It’s not the grammar, stupid! The High Court in Anchorage on exclusive (or not) choice of court, anti-suit injunctions, Rome, Brussels and much more

In Anchorage (BNP Paribas v Anchorage Capital Europe et al). a bank and a hedge fund are at odds as to whether a handful of instant message communications resulted in a binding contract or contracts and if so, between which parties and on what terms. The issue for decision at the High Court was whether the disputes should be determined in London (home to the London Branch of BNP Paribas and allegedly identified as the exclusive – or not – court of choice in the alleged contracts), New York (home to the hedge fund which however also has a separate LLP domiciled in London) or possibly Luxembourg (home to two funds within Anchorage Group).

For review of the facts reference is best made to the text of the judgment, for there are many framework agreements etc at stake. The High Court’s review of the case though is most interesting for highlighting the limits to what Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation harmonises. The Article aims to ensure a non-formalistic deference to parties’ agreement to have their disputes adjudicated in a particular court. As Males J notes (and the ECJ acknowledges), one should not be overly formalistic in applying Article 23.

Article 23 though does not harmonise the underlying contractual (or not) issues: with whom were contracts made, especially in an agent /principal context; what law applies to the (alleged) choice of court agreement (an issue more or less resolved in the new Brussels I Regulation). Males J applies English law to the issue of validity of the clause, on the basis it would seem of lex contractus (which arguably will no longer be possible come January 2015, as a result of the new Brussels I Regulation): either because of the express determination of such by the parties, or because the lex contractus of the agreement of which it forms part is English law by virtue of the Rome I Regulation (contract for the sale of goods; I am not sure though whether the underlying contract truly is a sale of a good). Arguments for the alternative (in particular, application of New York law to the choice of court agreement) are dismissed on the basis that they represent the kind of semantic approach to such clauses which English law has left firmly behind. Surely a poster-argument indeed for the use of English law in international commerce and an approach which is to be commended.

Even were the validity of the clause not to be upheld, the High Court outlines other jurisdictional grounds: Article 5(1) of the Jurisdiction Regulation on the basis of the place of performance of the obligation in question; Article 5(5) on the basis of a contractual dispute closely connected to the operation of a branch; Article 6(1) on the basis of the cases being closely connected. (Use of Anchorage London as an anchor defendant (lousy pun intended I fear) against the investment funds).

Forum non conveniens (potentially applicable should none of the jurisdictional grounds be valid and given the possibility of New York proceedings) was dismissed; the anti-suit injunction was granted. Here, Males J reviews the rather grammatical arguments made vis-a-vis the choice of court agreement being used transitively or not: again, the Court takes a non-formalistic approach and (respectfully) dismisses the grammatical argument as being elusive.

This is the kind of case upon which one could build an entire conflicts course. If you happen to be preparing one over the holidays period: good luck and enjoy. To all readers past, current and future: Merry Christmas and /or applicable and appropriate season’s greetings. Geert.

Unamar: Better get those travaux préparatoires out. The ECJ does not rule out gold-plating as being ‘mandatory rules’ however the final judgment is up to the forum. Legality of arbitration rules undecided.

I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion in Unamar, Case C-184/12.  The Court held this morning.

The facts  of the case were as follows:  in 2005, Unamar, as commercial agent, and NMB, as principal, concluded a commercial agency agreement for the operation of NMB’s container liner shipping service. The agreement was for a one-year term and was renewed annually until 31 December 2008. It provided that it was to be governed by Bulgarian law and that any dispute relating to the agreement was to be determined by arbitration in Bulgaria. On 19 December 2008, NMB informed its agents that it was obliged, for financial reasons, to terminate their contractual relationship. The agency contract concluded with Unamar was extended only until 31 March 2009.

Unamar brought an action on 25 February 2009 before the Antwerp Commercial Court for an order that NMB pay various forms of compensation provided for under the Law on commercial agency contracts.  NMB in turn brought an action against Unamar for payment of outstanding freight.

In the proceedings brought by Unamar, NMB raised a plea of inadmissibility alleging that the Belgian court did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute before it because there was an arbitration clause in the commercial agency contract. By judgment of 12 May 2009, after joining the cases referred to it by each of the parties, the court ruled that NMB’s plea of lack of jurisdiction was unfounded. As regards the applicable law in the two disputes brought before it, that court ruled, inter alia, that Article 27 of the Belgian Law on commercial agency contracts was a unilateral conflict-of-law rule which was directly applicable as a ‘mandatory rule’ and which thus rendered the choice of foreign law ineffective.

Appeal brought the case in judicial review before the ECJ. The Court did not rule on the issue of jurisdiction, given that the Hof van Cassatie had not raised this in its request. This means that the debate on whether Belgian’s trumping of foreign arbitration in cases such as these continues to be unresolved.

According to NMB, the application of the Law on commercial agency contracts to the dispute in the main proceedings cannot be considered to be ‘mandatory’ within the meaning of Article 7(2) of the Rome Convention, given that the dispute concerns a matter covered by Directive 86/653 and the law chosen by the parties is precisely the law of another Member State which has also transposed that Directive into its national law. Thus, according to NMB, the principles of the freedom of contract of the parties and legal certainty preclude the rejection of Bulgarian law in favour of Belgian law.

The Court emphasises the harmonising purpose of the commercial agency contracts Directive.  It also highlights that the wording of Article 7(2) of the Rome Convention does not expressly lay down any particular condition for the application of the mandatory rules of the law of the forum.  However the ECJ then insists (at 46) that the possibility of pleading the existence of mandatory rules under Article 7(2) of the Rome Convention does not affect the obligation of the Member States to ensure the conformity of those rules with EU law. The considerations underlying such national legislation can be taken into account by EU law only in terms of the exceptions to EU freedoms expressly provided for by the Treaty and, where appropriate, on the ground that they constitute overriding reasons relating to the public interest (reference is made to Arblade). The classification of national provisions by a Member State as public order legislation applies to national provisions compliance with which has been deemed to be so crucial for the protection of the political, social or economic order in the Member State concerned as to require compliance therewith by all persons present on the national territory of that Member State and all legal relationships within that State.

The plea relating to the existence of a ‘mandatory rule’ within the meaning of the legislation of the Member State concerned, as referred to in Article 7(2) of the Rome Convention, must therefore be interpreted strictly: for otherwise it risks upsetting the core rule of that Convention, which is parties’ freedom to choose applicable law.

The Court finally holds that it is for the Belgian court,

in the course of its assessment of whether the national law which it proposes to substitute for that expressly chosen by the parties to the contract is a ‘mandatory rule’, to take account not only of the exact terms of that law, but also of its general structure and of all the circumstances in which that law was adopted in order to determine whether it is mandatory in nature in so far as it appears that the legislature adopted it in order to protect an interest judged to be essential by the Member State concerned. As the Commission pointed out, such a case might be one where the transposition in the Member State of the forum, by extending the scope of a directive or by choosing to make wider use of the discretion afforded by that directive, offers greater protection to commercial agents by virtue of the particular interest which the Member State pays to that category of nationals.‘ (at 50)

The Court then distinguishes Ingmar, in which the law which was rejected was the law of a third country, while in Unamar, the law which was to be rejected in favour of the law of the forum was that of another Member State which, according to all those intervening and in the opinion of the referring court, had correctly transposed Directive 86/653.

The Court concludes ‘Articles 3 and 7(2) of the Rome Convention must be interpreted as meaning that the law of a Member State of the European Union which meets the minimum protection requirements laid down by Directive 86/653 and which has been chosen by the parties to a commercial agency contract may be rejected by the court of another Member State before which the case has been brought in favour of the law of the forum, owing to the mandatory nature, in the legal order of that Member State, of the rules governing the situation of self-employed commercial agents only if the court before which the case has been brought finds, on the basis of a detailed assessment, that, in the course of that transposition, the legislature of the State of the forum held it to be crucial, in the legal order concerned, to grant the commercial agent protection going beyond that provided for by the directive, taking account in that regard of the nature and of the objective of such mandatory provisions.‘ (emphasis added)

The Courts instructions are therefore clear: there is a strong presumption against mandatory law, in light of the correct implementation by Bulgaria; and the national court has to conduct a proper review of the preparatory works of the relevant Belgian Act which transposed the Directive. Discussions in Belgian scholarship reveal that there is no clear view on the exact nature of the ‘mandatory’ character of the gold-plated provisions.

The ECJ does also refer in passing to the Rome Regulation. This Regulation introduces two types of mandatory provisions: simple ‘mandatory’ ones, with reference to national as well as to EU law and with specific reference to gold-plating for the latter; and ‘overriding mandatory’ ones, with reference to the Arblade criteria but no reference to gold-plating.

It is not therefore entirely certain what the precedent value is of Unamar viz the future application of the Regulation, neither is it in my view what the Hof van Cassatie’s research of the travaux préparatoires of the 1995 Act will reveal.

Geert.

‘More closely connected’ in employment contracts – The ECJ in Schlecker emphasises tax and national insurance (social security)

I reported earlier on Wahl AG’s Opinion in C-64/12 Schlecker. The ECJ held last week. Reminder: formally the judgment relates to the application of the similar provision in the predecessor of the Rome I Regulation, the 1980 Rome Convention. The relevant provisions have not materially changed, however. The ECJ in fact refers to the slightly more precise provisions of Rome I in support.

In the case at issue, a closer connection with Germany was suggested by the circumstances as a whole, in particular by the following facts: the employer is a legal person governed by German law; the remuneration was paid in German marks (prior to the introduction of the euro); the pension arrangements were made with a German pension provider; Ms Boedeker had continued to reside in Germany, where she paid her social security contributions; the employment contract referred to mandatory provisions of German law; and the employer reimbursed Ms Boedeker’s travel costs from Germany to the Netherlands.

The Court concurs with the AG that the closer connection test must apply as suggested by its formulation: even if there is a habitual place of performance, this may be trumped by other circumstances. However the Court also held that the sheer amount of ‘other criteria’ in and of itself does not suffice to rebut the presumption: ‘the court called upon to rule in a particular case cannot automatically conclude that the rule laid down in Article 6(2)(a) of the Rome Convention must be disregarded solely because, by dint of their number, the other relevant circumstances – apart from the actual place of work – would result in the selection of another country‘ (at 40).

In other words: the actual place of work has considerable gravity. Nevertheless, among the other criteria, there are two, the Court suggested (however without reference to specific support in preparatory works or otherwise), which are particularly relevant:

among the significant factors suggestive of a connection with a particular country, account should be taken in particular of the country in which the employee pays taxes on the income from his activity and the country in which he is covered by a social security scheme and pension, sickness insurance and invalidity schemes. In addition, the national court must also take account of all the circumstances of the case, such as the parameters relating to salary determination and other working conditions.’ (at 41).

As always, much misery may be avoided by inserting a proper choice of law in the contract, in accordance with the Convention (now Regulation).

Geert.

‘The Bundesgerichtshof was wrong to deny choice of court in favour of Virginia, on the basis of EU mandatory law.’ Discuss.

Such would be the title for a perfect exam question for an advanced conflict class. It would also kill the bird of making the point of German law and scholarship being particularly relevant to conflict of laws. In September 2012 (only just now brought to my attention), the Bundesgerichtshof denied a choice of court agreement in favour of the courts in Virginia. The agreement was part of a contract between a German agent and a principal from the US and co-incided with a choice of law clause, also in favour of the laws of Virginia. Under Virginian law, the agent would not have a right to indemnity, contrary to the commercial agents Directive, which was held in Ingmar to be part of EU mandatory law: that was enough for the German courts to refuse to accept the validity of the choice of court clause, and to accept jurisdiction for German courts on the basis effectively of a minimum presence rule (general jurisdiction over a defendant anywhere it maintains a registered branch or office).

Progress is to varying degree based on assimilation: I shall not therefore repeat the excellent analysis of Jennifer Antomo here.  Choice of court clauses in favour of non-EU courts are not covered by the Brussels I-Regulation. Yet when national courts refuse to acknowledge such choices and assume jurisdiction, the Rome I Regulation on applicable law for contracts, does come into play. In effect, the German court here refuses to acknowledge the clause on the basis of applicable law considerations, whence EU law is far from absent in the case. Some sort of judicial review with the ECJ might therefore have been warranted.

Geert.

Wahl AG in Unamar: national gold-plating of Union law does qualify as lois de police under the Rome Convention

I flagged earlier that regardless of the outcome for the Unamar case itself, an important consideration would be what the Court’s eventual answer will teach us about the Rome I Regulation on the applicable law for contracts (as opposed to its Treaty predecessor, the Rome Convention, which applies to the case at issue). Wahl AG’s Opinion was published this morning (as often, the English version was not yet available at the time of writing). It focuses almost entirely on the Rome Convention – for which from a legal point of view it cannot be faulted.

Belgium’s stronger protection of the agent, long held by Belgian law to be of overriding mandatory rules calibre, gold plates the regime of the Commercial Agents Directive, Directive 86/653. In Unamar, parties have agreed on Bulgarian law being applicable law (as well as incidentally on the case having to go to arbitration in Bulgaria first, attempting to circumvent Belgian law which proscribes the use of arbitration for disputes such as those at issue; the AG notes that this issue was not actually part of the questions referred by the Hof van Cassatie, hence he does not entertain it). The question therefore arises as to whether Belgian law, the lex fori, can justifiably trump Bulgarian law of which no suggestion is being made that it does not meet the minimum standard of the precited Directive.

In view of the minimum harmonisation character of the commercial agents Directive, and of there being no indication that such application leads to infringement of primary EU law, the AG suggests that Belgium courts are justified to qualify the Belgian gold-plating as being of overriding mandatory character.

As I noted when I flagged the reference, in my view the answer would have to be different under the Rome I Regulation. In the absence of a reference to gold plating in Article 9, and (arguably) its presence in Article 3, effect utile requires that the allowance for national rules of overriding mandatory nature, does not cover gold plating. However in the Rome Convention which is applicable to the case referred, EU law as mandatory law does not figure at all, and the room for overriding rules is much wider than it is in the Rome Regulation.

One will have to wait for the ECJ’s judgment to assess whether the Court itself will reveal anything on its position vis-a-vis the Regulation.

Geert.

Applicable law and arbitration clauses – lex arbitri, lex curia, lex contractus – The English view in Sulamerica

Update 22 June 2020 see Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd v Hannigan [2020] NSWCA 82 for a view from Australia, particularly Andre Bell J’s dissenting opinion.

Update 16 January 2020 the grounds in [2019] SGCA 84 BNA v BNB are finally out– thank you again Filbert Lam for letting me know. I shall post separately on the issues.

(Note see various 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 postscripts at the end of this posting)

Update 24 October 2019 Thank you Filbert Lam for alerting me to the Singapore Court of Appeal reversing the High Court Update- I have no access to the CA judgment yet – reasons and analysis to follow.

Update 7 July 2019 for review of a recent Austrian SC decision adopting a favor validitas approach see here. For a view from Singapore see BNA v BNB [2019] SGHC 142 reviewed here: the High Court interpreted an express provision for “arbitration in Shanghai” to be an agreement to Singapore-seated arbitration with hearings in Shanghai, thereby upholding the validity of the arbitration clause and the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

Update 15 May 2019 Whether Fiona Trust is good authority in Australia might have been, but ultimately was not considered in [2019] HCA 13 Rinehart v Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd. For review see here update 12 November 2019 and Michael Douglas case-note here. The High Court found it unnecessary to consider whether Fiona Trust is good law in Australia. According to the plurality (Kiefel CJ, Gageler, Nettle and Gordon JJ), the appeals could be resolved by application of orthodox principles of contract interpretation, without reference to Fiona Trust: para 18.

 

Preferring to settle issues by arbitration (often preceded by mediation) continues to be a preferred method of dispute settlement in commercial transactions. It is most probable that the best results in arbitration are reached for contracts of a sizeable value, between companies with pedigree, with a certain amount of contractual history between them. However even then, lack of attention to detail may land parties in a pickle. In [2012] EWHC 42 (Comm) Sulamerica, the claimant insurers seek the continuation of an interim anti-suit injunction against the defendant insureds. Parties are at loggerheads over the validity of an arbitration agreement between them, which may be found in the policy. Express choice of law for the policy has been made for Brazil. Express and exclusive choice of court has also been made for Brasil. Parties are all Brazilian (incidentally, the re-insurers were not). The subject matter of the insurance is located in Brazil (Jirau, one of the world’s largest hydro-electric facilities). However the arbitration agreement in the contract concludes with appointing London as the seat of the arbitration. Arbitration was agreed to be held under ARIAS rules.

(Not just) under English law [see the House of Lords in Fiona Trust], an arbitration agreement is treated distinct from the substantive agreement in which it is included, for the purpose of assessment of its validity, existence, and effectiveness. This leads one to have to ascertain

lex arbitri (the law of the arbitration agreement, per the preceding sentence);

the curial law or the ‘law of the seat’ (the procedural law which will guide the arbitration proceedings; despite the latin curia not commonly referred to as lex curia);

the ‘proper law’, the law that governs the actual contract (lex contractus); and

the locus arbitri and the lex loci arbitri: the venue of the arbitration and its laws, which may or may not interact with the proceedings. Update 8 January 2018 see for an example of such impact the new Chinese approach to optional arbitration proceedings, applicable as of 1 January 2018).

In the EU, the issue is not covered by the Rome I Regulation, for arbitration is excluded from that Regulation. Whence the courts apply their national conflict of laws rules. In England, this implies identifying the law with which the arbitration agreement has its ‘closest and most real connection’. In Sulamerica, Cooke J held that this was, in this case, England, given London having been assigned as the seat of arbitration.  Indeed in Abuja International Hotels, Hamblen J came to the same conclusion with respect to an underlying agreement that was governed by Nigerian law.

The lesson here is clear. With three sets of applicable law having to be identified, one had better consider them specifically, in writing, in the agreement.

Geert.

Postscript: Cooke J held in January 2012. In May 2012, the Court of Appeal confirmed the decision.

Postscript 2, 3 July 2014: In First Link Investments, the Singapore High Court took a radically different approach in May 2014, noting that “it cannot always be assumed that commercial parties want the same system of law to govern their relationship of performing the substantive obligations under the contract, and the quite separate (and often unhappy) relationship of resolving disputes” and that “the natural inference would instead be to the contrary”. (Case come to my attention thanks to Alistair Henderson and Daniel Waldek). Postscript 4, 2 December 2016. In BCY v BCZ the High Court would seem to have entirely altered that position, reverting back to Sulamerica.

Postscript 3, 2 June 2015:In Trust Risk Group SpA v AmTrust Europe Limited, the Court of Appeal further considered the House of Lords’ presumption of the one shop principle and decided it did not apply to the case at issue. The CA, upon detailed analysis of the agreements at stake, decided in effect that the later agreement was lex specialis vis-a-vis the overall business agreement between parties and hence that choice of law and choice of court of the later agreement prevailed. (Davina Given and Ed Holmes posted on the RPC blog with full review of the case). The Court’s analysis highlights among others the often less than clear language used in commercial agreements, whether or not caused by the fog of closing. In particular, the agreements under consideration used often confusing and not clearly defined concepts to denote the various agreements at stake.

Postscript 5, 25 October 2017: in Roger Shashoua v Mukesh Sharma CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 2841-2843 of 2017 the Indian Supreme Court once again had to emphasise the difference between venue (lex loci arbitri if you like; potentially only the place where hearings are held) and the seat of arbitration (which determines procedural issues; the lex curia). See review by Herbert Smith here.

Schlecker. Wahl AG offers substantive criteria for ‘closer connection’ test for contracts of employment

In his Opinion in Schlecker v Boedeker, Wahl AG offers a number of substantive criteria for national courts to apply the ‘closer connection’ test of Article 8(4) of the Rome I Regulation on the law applicable to contracts – albeit formally his Opinion is on the application of the similar provision in its predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention (the relevant provisions have not materially changed). The Convention reads in relevant part

Article 6 – Individual employment contracts

1. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 3, in a contract of employment a choice of law made by the parties shall not have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law which would be applicable under paragraph 2 in the absence of choice.

2. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 4, a contract of employment shall, in the absence of choice in accordance with Article 3, be governed: (a) by the law of the country in which the employee habitually carries out his work in performance of the contract, even if he is temporarily employed in another country ; or

(b) if the employee does not habitually carry out his work in any one country, by the law of the country in which the place of business through which he was engaged is situated;

 unless it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country, in which case the contract shall be governed by the law of that country.

In the case at issue, Schlecker is a company governed by German law which is active in the retailing of beauty and health products. Although Schlecker is established in Germany, it has many branches in several Member States of the European Union. Under an initial employment contract, Mrs Boedeker – a German national and resident – was employed by Schlecker and performed her duties in Germany from 1 December 1979 to 1 January 1994. Under a further contract, concluded on 30 November 1994, Mrs Boedeker was appointed by Schlecker, with effect from 1 March 1995 until the summer of 2006, as distribution manager (‘Geschäftsführerin/Vertrieb’) for the entire territory of the Netherlands. In that capacity, Mrs Boedeker in fact performed her duties in the Netherlands. By letter of 19 June 2006, Schlecker informed Mrs Boedeker that her position as manager for the Netherlands would be abolished with effect from 30 June 2006 and invited her to take up, under the same contractual conditions, the post of head of accounts (‘Bereichsleiterin Revision’) in Dortmund (Germany), with effect from 1 July 2006. Although Mrs Boedeker lodged an objection on 4 July 2006 against that notice of amendment (‘Änderungskündigung’), she took up her post as regional manager in Dortmund. On 5 July 2006, Mrs Boedeker declared herself unfit for work on medical grounds. As from 16 August 2006, she received benefits from a German health insurance fund (‘Krankenkasse’). Subsequently, various actions were brought both by Mrs Boedeker and by Schlecker before the courts.

In the absence of explicit choice of law by the parties to the contract, the connecting factors sub a) and b) need to be looked at consecutively: i.e. with the ‘habitual’ workplace having priority. Both have been looked in detail by previous case-law. The ‘escape clause’ of the final part of the Article, however has so far not been interpreted by the ECJ.

Wahl AG takes the opportunity to firstly set out the overall logic of the choice of law process under Article 6 (now 8), with an important insight (and the helpful use of moot examples; often used by us in class but not often in Opinions of the AG) into the issue of favor laboratoris. Article 6(1) obliges the national court to test any express choice against the laws which would apply in the absence of choice, and to have the strictest of these (i.e. the most favourable towards the employee) – albeit only for those stricter provisions –  trump even express choice of law. In the absence of choice, however, this comparison need no longer be made: whichever law is identified by Article 6(2) applies in full, even if it is not the most protective towards the employee.

He subsequently advises in favour of giving the escape clause the widest possible remit, trumping the presumptions of Article 6(1) a) and b), also in the particular situation in which an employee has performed an employment contract habitually, for a lengthy period and without interruption, in a single country. In determining what the AG calls the  ‘centre of gravity of the employment relationship’, it is suggested that inter alia the following criteria are relevant: place of habitual performance; the fact that the employee pays taxes and contributions in a particular country, relating to the income from his activity and the fact that he is covered by the social security scheme there and the various pension, sickness insurance and invalidity schemes; In each of these, the AG suggests, the court has to review in fact whether these particular choices were not imposed on the employee, but rather chosen consensually.

As always, one has to wait and see what the Court says – however this case is certain to be very relevant to employment law practice.

Geert.

 

What law applies to the piercing of the corporate veil? The Supreme Court (not) in VTB Capital v Nutritek.

Postscript 1 March 2016 I already refered in my initial posting to similar issues being sub judice in Shell. In the appeals judgment on the jurisdiction issue, the Gerechtshof Den Haag, without being definitive on the issue, suggested that applicable law for considering whether merger operations inserting a new mother company were abusive (merely carried out to make Royal Dutch Shell escape its liability), had to be addressed using ‘among others’ the lex incorporationis (at 3.2).

In VTB Capital v Nutritek [[2013] UKSC 5] , the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom revisits in signature erudite fashion a number of extremely relevant conflicts issues.  Quite a few of them are tantalizingly held out to the reader, without an answer to them being given.

VTB’s case is that it was induced in London to enter into a Facility Agreement, and an accompanying interest rate swap agreement, by misrepresentations made by one of the defendants, for which it claims the other respondents are jointly and severally liable. Parties are of suitably diverse domicile (appellant incorporated in England however controlled by a State-owned bank in Moscow; defendants two British Virgin Island-based companies owned and controlled by a Moscow-based Russian businessman. Defendants not being EU-based , the Brussels-I Regulation does not apply.

The issues involved were essentially

1. Jurisdiction. Lord Neuberger made the point that settling the presence (or not) of jurisdiction, is an early procedural incident in a trial and ought not to lead to protracted legal argument, costs and time, lest the discussions centre around whether the potential other jurisdiction can guarantee a fair trial or not. In contrast with other in recent high-profile cases before the UK courts, the alternative, Russian forum, would by common agreement have also offered a fair trial. Lord Neuberger also emphasises, with reference to Lord Bingham in Lubbe v Cape, that in forum non conveniens considerations, appeal judges should defer in principle to the trial judge, and that this should be no different in proceedings concerning service out of jurisdiction. The majority therefore opted to defer to Arnold J (at the High Court) and the Court of Appeal in their finding of jurisdiction, in the absence of any error which ought to have made the former change their conclusion.

2. Applicable law for tortious misrepresentation. This the law of the jurisdiction in which they are ultimately received and relied upon (the forum connogati if you like). In the case at issue, this was held to be England.

3. Applicable law for piercing the corporate veil. The Court emphasises the foundation of individual personality of a company established in Salomon and A Salomon and Co Ltd (1897). The presumption must be against piercing. The Supreme Court did not however set out a definitive test for it was not necessary for its resolving of the case, neither did it decide what law should apply to the issue. In theory, Lord Neuberger suggested, the proper law governing the piercing of the corporate veil (may be) the lex incorporationis, the lex fori, or some other law (for example, the lex contractus, where the issue concerns who is considered to be party to a contract entered into by the company in question). However common ground among parties in the case thus far had been to apply English law.

Piercing the corporate veil was also reviewed by the (Dutch) court in Shell. Lord Neuberger’s succinct analysis of the issue in VTB makes one hungry for more.

Geert.

 

Sulamerica applied in Arsanovia – Expressly excluding parts of a national law may lead to that law being lex arbitri.

In Arsanovia, the High Court applied the Sulamerica test for identifying the lex arbitri (see here for the judgment in Sulamerica and for the notion ‘lex arbitri’). Hodges, Kaplan and Godwin excellently review the various other elements of the case here. For current blog the finding on lex arbitri is the most relevant. In particular, Smith J found of high relevance the fact that parties had excluded part of the Indian arbitration Act: at 20:

There is another consideration that to my mind is relevant in this case: that the arbitration agreement included a specific agreement not to seek interim relief under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“IACA”), including section 9 of that Act, and that the provisions of Part 1 of IACA were expressly excluded.(…) as I see it (…), where parties have expressly excluded specific statutory provisions of a law, the natural inference is that they understood and intended that otherwise that law would apply. Therefore to my mind the reference to IACA in the arbitration agreement supports the claimants’ contention that the parties evinced an intention that the arbitration agreement should be governed by Indian law (except in so far as they agreed otherwise).

It is not uncommon in identifying applicable law (in this case, for the arbitration agreement) to employ selective cancellation of a national aw as evidence of intention for that law to be applicable for the remainder. Whether that intention is properly present in the agreement, in the absence of a specific choice of law clause, inevitably is subject to the discretion of the bench. In the case at issue, the High Court was not swayed by the consideration that the partial exclusion of IACA was intended simply to obstruct Indian case-law on the wide jurisdictional reach of IACA in temporary relief, even for arbitration proceedings taking place outside of India.

The lesson is always the same: choose carefully, and explicitly.

Geert.

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