the rule does not distinguish between the damage which completes a cause of action and that which does not, nor does it distinguish between direct or indirect damage, or between physical or financial damage. The question is whether there is a legislative purpose, or a public policy, or an absurd or undesirable result, which justifies a narrower construction, to encompass only direct damage as opposed to indirect damage.’: the judge finds there is no such purpose, policy or result.’

[109] he discusses 3 flows in the reasoning of the alternative reading, which are worth a read. [121] the same safety valve is emphasised as the UKSC did in the majority view in Brownlie: where the exercise of the locus damni gateway leads to unwarranted results, forum non conveniens can come to the rescue.

Geert.

G I Globinvestment. A jurisdiction finding with core shortfalls on Brussels Ia.

In G I Globinvestment Ltd & Ors v VP Fund Solutions (Luxembourg) SA & Ors [2022] EWHC 1872 (Comm) wealthy Italian investors seek to recover losses which they suffered when investments they had made plummeted in value at the outset of the COVID pandemic. Defendants are in various jurisdictions. Most have accepted jurisdiction, two of them, one based in Luxembourg, the other in Liechtenstein, challenge jurisdiction.

The claim against the Liechtenstein defendant is subject to common law rules, the country not being a party to Lugano. I will leave that further undiscussed here, suffice to say the challenge was unsuccessful.

The claim against the Luxembourg based defendant was issued before Brexit implementation date and subject to Brussels Ia. It claims there is an A25 exclusive choice of court clause in the investment fund’s general subscription terms, and Vineall DJ discusses it with reference to the general A25 outline in PIFSS v Piqtet.

Parties are agreed [64] – wrongly, nota bene, that on formal validity, the question is whether there has been an actual consensus between the parties, clearly and precisely demonstrated, and on material validity, the question is whether the dispute between the parties arose or originated from the particular legal relationship in connection with which the clause was concluded. That is the kind of agreement which would see my students fail a Brussels Ia question.

[65] a further major error is made with the parties seemingly agreeing that ‘whether the claim falls within the scope of the [clause], that question is to be answered according to Luxembourg law’.

The conclusions are [88] that there is no [forum clause] in the in the Subscription Agreement, although there is choice of law clause; 88.2. There is no EJC in the Offering Document; The Offering Document wrongly asserts that there is a jurisdiction clause in the Subscription Agreement; That is insufficient to establish a clearly and precisely demonstrated consensus; no consensus as to jurisdiction is demonstrated: the result of the conflicting documents is a muddle; therefore there is no exclusive jurisdiction clause on which VP Lux can rely.

I have not got the kind of access to the file to say the outcome is factually wrong – the route to it certainly is and simply wrong in law.

The judge also [89] concludes that whether one of the claimants is a consumer who can sue in England and Wales need not be decided:  ‘That issue does not seem to me to be entirely straightforward and since it is not necessary to resolve it in the light of my conclusions about [choice of court] I prefer not to decide it’: why not?: VP Lux contest jurisdiction and it is the judge’s task under Brussels Ia to assess the existence of jurisdiction on any of the Brussels Ia grounds.

Had the judgment been issued in exam season it would have been obvious material for ‘spot the Brussels Ia errors’.

Geert.

 

Athena Capital. Court of Appeal sets aside case-management stay under Brussels Ia, emphasises Brussels statutory purpose and A6 ECHR.

In Athena Capital Fund SICAV-FIS SCA & Ors v Secretariat of State for the Holy See [2022] EWCA Civ 1051, the Court of Appeal has overturned the High Court’s judgment ordering a stay in a case involving alleged property fraud. I reviewed the first instance judgment here. The judge held the E&W courts did have jurisdiction over the claims but stayed them

because he took the view that the respondent had adopted a neutral position as to whether the appellants were under any liability and because the real dispute was not between the parties to this action but between the appellants and the prosecuting authorities responsible for the conduct of criminal proceedings against the fourth appellant in the Vatican City State.

(Males LJ [1]).

Many of the High Court judgment’s’ findings were not on appeal (such as the erroneous dropping of renvoi in the A25 BIa choice of court analysis).

The Court of Appeal spends a while summarising the earlier judgment, to arrive [54] at the crucial juncture between the Brussels Ia Regulation and case-management stays, with reference to its very recent decisions in Municipio and Nokia and to Article 6 ECHR right of access to courts [59]. Para 59 is crucial and I repeat it here in full

There is, as it seems to me, no reason to doubt that it is only in rare and compelling cases that it will be in the interests of justice to grant a stay on case management grounds in order to await the outcome of proceedings abroad. After all, the usual function of a court is to decide cases and not to decline to do so, and access to justice is a fundamental principle under both the common law and Article 6 ECHR. The court will therefore need a powerful reason to depart from its usual course and such cases will by their nature be exceptional. In my judgment all of the guidance in the cases which I have cited is valuable and instructive, but the single test remains whether in the particular circumstances it is in the interests of justice for a case management stay to be granted. There is not a separate test in “parallel proceedings” cases. Rather, considerations such as the existence of an exclusive English jurisdiction clause and the danger of circumventing a statutory scheme for the allocation of jurisdiction (such as the Judgments Regulation) will be weighty and often decisive factors pointing to where the interests of justice lie.

Males LJ therefore, like others before him, does not rule out a case-management stay even for proceedings covered by Brussels Ia yet puts (among others) that Regulation’s statutory purpose, and the need not to allow it to be circumvented, at the centre ground of the decision on a stay.

[60] ff a succinct background is given to the happiness, or not, of English courts entertaining negative declarations. [74] is the Court of Appeal’s core argument for lifting the stay:

I consider that the judge’s conclusion on what he described as the Secretariat’s “central argument” was mistaken. The Secretariat was not neutral. It follows that the basis on which the judge concluded that, at present, the grant of declarations would serve no useful purpose and therefore exercised his discretion to grant a case management stay was fundamentally flawed. Indeed the circumstances in which he envisaged that the declarations might serve a useful purpose and that the stay might be lifted, that is to say if the Secretariat adopted a partisan position in the criminal proceedings in the Vatican, already existed.

The judge had essentially decided that claimants, given the jurisdictional (for reasons of immunity) unavailability of the real defendants, had picked an ‘innocent bystander’ against whom to seek the negative declaration, the Secretariat, yet the Court of Appeal now finds that the Secretariat is not a neutral bystander at all. There is a real ‘dispute between the appellants and the Secretariat as to whether the appellants are under any civil liability to the Secretariat, for example to pay compensation, as a result of entering into the Transaction.’ [75]

[77] it is conceded that the lifting of the stay means there will be related proceedings going on in E&E, and the Vatican. But that is not found to be a reason to stay the English proceedings.

Geert.

 

 

 

On the Beach v Ryanair. A clairvoyance stretch in assessing an Article 30 ‘related actions’ stay.

Another overdue post following up on earlier Twitter flag. In On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd & Anor [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) is a competition law ‘stand-alone’ damages suit. OTB  is an online travel agent. It claims against Ryanair on the basis of abuse of dominant position. Ryanair have claimed against ia OTB in Ireland, on the basis among others of infringement of intellectual property rights. (Ryanair prefer to sell directly to consumers and  do not generally co-operate with online or other travel agents). OTB suggest the Irish claim is effectively warehoused and that an Irish court will soon hold the claim be dismissed for want of ‘prosecution’.

Nugee LJ considered in particular whether in assessing the relatedness of proceedings, the judge can indeed may have to take into account what is likely to be pleaded by way of defence in both actions (here: OTB is likely to plead competition law arguments should the case continue in Ireland). He held [52] he can:

the better view is that where an application for a stay is made at a stage when the defence to an action has not yet been pleaded, the Court can have regard to the substance of a defence that it can confidently predict is likely to be pleaded.

However [53] ff on the facts he then sided with OTB which argued

that the Court can hardly proceed on the basis that OTB is likely to plead any particular matter by way of defence in the Irish OTB proceedings as if its motion to dismiss the action for want of prosecution succeeds, there never will be a defence. At that point any chance of the two actions being related will disappear.

This is where the reasoning becomes contradictory. The judge [54] concedes that he ‘was not asked by either party to form any view of the likely outcome of OTB’s motion to dismiss, and I would in any event be very reluctant to do so as this is self-evidently a matter for the Irish court’ . However [55] he says that

if one looks at the Irish proceedings as they stand, with no competition issues yet raised, there does not seem to me much overlap between the claims there made and Ryanair’s prospective defence in England which will be focused very largely on competition issues.

This I believe amounts to a form of judicial and litigation clairvoyance which goes too far, even in the wide remit which Article 30 gives to the judge assessing relatedness and the appropriateness of an Article 30 stay.

[57] ff Nuggee LJ holds obiter that had the cases been related, he would have exercised his discretion not to stay.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.521 ff.

Porr Bau. Medina AG on waste and end-of-waste status of excavated soil.

Medina AG’s end June Opinion in C-238/21 Porr Bau GmbH v Bezirkshauptmannschaft Graz-Umgebung will delight waste lawyers for the case once again evolves around the definition of ‘waste’ as applied to excavated soil. Statute to be interpreted is the WFD or the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98. CJEU SAPPI is a recent judgment  often referred to by the AG.

Porr Bau, the applicant in the main proceedings, is a construction undertaking established in Austria. In July 2015, certain local farmers asked it to supply them, against payment, with excavated soil and to distribute it over their properties. The purpose of the farmers’ request was to level their agricultural land and improve their cultivation areas, thereby increasing yields. Porr Bau applied to the relevant authorities for a statement that the soil was not to be considered waste so as it could avoid a number of taxes. That authority disagreed and also held that the soil, which it considered to be waste, had not yet reached end-of-waste status.

The AG (36) opines that it should not be assumed that all excavated soil by a construction undertaking is by default to be discarded, and that it is difficult to conclude that, under circumstances such as those of the present case, the intention of a construction undertaking is to discard excavated soil that has been carefully selected, subjected to a quality control and supplied as uncontaminated top-quality material in order to attend to a specific request from local operators in need of that material. He also suggests, less convincingly in my view, (38 ff) that such soil may be considered a by-product of the construction sector. 

Should he not be followed on the waste definition issue, the AG suggests and he is right in my view that national law must not deny end-of-waste status until the holder fulfils certain formal requirements with no environmental relevance such as record-keeping and documentation obligations.

Geert.

EU Waste law, 2nd ed 2015, 1.20 ff.

 

Van Heck v Giambrone. In the absence of an EU harmonised approach, whether an issue is finally determined by foreign courts (relevant to lis pendens purposes) is a matter of national civil procedure, and as foreign law needs to be proven.

This one is overdue for review on the blog. In Van Heck v Giambrone & Partners Studio Legale Associato [2022] EWHC 1098 (QB) the High Court confirmed in appeal the refusal of a stay on Article 29 Brussels Ia lis pendens grounds in a case concerning a barrister’s claim for professional fees. The defendant in the English proceedings had initiated an Italian claim, prior to the English claim, in which it denied liability for the fees: a classic mirror claim. The court of first instance in Palermo had denied it had jurisdiction. That judgment went to appeal, where it is pending however the first instance, sole judge in England held that the jurisdictional issue had been conclusively dealt with and was not in appeal. Hence that no ‘lis’ was still pending for Article 29 to apply.

Soole J [75] held that the critical question for determination was whether the proceedings in the court first seised, i.e. the Palermo Claim, had been ‘finally determined in relation to its jurisdiction’. Whether or not that is the case, in the absence of a European harmonised approach to whether the national courts are still seized of the jurisdictional issue, is a matter of national procedural law [80]] which the E&W judge is to assess as a matter of foreign law hence fact, to be proven by the parties. That finding is a factual issue which the judge held upon with the help of relevant expert and  is not within the appeal.

Stay therefore dismissed.

Geert.

Deane v Barker. Foreign law is fact leads to interesting comparative discussion on statutory interpretation (and the Spanish language).

In Deane v Barker & Ors [2022] EWHC 1523 (QB) concerns the frequent and upsetting scenario of falls in rented holiday accommodation. Claimant is habitually resident in England, proceedings were issued in December 2019, and subject therefore to Brussels Ia. Any jurisdictional challenge would have been tricky (but not impossible, seeing as 2 of the defendants are based in Spain; one of them one presumes is sued in E&W on the basis of BIa’s insurance title, the other (the Spanish company which manages the property) on the basis of the anchor mechanism or perhaps forum contractus). At any rate, there is no jurisdictional objection.

The owners of the villa, like the claimant, are domiciled in England and they are being sued on the tort of negligence which, per A4(2) Rome II, makes English law in principle the applicable law to most of the claim (there is also an additional contractual claim against the property manager, said to be subject to Spanish law per the cascade of A4 Rome I; and a claim in tort subject to Spanish law per A4(1) ).

Issues such as the standard of care and breach of duty viz the main claim will be informed by whether the staircase complied with Spanish law safety standards – CTE: that is the result of A17 Rome II. The issues for this preliminary discussion, are [21]

Issue 1 Whether the works conducted at the villa and/or on the staircase were refurbishment works (such as to trigger the application of the CTE) or merely maintenance works (such as not to trigger the application of the CTE)? Issue 2 Whether the villa (and the staircase within it) was for general or public use (such that the material provisions of the CTE would presumptively apply) or for restricted use (such that the same provisions would not apply)? Issue 3 Whether, if the material provisions of the CTE apply, this would in principle give rise to a breach of duty in English and Spanish law?

Issue 1 and 2 depend on the interpretation of foreign law which, in common law courts, is fact and must be proven. The discussion here seems to have turned on lengthy debate on the exact meaning of definitions. That this should be discussed so intensely does not surprise me (unlike the judge who suggested it was unusual): if a definition is of great relevance to the outcome of the case, why should it not be extensively discussed.  The debate also engages the methods of interpretation by the Spanish courts: this leads [38ff] to expert views and discussion that are  interesting with a view to comparative statutory interpretation, and will be of relevance to those with an interest in languages and law.

Geert.

A primer on the latest climate litigation judgment: Friends of the Earth et al v UK Government. Victory on transparency and data grounds.

Others will no doubt analyse Friends of the Earth Ltd & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [2022] EWHC 1841 (Admin) at much more length. I just thought I would pen down my thoughts when reading the judgment.

The case is a further judgment holding Governments to account for not addressing climate change challenges properly. The United Kingdom being a dualist country (all the more so following Brexit), the arguments do not much feature the Paris Agreement directly. Rather, claimants aim to hold Government to how Parliament said it should act in addressing climate change  in the Climate Change Act 2008 – CCA 2008, and, additionally, through the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, whether or not in combination with the UK Human Rights Act. The core of the exercise and judgment therefore is one of statutory interpretation.

Of note first of all is that most of the claimants’ arguments were rejected and one assumes therefore that they will be seeking permission to appeal (just as the Government will).

The judgment kicks off with the oblique reference to trias politica. Holgate J [22] cites R (Rights: Community: Action) v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2021] PTSR 553 at [6]: –

“It is important to emphasise at the outset what this case is and
is not about. Judicial review is the means of ensuring that public
bodies act within the limits of their legal powers and in
accordance with the relevant procedures and legal principles
governing the exercise of their decision-making functions. The
role of the court in judicial review is concerned with resolving
questions of law. The court is not responsible for making
political, social, or economic choices. Those decisions, and those
choices, are ones that Parliament has entrusted to ministers and
other public bodies. The choices may be matters of legitimate
public debate, but they are not matters for the court to determine.
The court is only concerned with the legal issues raised by the
claimant as to whether the defendant has acted unlawfully.”

And [194]: judicial review in this case must not be merits review and the judge must adopt a ‘light touch’.

Starting with the ECHR arguments, there were summarily dismissed [261] ff. They engaged with Article 2 ECHR’s right to life, Article 8’s right to family life (these two being the classic anchors for environmental rights in the ECHR) and Article 1 of the first protocol (‘A1P1′)’s right to [protection of property. Holgate J holds that the claimants’ argument on the ECHR ‘goes beyond permissible incremental development of clear and constant Strasbourg case law’ [275] and [269-270] that the Dutch Urgenda decision offers a narrow window of ECHR relevance to climate law which does not open in the current case (with [270] in fine an explicit warning that Dutch authority, it being a monist country, should not hold much sway in England and Wales).

A first ground discussed the role of quantitative v qualitative assessment and whether and the degree to which the Minister was to show the targets could be met quantitatively. The judge held that ‘the CCA 2008 does not require the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the quantifiable effects of his proposals and policies will enable the whole of the emissions reductions required by the carbon budgets to be met. The [statutory] obligation …does not have to be satisfied by quantitative analysis alone.’ [193].

However one of the grounds on which the challenge did succeed is the quality of the input for the Minister’s decision: this overall briefing was held to have omitted data the minister was legally obliged to take into account, and which was not insignificant. As a result the Minister failed to take it into account as a material consideration, so that his decision was unlawful (compare [200]). [221] the briefing was held to have been wanting, in that it failed to identify under the quantitative analysis the contribution each quantifiable proposal or policy would make to meeting the UK’s carbon budgets; and it failed to identify under the qualitative analysis which proposals and policies would meet the 5% shortfall for one of the carbon budgets and how each would do so.

[246] ff (where Holgate J does refer, albeit with statutory distinguishing, to relevant Irish cases), another partial ground is upheld namely that of proper information given to Parliament (and therefore also the public; both a sore point in the current UK Government) on the data reached for the Ministerial conclusion and data on the pathways for delivery themselves. [257]: ‘contributions from individual policies which are properly quantifiable must be addressed in’ the report given to Parliament and hence the public.

The result therefore is important in terms of accountability and transparency (where unfortunately no mention was made of the Aarhus Convention which continues to apply to the UK), with the latter element also being inspirational for other jurisdictions where Governments have been told to go back to the climate change drawing board.

Geert.

Nagel v PDC. Permission for service out withdrawn on forum non and disclosure issues.

W Nagel (a firm) v Pluczenik& Ors [2022] EWHC 1714 (Comm) concerns litigation in the diamond sector. It is an appeal against permission for service out which triggers various jurisdictional considerations, including forum non, as well as disclosure and ‘clean hands’ concerns.

The judgment is a good illustration of claim and counterclaim serving jurisdictional purposes.

Defendants are a Belgium-domiciled diamond manufacturer (PDC) and its equally Belgium-based managing director Mr Pluczenik . Claimant Nagel is a UK based diamond broker. Nagel is defendant in Belgian proceedings brought in May 2015 by defendants in the E&W proceedings, who used a Belgian-based anchor defendant to sue the English claimant in Belgium (A8(1) Brussels Ia); Nagel are also defendant in a September 2015 Belgian claim brought by the same claimants and since consolidated by the Belgian courts. Nagel itself issued a claim against PDC in the English High Court in March 2015, did not serve it, but sent a letter before action which indicated that it intended to bring proceedings in England.

In June 2015, as direct reaction to the Belgian Claim, Nagel amended the English Claim to seek negative declaratory relief to the effect that it was not liable in respect of a number of contractual duties.

In July 2017 Popplewell J found for Nagel, including in respect of the negative declaratory relief: W Nagel (A Firm) v Pluczenik Diamond Company NV [2017] EWHC 1750 (Comm). His judgment was confirmed by the Court of Appeal: [2018] EWCA Civ 2640, payments were made and the E&W proceedings ended.

Come forward third defendant in the current E&W proceedings, Ms Shine, who was the CEO of a subsidiary of De Beers – De Beers Trading Company. She has never worked for either of the Claimant or the First or Second Defendants, but she gave a statement to the Belgian court in 2017, supporting PDC. Her statement was provoked it seems by the outcome of the E&W proceedings which did not match her recollection. Nagel originally objected to jurisdiction solely on the ground of lis pendens (A29-30 BIa).

In July 2020 (one can see that in this case the speed of Belgian proceedings is nothing like in the case I reported yesterday) the Belgian claimants put forward their arguments on jurisdiction based on Antwerp being forum contractus per A7(1) BIA (they argued centre of gravity or characteristic performance was in Antwerp) [20].

In an interim, February 2021 interim judgment the Belgian court held it had jurisdiction on the basis of A7 forum contractus. It considered the lis pendens issue noting that it could no longer apply now that the English Claim was concluded. It then concluded that it had jurisdiction to determine the dispute. The Court noted that “the defendants apparently do not (or no longer) dispute” that the services were performed in Antwerp. 

Nagel then dropped the jurisdictional arguments and at hearings 7 May 2021 onwards went for res judicata, arguing …the English judgment has the status of res judicata with regard to the present proceedings, so that the court on the basis of Article 23 and 25 Judicial Code [the Belgian CPR, GAVC] is currently prohibited from again deciding on the claim…” [30]. End of May 2021 Nagel then commenced the present claim in the Commercial Court. The claim alleges that the Belgian Claim constitutes a tortious abuse of process and forms part of an unlawful means conspiracy between the Defendants. Ms Shine is the Third Defendant. It is said that the provision of the Shine Statement and its (lack of) merits justify an inference that she was involved in the abuse of process and the conspiracy [31].

In September 2021 Moulder J gave permission for service out (required post Brexit) on the basis that the claim met limb (a) of the tort gateway viz “damage was sustained, or will be sustained, within the jurisdiction” (Nagel trades from England, paid sums to Belgian lawyers from a bank account in England and has consequently suffered loss here; she also UKSC Brownlie for the damage gateway). She refused permission on two other gateways – necessary and proper party and tort committed within the jurisdiction. It is alleged by defendants that Moulder J was not given any indication of the Belgian interim judgment.

The Belgian Claim is now scheduled for trial in January 2023.

[64] Cockerill J holds that the Belgian findings on jurisdiction and the existence of a judgment which dealt in terms with jurisdiction should on any view have been put before Moulder J and [65] that this breach of duty of disclosure was deliberate. She also holds [70] that the picture sketched of the Belgian proceedings being ‘in limbo’ was plainly wrong: they were definitely active, and that it had been wrongfully suggested that the Belgian judge was not going to deal with the res judicata issue. On that basis, she would have set aside permission for service out [75] however this point turns out to be obiter for the reason for reversal of the order is that E&W are not the appropriate forum [76] ff. Relevant factors being that (i) the jurisdiction of the Belgian Courts appears to have been established by PDC and accepted by Nagel (at least on a prima facie basis), (ii) the Belgian claim is progressing and (iii) there is scope for determination of a res judicata issue (which replicates the issues sought to be brought here) and (iv) a determination of the res judicata issue is (and was) likely to be determined relatively soon.

Moreover, Belgium clearly is an appropriate forum [79] the Belgian Claim is one brought by a Belgian company (PDC), arising out of services provided in Belgium (as the Belgian Court has held), alleging fraud on the Belgian Court. (The serious issue to be tried discussion leads to an analysis of Article 4 Rome II as retained EU law).

A good illustration as I mentioned of claim, counterclaim, and of course the clean hands principle.

Geert.

Simon v Tache. Interesting issues on post-Brexit Brussels lis pendens, and on moment of seizure in amended claims.

Simon v Tache & Ors [2022] EWHC 1674 (Comm) is an interesting judgment which one assumes is very appealable given the untested Withdrawal Agreement and other angles.

At issue is i.a. whether Article 67 Withdrawal Agreement requires both sets of proceedings which are a candidate for Brussels Ia’s Article 29-30 lis pendens /related cases provisions, to have been pending prior to Brexit Implementation Date and what date needs to be considered the date of seizing.

Claimants argue, that the Belgian Proceedings, which I outline below, could only have become related on 3 May 2021 by the lodging of the 3 May Submissions, and that the English Court only became seized of the English proceedings after 31 December 2020, either on the making of Service Out Application or on the subsequent issue of the English Proceedings. On this basis it would not be open to the Defendants in the English proceedings to rely upon Article 67 as applying Articles 29 and 30 of Brussels Recast to the English Proceedings.

Claimant is a French national living in London. She is a medical doctor who previously practiced. She now focuses on art and design. Defendants are Belgian nationals, contemporary art dealers with a gallery website in English. This element notably raises issues whether the contract could qualify as a consumer contract. Defendants deny this, citing the very example I often give in class when teaching the relevance of language in the context of the Pammer Alpenhof criteria: the very use of English on websites, particularly in the art, design or hospitality sector in cities like Brussels are hardly an indication of direction of activities outside the location. The contract being a consumer contract seemingly was not flagged in claim form or submissions, it only came up at hearing.

Claimant and defendants having met in Paris, various artworks were delivered to claimant’s Paris address. Lex contractus is disputed [20]. The relationship soured and Belgian libel proceedings by defendants in the E&W proceedings were initiated end of October 2020. End of March 2021 Dr Simon was given permission to serve out. Her application mentioned the Belgian proceedings but argued that these were unrelated, ia in light of the different (non)contractual basis of those proceedings [35]. A claim form was sent to defendants’ lawyers early April 2021 and the claim form was filed 10 May 2021. On 3 May the defendants in the E&W proceedings amended thier Belgian claim, adding a request for declaration of non-liability: in other words they requested the Belgian court to declare that there was no wrongdoing on their part in the contractual relationship.

End of October 2021 the first instance Belgian court held it does have jurisdiction, but that no damage was proven. That court however declined to rule on the claim for a negative declaration because the allegations were before the English court. The Belgian court’s dictum on that issue is very brief, declaring only ‘“Whereas the ensuing dispute was never resolved and is currently the subject of a lawsuit in London, such that this court will refrain from commenting on the merits of that case.” : it did not specify why which clearly is a failure on its part.

[50] it is the Defendants’ case that the Belgian court was first seized on 3 May 2021, before the E&W Court was first seized on 10 May 2021 on the issue of proceedings. On the other hand, it is Dr Simon’s case that the E&W Court was first seized on the making of the Service Out Application and/or the making of the Service Order on 30 March 2021, alternatively on the issue of the Claim Form on 10 May 2021, but that the Belgian court was only seized when the Defendants’ claim for a negative declaration was filed on 5 August 2021.

It is undisputed [52] that as a matter of Belgian procedural law, it would be open to Dr Simon to raise a counterclaim in respect of the causes of action that she seeks to pursue by the English Proceedings in the Belgian Proceedings, and to do so notwithstanding that they are now before the Belgian Appeal Court. Expectations of the Court of Appeal ruling varied between one and five years [54] however in the end that Court surprised all and held after the English judge’s draft judgment had been circulated.

In November 2021 Dr Simon at her turn added a claim to her English claim form, one in dishonesty.

The judge holds [74] that BIa continues to apply to new claims added to proceedings commenced prior to 31 December 2020 and claims against new defendants joined to such proceedings after that date. He refers to  On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) in support (acknowledging that that case is not authority to him and that the parties in that case were in agreement on the issue).

On the issue of seizure, the judge holds [92] that this must be linked to the formal lodging of a claim form in order to issue proceedings, rather than the taking of some preliminary step to obtain permission with regard to the service of proceedings which might never be issued. I have sympathy with the view [85] that this gives the other party a great opportunity to torpedo proceedings.

“the same cause of action, between the same parties” is judged, despite an acknowledgment of EU autonomous interpretation, with reference to Belgian procedural law and expert reports on same [103]. That must be a vulnerable position.

Conclusion on A29 is that a stay must be ordered [114] and obiter [120] that one would have been ordered on A30 grounds.

Service out is discussed [121] in a bit of a vacuum because of course is BIa applies then service out is not required. Here reference is made to Rome I’s applicable law as an element of the gateway requirements (contract governed by English law) (held: no: Belgian law is prima facie lex contractus [134], with discussion ia of the consumer title. As a pudding, forum non conveniens is considered and this is surely where the jurisdictional arguments become excessive per Lord Briggs’ speech in Vedanta.

Then comes the final pousse-café: the Belgian Court of Appeal, unexpectedly fast, found it had no jurisdiction (this may be appealable to the Belgian Supreme Court), leaving the possibility of a negative conflict of jurisdiction which the parties were invited to comment upon.

A case to watch.

Geert.

%d bloggers like this: