Posts Tagged Arbitration

The Brussels International Business Court – BIBC: Some initial thoughts.

I was asked yesterday (interview in Dutch) for my thoughts on the Belgian Government’s plans for a Brussels International Business Court. Here goes, in bullet-points format, a slightly extended and more technical version of those preliminary thoughts:

  • Three and more’s a crowd. The Belgian move of course is not the first and neither will it be the last. Even pre-Brexit, Member States (and even individual cities within Member States; see Michiel Poesen recently on Frankfort) were vying for the title of preferred place for litigation.
  • Brexit evidently may be a game-changer. I have flagged repeatedly that post-Brexit and assuming there will be no deal which would roll-over the UK’s engagement with EU civil procedure law, UK courts will become a lot less attractive. This is due to the more cumbersome recognition and enforcement regime that will be the result of decoupling from Brussels I. The same incidentally does not apply to arbitration. Pre and post Brexit, deal or not, free movement of arbitral awards is subject to the New York Convention.
  • Attractiveness as a centre of litigation and legal services is part of regulatory competition. Being known as a place of legal know-how and expedited litigation brings prestige as well as attractive billable hours to the law firms of one’s country.
  • Crucially, in an attempt to prise litigation away from London in particular, the use of English in proceedings is always the eye-catcher for the media. However in reality the language of proceedings is to my experience not the defining issue in client’s forum shopping strategies. Know-how of the bench; speed of proceedings; transparency of case-law; and of course ease of recognition and enforcement, are much more so. The Belgian proposal acknowledges as much by touting in particular the ‘collegiality’ and ‘expertise’ of the pool of (domestic and foreign) commercial law experts that will populate the court.
  • Unwittingly perhaps but without a doubt, the proposal in flagging the benefits of the BIBC, also highlights the well-known disadvantages of the Belgian courts in ordinary: tardiness of proceedings (the ‘Belgian’ torpedo) in particular. However also very much so, intransparency (as I have repeatedly signalled: access to Belgian case law continues to be highly problematic) and lack of collegiality among the bench: being a judge is a lonely professional existence in Belgium. Professional secrecy rules, practicalities (lack of proper office space), and the aforementioned reporting issues work against Belgian jurisprudence presenting itself as coherent.
  • At a technical level, the proposal emphasises repeatedly that the BIBC will be a court. Not an arbitral tribunal. The difference lies particularly in the easy or enforcement. The draft Bill loudly talks the talk in this respect. But does it walk the walk? What a ‘court’ means within the context of EU civil procedure law is of course the prerogative of that EU law: not of the Member States. (I refer to recent blog posts on same). Extensive reference to UNCITRAL’s Model Law on international commercial arbitration is a strange prop to use in the draft, if the idea is to take one’s attention away from arbitration. The BIBC will only take cases in the event of prorogation (choice of court or submission). The pool of judges will mostly be taken from part-timers, not benchers. Most importantly, in my mind: Article 43 of the draft instructs the BIBC, with respect to choice of law, to respect parties’ choice of governing law, and, in the absence of such law, ‘to apply the law determined by the conflict of laws rules which it considers applicable’. This is a copy /paste from Article 28(2) of the Model Law. In footnote the Act suggests that by omitting the third para of said Law (‘The arbitral tribunal shall decide ex aequo et bono or as amiable compositeur only if the parties have expressly authorized it to do so’), the Bill emphasises the nature of the BIBC as court. It does not. Courts are simply subject to Rome I and II when it comes to applicable law. They do not just ‘consider a law applicable’.

Much to chew on. My analysis is based on a draft Bill which a little bird sent me. This is probably not the final say on the BIBC. (On an aside: @BIBC is already taken. I can think of one or two Twitter Handles which the BE government may want to snap up before someone else does).

Geert.

 

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Wiseley v Amazon: on consumer contracts, click-wrap and putative laws.

Thank you Jeffrey Neuburger for flagging Wiseley v Amazon. Jeffrey has excellent overview and analysis so I will suffice with identifying a few tags: the issue of click-wrap agreements (when does one agree to GTCs contained in pop-ups and hyperlinks and the like); application of a putable law to a contract (the von Munchausen or ‘bootstrap’ principle); comparative dispute resolution law: how would EU law look at the issues? Have fun.

Geert.

 

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Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony. This battery keeps on going: relatively of arbitration clauses; cartel claims contractual? anchor defendants etc.

The one sorry outcome of [2017] EWHC 374 (Ch) Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony is that by rejecting jurisdiction, the Commercial Court did not have an opportunity to review the application of Rome II’s provisions on applicable law in the case of infringement of competition law.

The following background is by Kirsty Wright, who also alerted me to the case: the claim centred on allegations by Microsoft (who had acquired Nokia of Finland) that the Defendants had caused loss by engaging in anti-competitive conduct relating to the sale of Li-ion Batteries over a period of 12 years. In 2001 Nokia and the Sony Corporation (the mother corporation: with seat outside of the EU) concluded a Product Purchase Agreement for Li-ion Batteries. This agreement contained an English choice of law clause and required any dispute to be resolved by way of arbitration in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Microsoft became the assignee of these rights following its purchase of parts of Nokia in 2013 and therefore could bring claims in contract against Sony Corporation and claims in tort against the other three Defendants. Sony Corporation is a subsidiary of Sony Europe Limited: it is the anchor defendant in this case: none of the corporations other than Sony Europe are domiciled in the EU.

Smith J in a lengthy judgment determined that the agreement between Microsoft and Sony Corporation to arbitrate in the ICC also extended to the parent company Sony Europe. Therefore proceedings against all defendants were stayed in favour of ICC arbitration subject to English law. This required him first of all to hold that under English law, the arbitration agreement (as opposed to, under EU law, for the issue of choice of court: see CDC) extends to non-contractual obligations (infringement of competition law evidently not being part of one’s contractual rights and obligations; see here for a review of the issues; in Dutch I’m afraid: must find time for an EN version) but also that the clause extended to the mother company: hence releasing the jurisdictional anchor.

Microsoft had anticipated such finding by suggesting such finding may be incompatible with EU law: its contention was that the operation of the Brussels I Regulation (Recast) must permit the effective protection of rights derived from competition law, including private law rights of action for infringement, these being rights accorded by EU law, and that an arbitration clause which caused the fragmentation of such rights of action was, for that reason, in breach of EU law (at 76). It made extensive reference to Jaaskinen AG’s call in CDC for the Brussels I Recast to be aligned with Rome II’s ambition to have one single law apply to the ensuing tort. (The jurisdictional regime as noted leads to a need to sue in various jurisdictions).

As I have noted in my review of the CJEU’s judgment, on this point the Court however disagreed with its AG. Indeed while the AG reviews and argues the issue at length (Smith J recalls it in the same length), the Court summarily sticks to its familiar view on the application of (now) Article 7(2) in competition cases; it is the CJEU’s view which the Commercial Court of course upholds.

A great case, extensively argued.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.1; Heading 2.2.9; Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2).

 

 

 

 

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A little pousse-cafe. Gaz de France v STS: annulment of arbitral award on grounds of ordre public.

Something to digest quietly, to start this new year: in Gaz de France v STS the French Conseil d’Etat annuled an arbitral award for breach of ordre public. The Conseil objected in particular to the panel’s denial of mandatory French (administrative) law. Reed Smith have analysis here, including of the issue on jurisdiction (Conseil d’Etat or Court de Cassation).

Upon reading the judgment, my question is this (just putting it in the group, as it were): does the Conseil have terminology right where it seems to classify breach of mandatory law as a violation of ordre public (it is the latter only which justifies annulment under the New York Convention)? Incidentally (at 5) it also refers to the possibility of mandatory EU law being part of this interpretation of ordre public. This structure is clearly inspired by the Rome I Regulation where, as I have noted before, the presence of mandatory law, overriding mandatory law, and ordre public, is causing confusion.

Happy New Year, happy reading, Geert.

 

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Meroni: Mareva orders are compatible with EU law (ordre public).

For the facts of the case, and the reasoning of the AG in C-559/14 Meroni, I refer to my earlier posting. At the end of May (I am indeed still hoovering up the queue) the Court held very much alongside Kokott AG’s Opinion, I shall therefore not repeat its reasoning here. The CJEU does insist that if third parties rights are directly affected with the intensity as in the case at issue, that third person must be entitled to assert his rights before the court of origin (which English courts provide for), lest one runs the risk of the injunction being refused recognition under ordre public. As I had feared, the Court does not address the AG’s concern whether Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation.

Post Brexit, this considerable attraction of English courts in interlocutory proceedings might become a lot less real. (Like many of us, I am working on a short review of Brexit consequences for European private international law).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 2.2.16.1.1, 2.2.16.1.4

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Kokott AG on the notion of ‘judgment’ and the compatibility of Mareva orders with EU law (ordre public).

In Kokott AG’s words, ‘following the West Tankers case…in the present case the Court is once again confronted with a specific procedural feature of the Anglo-American legal system.’

Article 34 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 35 in the recast) enables a court, by way of derogation from the principles and objectives of the Regulation, to refuse to recognize a judgment given by a court of another Member State. The whole starting point of the Regulation and its antecedents was to avoid much recourse to refusal of recognition. Free movement of judgments lies at the very core of the foundations of European private international law.

Little wonder then that the Regulation leaves limited freedom for Member States authorities (including courts) who are asked to recognise and enforce another State’s judgment. As I noted at the time, in Trade Agency the CJEU insisted that refusal of recognition on the basis of ordre public is only possible after review of the individual merits of the case. Courts in other EU Member States may not decide that the English system as such as contrary to public policy in the state of enforcement. Relevant case-law was most recently summarised by (the same) Kokott AG in fly LAL and also in Diageo.

The exequatur procedure of the Brussels I Regulation has been amended in the Brussels I Recast. However it is exactly on issues of the rights of the defence that exequatur can never be entirely automatic, even among EU Member States.

In Case C-559/14 Meroni, at issue are Mareva injunctions: (sometimes) worldwide freezing orders issued by English courts (among others), designed to prevent a creditor being deprived of access to the debtor’s assets as a result of a prior disposal of those assets. However, as is often the case, the reputation of Mareva injunctions far exceeds their actual bite. There is no one size fits all such injunction and a number of tools are at the disposal of both the debtor affected, and third parties, to have the order varied or indeed lifted. The rights of third parties in particular are quite relevant in the current review with the CJEU. Part of the injunction are often the debtor’s participations in companies: for the recalcitrant debtor may find all sorts of useful ways to spirit value away from his companies and into vaults safe from prying English or European eyes – especially if the debtor is sole or majority shareholder.

In the case at issue, Mr A.L. is prohibited, inter alia, from disposing of assets which can be attributed directly or indirectly to his property. The injunction extends to  interests in the Latvian company VB. Mr A.L. has a direct interest in that company with only one share. According to the referring court, however, he is also the ‘beneficial owner’ of shares in at least one other company (‘Y’), which itself has substantial interests in VB. Mr Meroni is part of the management of Y. Following a seizure ordered by the relevant Latvian office, he also acts as the bailee for the interests in Y. for which Mr A.L. is the beneficial owner. Mr Meroni claims that the freezing injunction prevents the shareholder Y. from exercising its voting rights in respect of VB. This affects constitutionally protected property rights, especially since the company was not heard in the English proceedings. This, it is argued, is contrary to the principle of the right to a fair trial.

The AG Opined differently. At 44, she argues that it is not clear to what extent that injunction might be contrary to basic principles of Latvian substantive law or procedural law, especially since, as the referring court acknowledges, the Latvian legal order does permit judgments as provisional measures without a prior hearing of the party against whom enforcement is sought. Consequently measures such as Mareva orders cannot be said to be fundamentally against the Latvian ordre public. At 45: ‘ Aside from this, the English freezing injunction at issue does not provide for any irreversibly drastic measures for its enforcement overseas, in particular in so far as third persons who were not parties to the proceedings in England are concerned. Rather, the freezing injunction claims legal effects on third persons resident in other countries — and thus the companies controlled by Mr A.L. — only subject to strict requirements: first, it is to have legal effects on a without notice basis only where this is permitted by the foreign law; second, anyone served with the freezing injunction may apply to the court to vary or discharge it; and, third, compliance with contractual obligations in other countries is still to be possible notwithstanding the freezing injunction.‘ (footnotes omitted)

There is no evident breach of basic principles of the legal order of the State in which enforcement is sought – breach of ordre public must therefore be rejected.

Now, earlier in the judgment, the AG also considers albeit more or less obiter (the CJEU is certain not to entertain it) what may in fact be the more important (for it tends to be less sub judice at the CJEU) part of her Opinion: whether the Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation. Ms Kokott suggests that the Denilauler criteria (easily fulfilled in the case at issue: see para 31) ought to be relaxed under the Regulation, as opposed to the stricter approach under the 1968 Convention. That is because following judgment in ASML, notwithstanding defects in service, if the person concerned fails to commence proceedings in the State of origin of the judgment to challenge the judgment issued upon default, when it was possible for him to do so, recognition may not be refused. The AG suggests to extend the ASML rule to provisional measures.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 2.2.16.1.1, 2.2.16.1.4

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Anti-suit once again climaxes outside the Brussels I (Recast) context. The High Court in Crescendo Maritime.

As I have reported before, English practice is to continue using anti-suit injunctions outside of the Brussels I Regulation, in particular to support arbitration. Recent application was made in Crescendo Maritime, restraining litigation in China. Teare J confirmed among others (per Toepfer v Cargill) that forum non conveniens (Chine was the natural forum for litigation in ordinary) has little relevance in the context of arbitration clauses.

Kennedys have background to the case (essentially, backdating of a shipbuilding contract to avoid newly introduced international rules on tank coatings). The considered use of anti-suit once again underlines the importance of tools of civil procedure to support global arbitration practices.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.10

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