The Belgian Council of State (the highest administrative court) has annulled the Flemish waste agency’s export permit in the so-called ‘Slufter’ case, involving large quantities of toxic dredging spoil (for the aficionados: classified as EURAL 17 05 05*; ia with heavy doses of tributyltin – TBT) dredged from the port of Antwerp. The case made by applicants was that the waste would be disposed of in the port of Rotterdam’s ‘slufter’ by way of mere dumping, as opposed to processing ‘at home’ in the Flemish region.
At issue was Article 11 of the Waste shipments Regulation 1013/2006, which allows Member States of export to object to planned shipments of waste destined for disposal. Applicants’ case was that the Flemish waste agency – OVAM should have disallowed the shipment on the basis of the proximity and the self-sufficiency principles. OVAM however pointed out that even if in optimal circumstances, processing in Flanders could lead to higher rates of recovery of the waste, much of it would still simply have to be landfilled. Importantly, it preferred disposal in the Slufter on the basis that the logistics chain was much shorter: load up, transport, dump. As opposed to load up, transport to processing facility for partial recovery (involving three separate processes); load-up of the solid waste left; transport and dump.
The Council of State ruled at the end of May that this decision by OVAM, in particular the reliance of the extent of the logistics chain, lacks proper assessment of the Best Available Technologies for dredging spoil, hence leading to insufficient assessment of the proximity and self-sufficiency principles. The ruling is relevant also with a view to the remainder of the spoil that will continue to be dredged.
For easy of reference (for those wishing to locate copy of the ruling): case numbers are 238220 -238224 included).
Update 12 april 2017: the UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal [the decision should appear here in due course], hence the Court of Appeal’s ruling is now final.
Isn’t it just a perfect exam question for a graduate course, nay this question involves so many issues it could arguably serve as one single exam for a whole law degree: such is the intensity of legal areas at issue: constitutional law, international law, international trade, regulatory law and risk analysis, intellectual property law…
Discuss why the Court of Appeal for England and Wales denied Government wrongdoing in plain packaging, while the German Bundesverfassungsgericht rejected an argument of expropriation in Energiewende yet held that German Government must nevertheless pay compensation to the energy companies involved (E.ON, RWE and Vatenfall).
Source tip: you may want to consult my former student Dr Catherine Banet’s excellent analysis on the Vatenfall issue.
Issues tip: a good way to go about it would be to draft a table of issues that both cases have in common and those which they do not (eg the Court of Appeal’s review of intellectual property). A discussion of the precautionary principle would not go amiss (in the plain packaging case: specifically whether precaution applies to uncertainty as to efficiency of remedies rather than uncertainty as to a phenomenon). A point of discussion may also be why the CA refers profusely to European precedent while the Bundesverfassungsgericht does not. Finally, any consideration of the link between the latter proceedings and the concurrent ISDS procedure, will gain you brownie points.
To fellow faculty out there: if you do use this exam Q, please do share good student answer copies.
Confession time: when teaching the general conflicts course I tend to simply say about Article 71 of the Brussels I Regulation (unchanged in the Recast): ‘it’s complicated’. I have also briefly flagged the Article in my posting on Nickel and Goeldner. I suppose I should not be quite so shy in addressing the relationship even in an introductory conflicts class for, essentially, it is not that complicated at least form a hierarchical point of view. Article 71 mirrors Article 351 TFEU which states that any rights or obligations arising prior to the TFEU shall not be affected by it unless the agreements are not compatible with the TFEU. At stake therefore is a review by the courts whether international agreements between the Member States prior to the creation of the EU, are compatible with the TFEU.
In  UKSC 65 BAT Denmark v Kazemier and BAT Switserland v Essers, the United Kingdom Supreme Court had to carry out this exercise vis-a-vis the 1956 CMR Convention – the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. As Steven Baker notes, Lord Mance kicks off his judgment with the rather delightfully accurate ‘Cigarettes attract smokers, smugglers and thieves’. Tobacco manufactuters are also of course active litigators hence providing us with repeated opportunity to review case-law on a wide variety of contractual and other matters.
In the two appeals, one container load was allegedly hi-jacked in Belgium en route between Switzerland and The Netherlands in September 2011, while another allegedly lost 756 of its original 1386 cartons while parked overnight contrary to express instructions near Copenhagen en route between Hungary and Vallensbaek, Denmark.
The consignors (two of BAT’s corporate vehicles) are claiming against English main contractors who undertook responsibility for the carriage and against sub-contractors in whose hands the cigarettes were when the alleged losses occurred. The carriage was subject to the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road 1956 (“CMR”), given the force of law in the United Kingdom by the Carriage of Goods by Road Act 1965.
English law and English jurisdiction are said to offer the advantage that such duty and/or taxes are recoverable in a CMR claim against carriers, which is not the case in some other jurisdictions (at 4).
Citing (and reading in a particular way) CJEU precedent, in particular Nipponkoa Insurance Co (Europe) Ltd v Inter-Zuid Transport BV (DTC Surhuisterveen BV intervening), C-452/12, the Supreme Court held (at 57) that CMR represents a balanced jurisdictional régime adopted across a wide-range of some 55 states, only half of which are Union member states. It did not regard its tailored balance as impinging on any of the principles of Union law which the CJEU would have it check against.
CMR applies therefore and under relevant English application, neither of the defendants can be sued in England.
Update 25 May 2015 BAT and PMI now have also launched in the High Court in the UK .with BAT putting aside the Australian ruling, reported below, as distinguishable, and PMI focusing on EU trade mark laws.
As reported earlier, the High Court of Australia held in the summer that the Australian Plain Packaging regulations are not unconstitutional. It has now also released its reasons for finding so. The relevant Commonwealth constitutional provision is Section 51(xxxi) which confers upon the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws with respect to:
“[t]he acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws”.
‘Just terms’ (including compensation) are only due if there is an ‘acquisition’; this, the High Court held, is not the case here. It notes (per French CJ)
‘Taking involves deprivation of property seen from the perspective of its owner. Acquisition involves receipt of something seen from the perspective of the acquirer. Acquisition is therefore not made out by mere extinguishment of rights.‘ (footnotes omitted).
‘Importantly, the interest or benefit accruing to the Commonwealth or another person must be proprietary in character. On no view can it be said that the Commonwealth as a polity or by any authority or instrumentality, has acquired any benefit of a proprietary character by reason of the operation of the TPP Act on the plaintiffs’ property rights.’
There is plenty of scope for distinguishing the Australian constitutional arguments from other jurisdictions (indeed the judgment itself refers to distinctions with the US Constitution). Moreover, as I have already flagged in an earlier posting, the legal fronts on which this battle is fought are very wide. Immediate reactions during the summer (along the lines of ‘with this judgment there is no stopping plain packaging regulations’) seemed a bit premature to me – they do all the more now that we have had a chance to read the actual judgment.