Posts Tagged Belgium
Thank you Jelle Flo for alerting us to the succinct Belgian Supreme Court ruling of 21 November 2018. A judge had published a scholarly piece on an issue of law, in tempore non suspecto, expressing a point of view which the Advocate General at the Court (here effectively acting as an amicus curiae) in a later specific case, agrees with.
The judiciary does publish regularly-ish. As do solicitors and barristers. For those of us who teach as well as practice, this at most leads to interesting times when opposing counsel or the bench points out a scholarly piece seemingly expressing a different point of view than our submissions; ordinarily, things are distinguishable…
For the judiciary, the Supreme Court sees no issue as long as the piece meets with scientific standards: ‘Le fait qu’un juge ait adopté un point de vue sur une question juridique dans une publication scientifique n’implique pas qu’il ne dispose plus de l’impartialité requise pour connaître d’un litige abordant ce sujet, pourvu qu’il ait développé sa pensée dans le respect des règles de la science du droit.’
The Court does not express guidance on what such standard might be – peer review perhaps comes to mind.
Glaxo Welcome v Sandoz et al  EWHC 3229 (Ch), puts the spotlight on an important part of international forum shopping, namely discovery /disclosure, in particular collateral use of document obtained in one jurisdiction, in litigation in another. What is fundamentally at stake is that the launch of proceedings in a discovery friendly jurisdiction, may be simply employed as a jack for obtaining evidence to be used in a discovery-heavy jurisdiction.
Claimants apply for an order permitting the second claimant to use certain documents disclosed by some of the defendants (“the Sandoz Defendants”) in the claim in the English courts, in a claim in Belgium between the second claimant and Sandoz NV (“Sandoz Belgium”). The two claims are part of global litigation between members of the GlaxoSmithKline and Sandoz groups of companies. In Europe there are claims in several jurisdictions including England and Wales, The Republic of Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. The disclosure exercise between the claimants and the Sandoz Defendants has been very substantial. It involved the Sandoz Defendants reviewing 406,300 documents using 50 legally qualified reviewers. This led to the subsequent disclosure of slightly in excess of 75,000 documents to the claimants.
As Marsh CM notes at 11, ‘There is a marked contrast in the manner in which litigation is conducted in England and Wales on the one hand and Belgium (and most other Civil law countries) on the other hand. In England and Wales, the ability to obtain disclosure that is adverse to the other party’s claim is an important feature of litigation. However, the evidence provided in connection with the application shows that disclosure is only available in a very limited form in Belgium. One of the issues to be determined is whether disclosure obtained in this jurisdiction should be made available to a party that is engaged in litigation in a jurisdiction where disclosure, if not unknown, is very limited in scope.’
He is of course spot on: obtaining relevant documentation from the other party is not easily done in Belgium (and elsewhere) and often needs to be deduced from final filings of submissions or indeed at the hearing stage.
Relevant authority is discussed at 22 ff., and is really quite relevant: the discussion shows among others great consideration of rule of law concerns, mutual trust between EU Member States and Council of Europe parties, and the relevance of applicable law in the assessment (at 22(5): ‘The Belgian Claim proceeds under harmonised EU law as set out in the Trade Mark Directive. It follows that the English court is in a better position to consider initial relevance of the documents to the issues in the Belgian Claim than would be the case were the claim to be one brought under domestic Belgian law’).’
Final conclusion is in favour of collateral use of a substantial amount of documents. It is worth copying Marsh CM’s reasons in full: at 60:
(1) The parties to this claim, and associated companies, are engaged in litigation on a very wide scale in many jurisdictions. They are part of very substantial businesses with equal resources. There is no suggestion that the application is oppressive.
(2) Although the legal basis for this claim and the Belgian Claim are markedly different, there are similarities between some of the issues that are engaged.
(3) The claimants have been able to satisfy the court that the majority of the documents they seek to use are likely to be relevant to the Belgian Claim. The interests of justice would therefore militate in favour of the claimants having an opportunity to obtain advice about their use in the Belgian Claim.
(4) Use of the documents to enable the second claimant to consider whether, having obtained advice, a claim against additional parties should be pursued is, to my mind, more compelling than use of documents in connection with the Belgian Claim. There are no risks of adversely affecting the existing proceedings. The court should be slow to stand in the way of a party who wishes to obtain advice about pursuing a lawful course of action.
(5) There is now an agreed procedure for the orderly progress of the appeal in Brussels with the second claimant filing an additional brief followed by Sandoz Belgium. The disruption, if any, by the introduction of additional documents has been minimised.
(6) The number of documents the claimants seek to use is relatively small. Those that may be used in the Belgian Claim are not disproportionate in volume to what is at stake in those proceedings. There is no real danger that the Belgian Claim will be overwhelmed with additional documents even if all of them are deployed and Sandoz Belgium considers it is necessary to file additional documents to counter documents having been ‘cherry picked’ by the claimants.
(7) The difference of approach between litigation in England and Belgium is a factor, but one of limited weight. There is no suggestion that the use of documents obtained in disclosure is an abuse of this court’s process. The risk of the Belgian Court’s process being subverted by the introduction of disclosure documents is marginal, particularly bearing in mind the involvement of the Belgian lawyers and the procedure that has been agreed.
(8) I accept Mr Hickman’s submission in relation to the documents exhibited to Morris 7. The documents that are exhibited were extensively discussed in the witness statement which was read by the Deputy Judge. Although the claimants do not make an application for a declaration that they are permitted to use those documents as of right, the documents have been legitimately deployed for the purposes of an application heard in open court (subject only to the pro tem confidentiality order).
(9) It is not open to the Sandoz Defendants to say, and they have not submitted, that if the order permitting use of the documents is made, their position in the Belgian Claim is prejudiced, in the sense that the likelihood of them successfully prosecuting the claim and/or defending the counterclaim is reduced. The interests of justice require that material which is likely to be relevant should be permitted for proper purposes. A reduction in their prospects of success is an immaterial consideration in their favour and, if anything, it weighs in the balance in favour of the claimant.
Update 12 December 2018. The most recent proposal, the one actually adopted in Committee, is here. Note i.a. (Article 20) that the Committee has thankfully (see below) not followed the silly rules on languages. Whether the proposal will lead to law, remains to be seen: as we speak, the Belgian Government has turned into a minority government and not much is certain to go ahead before the next elections (May 2019).
I have reported twice before on the BIBC – once viz the initial version and a second time with my short report for the Parliamentary Hearing. I have now had a minute to review the Council of State’s comments on the amended version – among others with a view to preparing for next week’s conference on hybrid courts in Doha. Note that the Council of State here acts in its advisory function: essentially its opinions aim to improve draft statute so as to avoid future litigation.
What is clear from these recent comments is that the Council does not at all embrace the regulatory competition incentives which lie at the heart of the proposal, in particular in its view on how a matter may be made ‘international’ so as to justify engagement of the BIBC. Its view (let alone the Justice Council’s fear for forum shopping?!: encouraging such shopping being the very raison d’etre of the Act) contradicts the CJEU’s flexible stance on the issue as apparent eg in Vinyls Italia. As I noted in my comments before the Committee, it is a rather odd indeed parochial requirement to insist on parties having used English in their correspondence, before they can validly engage the BIBC. Even the suggested amendment that the use of languages other than Belgium’s three official ones (French, Dutch, German) should suffice, is not convincing to the Council. One hopes the drafters will ignore the Council’s hesitation at this point.
The Council does not of course engage in the political discussions surrounding the proposal: in particular, whether in a country in which the court system arguably does not operate to satisfaction, the creation of an international commercial court may compound, rather than remedy issues.
Wahl AG advised last week in Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter.
I suggested earlier that the case turns around scope of application, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it. The Advocate General agrees: at 33: ‘the Court is therefore not strictly speaking required to rule on a question of interference with the freedom to manifest one’s religion’. In essence, what is not forbidden is allowed: the legislation on organic farming is silent on the question of ritual slaughter; (at 91) this silence on the matter is not the result of oversight for the ‘slaughter’ of animals is mentioned on several occasions in the legislation – is it just simply not regulated.
I believe the AG is right. I also, on substance, believe that unstunned slaughter, properly carried out, meets with the ethos of organic farming.
In this post I, unusually, offer questions rather than tentative answers. I hope you’ll enjoy the pondering and of course I have ideas of my own on all of these issues. Thank you Michiel Poesen for alerting me to Carles Puigdemont et al’s case in the Belgian civil courts.
The case is not about trying to employ the Belgian courts to have a Spanish Supreme Court judge removed from the case. (Contrary to what De Standaard report in their title – in an otherwise informative piece). Pablo Llarena had commented on the case (specifically: rejecting an argument raised by the defence) at an academic conference. Rather, as I understand the case (public detail is scant), applicants suggest the alleged violation of impartiality infringes their right to such impartiality which in Belgium at least, is a civil right, constitutionally guaranteed.
The case therefore is one in tort. The exact request to the court is as yet unknown: provisional measures? damages? One assumes the very finding by a Belgian court of a finding of partiality and hence infringement of fundamental rights, will be employed in any future trials in Spain.
So far a little context. Here are the questions:
- What kind of law is engaged here?: is this private international law? Is it public international law? (see prof Hess’ contribution to the Recueil, on the private /public divide).
- Are the proceedings ‘international’ enough to trigger the application of private international law; are they simply ‘Spanish’ and what impact does that have on the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts;
- Are such proceedings ‘civil and commercial’ within the meaning of the Brussels regime; specifically, what is the impact of a Supreme Court judge spending much of their time engaging in what has to be considered a ‘public’ function, now speaking at an academic conference. (Think Kuhn, Fahnenbrock etc.).
- If the Brussels I regime is triggered, what type of provisional measures is possible?
- If the Brussels I regime is triggered, how does Article 7(2) apply; where is the locus delicti commissi and where the locus damni; how does e-Date apply if at all;
- Along similar lines: how does applicable law apply given that defamation is exempt from Rome II; (see Belgium’s regime in Articles 99-100 WIPR in particular); and
- What is the impact, if any, of chances of enforcement of the judgment in Spain.
These are the issues I suspect will be of some relevance in the conflicts field. Happy pondering.
Belgian constitutional court’s ruling on vulture funds fails properly to answer arguments on the basis of EU law.
I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the 2015 Belgian Vulture Fund Act (my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here. I then reported on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos).
At the end of May the Belgian Constitutional Court, ruling 61/2018, rejected an MNL challenge to the Act, which was based inter alia on an alleged infringement of the Brussels I Recast Regulation: at A.23.2: MNL argued that Belgium cannot across the board reject vulture funds activities (I agree) based on an absolute ordre public argument against them: MNL suggested this entails a one-sided reading of ordre public in favour of foreign entities refusing to honour their debt.
Due in large part to the peculiarities of constitutional review in Belgium, the Court at B.15.4 looked at the argument purely from a non-discrimination point of view: creditors who have obtained a foreign judgment against a State are no better or worse off than those having obtained such ruling from a Belgian court.
In essence therefore the arguments on the basis of EU law are left entirely unanswered.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 184.108.40.206.4.
Update 6 August 2018 the report of the hearing in Dutch and French is here.
I was at the Belgian Parliament yesterday for a hearing on the BIBC, following publication of the Government’s draft bill. For those of you who read Dutch, my notes are attached. We were limited to two pages of comments – the note is succinct.
An important change vis-a-vis the initial version (on which I commented here) is that the Court will now be subject to Belgian private international law (including primacy of EU instruments) for choice of law, rather than being able to pick the most appropriate law (arbitration panel style). That brings the court firmly within Brussels I. Also note my view and references on the Court being able to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review.