Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

Applicable law and statutes of limitation in CSR /business and human rights cases. The High Court, at least prima facie, on shipbreaking in Bangladesh in Begum v Maran.

Update 28 August 2020 permission to appeal and cross-appeal has been granted and is being additionally sought by both parties on various issues.

Hamida Begum v Maran UK [2020] EWHC 1846 (QB) engages exactly the kinds of issues that I have just posted about, in court rather than in concept. On 30th March 2018 Mr Mohammed Khalil Mollah fell to his death whilst working on the demolition of a defunct oil tanker in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyar in Chittagong (now Chattogram), Bangladesh. On 11th April 2019 the deceased’s widow issued proceedings claiming damages for negligence under the UK Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and the Fatal Accidents Act 1976; alternatively, under Bangladeshi law. The scope of the proceedings has subsequently been broadened inasmuch as draft Amended Particulars of Claim advance a cause of action in restitution: more precisely, unjust enrichment.

Application in the current case is for strike-out and /or summary judgment (denying liability) hence the legal issues are dealt with at prima facie instead of full throttle level. One or two of the decisions deserve full assessment at trial. Trial will indeed follow for the application was dismissed.

The case engages with the exact issues in exchanges I had at the w-e.

Proceedings have not been brought against the owner of the yard and/or the deceased’s employer. Both are Bangladeshi entities. Maran (UK) Ltd,  defendant, is a company registered in the UK and, it is alleged, was both factually and legally responsible for the vessel ending up in Bangladesh where working conditions were known to be highly dangerous.

Focus of the oral argument has been whether claim discloses viable claims in English law on the basis of tort of negligence (answer: yes) and in unjust enrichment (answer: no).

The issue of liability in tort is discussed on the basis of English law, which is odd at first sight given Rome II might suggest as a starting point Bangladeshi law as the lex causae ; Justice Jay himself says so much, but only at 76 ff when he discusses Rome II viz the issue of limitation. In applications for summary judgment however, reasoning and order of argument may take odd form as a result of the prima facie nature of the proceedings and the conversations between bench and parties at case management stage.

On the tort of neglicence claimant argues under English law, with direct relevance to the current debate on environmental and human rights due diligence, that a duty of care required the defendant to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its negotiated and agreed end of life sale and the consequent disposal of the Vessel for demolition would not and did not endanger human health, damage the environment and/or breach international regulations for the protection of human health and the environment. The EU Ship Recycling Regulation 1257/2013 was suggested as playing a role, which is dismissed by Justice Jay at 24 for the Regulation was not applicable ratione temporis.

At 30, claimant’s case on negligence is summarised:

First, the vessel had reached the end of its operating life and a decision was taken (perforce) to dispose of it. Secondly, end-of-life vessels are difficult to dispose of safely. Aside from the evident difficulties inherent in dismantling a large metal structure, a process replete with potential danger, an oil tanker such as this contains numerous hazardous substances such as asbestos, mercury and radio-active components. Although these were listed for Basel Convention purposes and for the attention of the buyer, and the deceased was not injured as a result of exposure to any hazardous substance, the only reasonable inference is that waste such as asbestos is not disposed of safely in Chattogram. Thirdly, the defendant had a choice as to whether to entrust the vessel to a buyer who would convey it to a yard which was either safe or unsafe. Fourthly, the defendant had control and full autonomy over the sale. Fifthly, the defendant knew in all the circumstances that the vessel would end up on Chattogram beach. Sixthly, the defendant knew that the modus operandi at that location entailed scant regard for human life.

The gist of the argument under tort therefore is a classic Donoghue v Stevenson type case of liability arising from a known source of danger.

At 42 ff Justice Jay discusses what to my mind is of great relevance in particular under Article 7 Rome II, should it be engaged, giving claimant a choice between lex locus delicti commissi and lex locus damni for environmental damage, in particular, the issue of ‘control’. One may be aware from my earlier writings (for an overview see my chapter in the 2019 OUP Handbook of Comparative environmental law) that the determination of the lex causae for that issue of control has not been properly discussed by either the CJEU or national courts. This being a prima facie review, the issue is not settled definitively of course however Justice Jay ends by holding that there is no reason to dismiss the case on this issue first hand. This will therefore go to trial.

As noted Rome II is only discussed towards the end, when the issue of limitation surfaces (logically, it would have come first). Claimant does not convince the judge that the case is manifestly more closely connected with England than with Bangladesh under A4(3) Rome II. Then follows the discussion whether this might be ‘environmental damage’ under Article 7 Rome II, which Justice J at 83 ff holds preliminarily and prima facie, it is. Analysis of Article 7 is bound to be of great importance at trial and /or appeal.

At 85 a further issue for debate is trial is announced, namely whether the one-year statute of limitation under Bangladeshi law, should be extended under Article 26 Rome II’s allowance for ordre public (compare Roberts and CJEU C-149/18 Martins v DEKRA – that case concerning lois de police and statutes of limitation. 

Plenty of issues to be discussed thoroughly at trial.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.