Skat v Solo Capital Partners. When faced with Dicey rule 3, I’ll see your tax claim and raise it to a fraud one.

I reviewed the first instance judgment in Skat v Solo Capital Partners here and concluded that it endangered the effet utile of Brussels Ia (and Lugano). Justice Baker had concluded that all SKAT’s claims were inadmissible as a consequence of Dicey Rule 3. The Court of Appeal has now largely reversed, [Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners Llp [2022] EWCA Civ 234] thereby resurrecting a £1,4 billion claim.

SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds. SKAT is not seeking to recover due and unpaid dividend tax or indeed any tax, because the foundation of its argument is that in the case of the alleged fraud defendants there was no liability to pay tax, no shares, no dividends, no tax and no withholding tax. There was never a taxpayer/tax authority relationship between the Solo etc Applicants or the alleged fraud defendants and SKAT. The mere fact that the alleged fraud is committed in the context of taxation or against a foreign tax authority is insufficient to bring the matter within the rule [SKAT’s counsel arguments, [30]-[31]). To allow the defendants to escape their liability, not in a tax fraud but in a general conspiracy, would also run counter the fraus omnia corrumpit principle [ditto, 62], a point which Flaux C agrees with obiter [146] in a case of a major international fraud..

Flaux C is much less verbose than the submissions before him. Yet again a jurisdictional point was allowed to be litigated to great length – albeit one may appreciate counsel and clients’ energy on those issues given the value of the claim.

[127] the basis of the claim is fraudulent misrepresentation. It is not a claim to unpaid tax or a claim to recover tax at all. It is a claim to recover monies which had been abstracted from SKAT’s general funds by fraud [128]. Even though SKAT may be an emanation of the Danish state, the Dicey revenue rule does not apply [128], neither does the wider sovereign powers rule within Dicey Rule 3:

‘In bringing a claim to recover the monies of which it was defrauded, SKAT is not doing an act of a sovereign character or enforcing a sovereign right, nor is it seeking to vindicate a sovereign power. Rather it is making a claim as the victim of fraud for the restitution of monies of which it has been defrauded, in the same way as if it were a private citizen.’ [129]

This latter reasoning falls short I find of proper criteria to guide its future application, although more is said at [130]: the claim to recover the money is at the core of the Chancellor’s reasoning here and that claim is a straightforward money claim, and [133] ‘the claims are ones which could just as well be brought by a private citizen’. That is the kind of argument which echoes CJEU authority on civil and commercial and to my mind the Court of Appeal could have helped us all by pointing out more specifically to what degree Dicey Rule 3 be informed by CJEU authority on ‘civil and commercial’, regardless of Brexit.

That there would be a detailed examination of the Danish tax regime and possible criticism of it and of SKAT’s systems and control, does not somehow convert the claim into one to enforce that tax regime. Recognition of foreign revenue laws is permissible under Dicey Rule 3 [138].

The position of one of the defendants, ED&F Man, is different in the sense that there is no allegation that they were implicated in a fraud. Although it is alleged that misrepresentations were made by them, the misrepresentations are said to have been negligent.

SKAT has to accept that as against those defendants the claim is inadmissible by virtue of Dicey Rule 3 unless it can satisfy the Court: (i) that the claim is a “civil and commercial matter” not a “revenue matter” for the purposes of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Recast Regulation; and (ii) that the operation of Dicey Rule 3 is precluded because, contrary to the judge’s analysis, it would impair the effectiveness of the Brussels Recast Regulation.

Contrary to the conclusion the judge reached the Court of Appeal finds that the claim against ED&F Man is a “revenue matter” falling outside the Brussels Recast Regulation. Here the Court of Appeals applies parity of reasoning with its assessment of the other claims: [150]:

Whilst the test for the application of Dicey Rule 3 may not be identical to that for determining what is a “revenue etc matter” for Article 1(1) of the Brussels Recast Regulation, it can be seen that its application leads to the same answer. If Dicey Rule 3 applies (as SKAT has to accept it does in relation to the claim against ED&F Man) then by the same reasoning, the basis for the claim by SKAT against those defendants is either a right which arises from an exercise of public powers or a legal relationship characterised by an exercise of public powers, from which it necessarily follows that the claim is a revenue matter outside the Brussels Recast Regulation.

Unfortunately therefore the effet utile argument (that application of Dicey rule 3 impairs the effectiveness of BIa /Lugano, as I had argued in my earlier post) is not discussed [153].

The title of this piece of course hints at the relevance of claim formulation. It is also exaggerated: SKAT cannot conjure up fraud elements out of nowhere to reinvent a tax claim as one in mere tortious and fraudulent misrepresentation. However it is clear that in cases that are somewhat murky, claim formulation will be crucial to navigate Dicey Rule 3.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners. Unfinished business on endangering Brussels Ia’s effet utile, ‘civil and commercial’ in revenue matters, enforcing foreign public law and Dicey Rule 3.

At issue in Skatteforvaltningen (The Danish Customs And Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP & Ors [2021] EWHC 974 (Comm)  is ‘Dicey Rule 3’ which states that “English courts have no jurisdiction to entertain an action: (1) for the enforcement, either directly or indirectly, of a penal, revenue or other public law of a foreign State; or (2) founded upon an act of state“. The assertion of such claims is an extension of a sovereign power of taxation and, per Lord Keith of Avonholm in Government of India v Taylor [1955] A.C. 491, 511: “an assertion of sovereign authority by one State within the territory of another, as distinct from a patrimonial claim by a foreign sovereign, is (treaty or convention apart) contrary to all concepts of independent sovereignties“.

By its claims, SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds.

Brussels Ia and Lugano (the latter viz a number of defendants domiciled in Lugano States) feature in the discussion because SKAT argue that [22] ‘: (i) this is a ‘civil and commercial matter’, not a ‘revenue, customs or administrative matter’, under A1(1) BIa; and (ii) it is therefore not possible to invoke Dicey Rule 3 to dismiss its claims against Brussels-Lugano defendants, because to do so would be to decline to exercise a jurisdiction conferred by the Brussels-Lugano regime otherwise than in accordance with its rules.’

If the argument were upheld, any claims falling within Dicey Rule 3 would proceed against Brussels-Lugano defendants while being dismissed against other defendants. 

Dicey Rule 3 is not a jurisdictional rule: it is a substantive rule of English law. Yet SKAT’s argument in my view essentially means that an application of Dicey Rule 3 to the matter, would deprive A1(1) BIa of its effet utile.

Logically the BIa /Lugano argument would have had to have been considered first. Baker J does the opposite (his thinking process, unlike writing up, may of course first have considered the BIa argument) and holds at 120 after thorough consideration of the authorities on Dicey Rule 3, that the rule applies: SKAT’s claims seek indirectly to enforce in E&W, Danish revenue law.

In an interesting Coda at 121 ff, he also considers obiter the argument that, in essence, was that in line with a long public international law history, the cross-border recovery of tax refunds wrongfully procured is seen as or assumed to be a matter of revenue law requiring to be dealt with (if at all) by supranational legal instrument. Refence here is made ia to 1925 League of Nations reports.

Justice Baker starts [132] the BIa /Lugano argument along familiar lines: need for autonomous interpretation. QRS 1 ApS et al v Frandsen [1999] EWCA Civ 1463 is English authority under the Brussels Convention, and CJEU C-49/12 Sunico (to which both the AG and the CJEU refer in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al) CJEU authority.

[142] In Sunico, the CJEU considered claims brought by HMRC alleging missing trader VAT carousel frauds. The substantive claims, for damages at common law for an alleged tortious conspiracy to defraud, were pursued in E&W against defendants domiciled in Denmark. HMRC also brought ancillary  proceedings in Denmark to attach assets with a view to enforcing any damages judgment obtained in England. Those Danish proceedings were objected to on the basis that they were a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ excluded from BI.

[144] The CJEU concluded at [41]-[43], essentially, that because the claim was framed in tort and not as a claim under a tax law, the proceedings were a ‘civil and commercial matter’ and not a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Regulation, so long as “the commissioners were in the same position as a person governed by private law in their action against Sunico and the other non-residents sued in the High Court of Justice” (ibid at [43]).

At 149 Baker J concedes that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Frandsen was incorrect per Sunico, however then holds that the result would be the same: the classification of proceedings as a ‘civil and commercial matter’ or a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of applying the Brussels-Lugano regime does not touch the question whether Dicey Rule 3 applies so as to defeat the claim. He suggests [149] a search for the lex causae under Rome II would be largely irrelevant for per A16 Rome II Dicey Rule 3 qualifies as lois de police, and finds support for his view that despite scholarly suggestion (i.a. by prof Briggs), Frandsen must not be displaced, in The Law Debenture Trust Corporation [2017] EWHC 655 (Comm) [and in Andrew Dickinson’s reporting on same], in which the English Act of State doctrine was upheld despite Rome II’s classification of the matter as civil and commercial.

At 165 ff he, somewhat superfluously still considers the more recent CJEU authority of Buak and the aforementioned Movic, and decides at 174 that per BUAK and Movic (on the use of evidence etc.) that SKAT was neither attempting nor able to change the rules of the litigation game, either as to the substantive rules of law that would apply in determining its claims, or as regards the procedural rules applicable in the litigation, or as regards the status or effect of any of the evidence it might deploy or disclose. SKAT was not by this litigation pursuing public law proceedings, in which liabilities are determined as if this were a judicial review of SKAT’s actions, decisions or exercise of public law powers.

Yet that the matters are of a civil and commercial nature, in the end does not matter at all: [176]

To the extent that SKAT relied on the Brussels-Lugano regime as the basis for this court having jurisdiction over the Brussels-Lugano defendants that have been sued, including it may be for serving proceedings out of the jurisdiction, in my judgment it was right to do so. But its having been entitled to do so did not oust or disapply Dicey Rule 3 in respect of those defendants.

Using prof Dickinson’s words (26-27), there is a dissonance here between Brussels Ia and the applicable law. One that, I would suggest, endangers the effet utile of Brussels Ia. Dicey Rule 3’s character as a substantive rather than a jurisdictional rule, does not to my mind save that.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

Reliance: More than just the Act of State doctrine.

Popplewell J held in [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India in April. This post therefore is not a claim to speedy reporting (Allen & Overy have excellent review here). Rather, a quick note on the various implications of the holding in wider context.

The Act of State doctrine (in its narrow sense) essentially holds that courts should not question the validity of acts taken by a foreign government within that government’s territory.

Claimant (at 110) ‘submitted that even if non-justiciable in an English court, (one of the relevant claims, GAVC)…is arbitrable; the basis for the doctrine of foreign act of state, to the extent that it applies, is that one sovereign state should not sit in judgment on the acts of another; unlike a court, an arbitral tribunal is not an organ of a sovereign state; therefore its determination of the validity of the conduct of a sovereign party would not entail one sovereign calling into question the conduct of another; because the rationale for the foreign act of state doctrine does not apply to arbitration, what would in court be a non-justiciable issue can nevertheless be adjudicated upon by arbitrators.’

Popplewell J disagreed in what I understand to be a first formal finding on the subject: at 111 and in discussing relevant authority:

‘whilst some aspects of the foreign act of state doctrine have as their basis the exercise of “judicial self-restraint” (leading to some suggesting it is an expression of comity, GAVC), those are not the aspects of the doctrine which are relevant to the current issue… the principle that the validity and effectiveness of legislative and executive acts of a sovereign state in relation to property within its jurisdiction is not justiciable..is a hard-edged principle of English private international law, and (the majority of authority suggests, GAVC) that its rationale derives from the very concept of sovereignty which recognises the power and right of a state to determine the property rights of those whose property is situate within its territory.’

At 113: ‘there is no good reason why the principle should be any less applicable in arbitration than in litigation before an English court. It does not depend upon the tribunal itself being an organ of a sovereign state or exercising sovereign functions: it depends upon a general principle of English private international law which recognises the sovereignty of nations within recognised spheres, a principle to which arbitration tribunals, no less than courts, are required to give effect when applying English private international law principles.’

The case is an excellent illustration of the now very diverse and not always integrated international dispute resolution landscape. A case like Reliance could have conceivably ended up in BIT arbitration – which as readers will know has its own extensive challenges with domestic regulatory autonomy and the space for investment tribunals to challenge the legality and at the least the proportionate impact of States exercising sovereign regulatory functions.

This leaves two further dispute settlement channels: the use of the courts in ordinary and the use of ‘standard’ commercial arbitration (outside the BIT context), which is what was employed here. As the judgment shows, the former (courts in ordinary) have kept some control over the latter.

Lucia Raimanova and Matej Kosalko signal that classic choice of law rules combined with contractual party autonomy empowers parties to steer the litigation away from issues that a party might wish to avoid: particularly, by opting for the most interesting lex contractus (and, I would add, potentially varying same en parcours de route, to respond to changes in case-law or statutory law), and by having the State concerned sign away its right to invoke the Act of State doctrine (much like the similar contractual surrender of sovereign immunity).

International litigation is seldom confined to singular lines of analysis.

Geert.

 

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