Posts Tagged Belgium
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).
Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.
Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).
Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.
Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters. As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.
Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.
In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).
What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.
It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.
(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199.7
Belgian parliamentary watchdog upholds unstunned slaughter, protects Shechita (kosher) and Zabihah (halal).
Update 8 May 2017. Following a botched attempt at reconciliation, Parliament is now debating a ban to enter into force 1 January 2019.
Update 28 July 2016 A Brussels Court has referred to the CJEU for interpretation of the EU Regulation, questioning whether the Regulation’s regime may itself be incompatible with the ECHR. Update 16 September 2016 the case number is C-426/16. See here for the questions referred (in Dutch).
The Belgian Council of State, chamber of legislation (in the title I call it a ‘parliamentary watchdog: for that is what it is. By issuing prior opinions on the legality of legislative initiative it guards against illegal Statute) has opined that a private members bill banning unstunned slaughter, does not pass the ECHR test.
A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional, exemption for religious (regularly rather offendingly called ‘ritual’) slaughter. Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaugther is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.
Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. Hence the Council of State summarily (its conciseness is rather attractive) reviews the ECtHR’s case-law and concludes that the proposed ban would be both unconstitutional and clearly against the provisions of the ECHR.
On the EU Regulation front, I believe the EU rules are more problematic than the Opinion suggests (I have analysis on it forthcoming) however on the ECHR side of things, the Opinion could not be more correct. An outright ban on unstunned slaughter in the name of animal welfare or otherwise would offend freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass.