NB v MI. Using English law to judge (mental) capacity to enter a Sharia marriage abroad.

NB v MI [2021] EWHC 224 (Fam) engages capacity to marriage. A marriage was formed on 1 June 2013 in Pakistan under sharia law between the parties. 18 years earlier, when she was 6, the wife was involved in a serious accident which left her among others badly neurologically damaged. She only slowly recovered from these injuries, to the extent that expert evidence suggested she does now, but did not have capacity in all the areas of life canvassed including to marry and enter sexual relations, at the time of her 2013 marriage.

Mostyn J considers the issues of whether partners understand the constituent elements of what it means to get married, starting with Durham v Durham [1885] 10 PD 80 and of course noting the changed approaches to the institute of marriage since. The core test then is to check whether at the time of marriage, the partners understood what it means to get married: financially, emotionally, sexually.

Mostyn J upon review of the evidence held that the wife lacked awareness of the difference between Islamic and English marriage; or the financial consequences depending on the contract; or her husband’s potential claims against her estate; or her husband’s proposed living arrangements. Yet that these say nothing at all about her capacity to marry [37]: ‘They may say quite a lot about her wisdom in getting married, but that is not the issue I have to decide.’ Although reference is made to KC & Anor v City of Westminster Social & Community Services Dept. & Anor [2008] EWCA Civ 198 I find the conflict of laws analysis could have been made clearer: is the overpowering engagement of English law a finding of confirmation of lex domicilii (the lex patriae of the wife is not mentioned but might be British), entirely disregarding a role for the lex loci celebrationis?

This is not my core area – I imagine others may have a more expert insight.

Geert.

Schmidt v Schmidt: Family feud again leads to discussion of forum rei sitae & forum connexitatis in Brussels I Recast.

An unusually high proportion of cases under Article 22 (old) or 24 (Recast) Brussels I relate to family disputes on property. Webb v Webb, Weber v Weber, Komu v Komu, and now, C-417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.

Kokott AG opined in Schmidt last week – the Opinion is not available in English. Mr Schmidt had gifted a (otherwise unspecified) piece of Vienna real estate to his daughter, who lives in Germany. Ms Schmidt is included in the land register as the owner. Mr Schmidt subsequently sues in Austria for the annulment of the gift due to alleged incapacity at the time of the gift, and for removal of the registration. Is the action caught by Article 24? (in which case Ms Schmidt’s claim of lack of jurisdiction fails).

The Advocate General first of all suggests that the referring court’s request should not be turned down simply because it did not specify the time of seizure: in other words it is not clear whether the case is covered by the old or the Recast Brussels I Regulation. Ms Kokott however suggests the Court should not be pedantic about this and answer the question regardless, seeing as the rule has not changed.

Next up and potentially trickier, is the exclusion of capacity from the scope of application of the Regulation. However the Advocate General is right when she suggest that the exclusions should only be relevant where they concern the main object of the litigation. Not, as here, when they are raised incidentally. (She discusses in some detail the linguistic implications given different wording in the different language versions of the Regulation).

Then to the real question. With respect to the annulment of the (gift) agreement, the object and purpose of plaintiff’s action is not the establishment or confirmation of an erga omnes right in rem. Rather, the confirmation of voidness of an agreement transferring such right, due to incapacity. That this will have erga omnes consequences if successful, is not to the point given the long-established need to apply Article 24 restrictively. In this respect this case is akin to C-294/92 Webb and Webb.

The analysis is different however, the AG suggests, for the request to delete the entry in the land register. This does aim directly at erga omnes consequences under Austrian law.

Ms Kokott subsequently rejects the notion that as a result of part of the suit being subject to Article 24, this should drag the remainder into the exclusive bath with it: at 48: if only because if one were to accept this, forum shopping would be facilitated. Including in its suit a procedure covered by Article 24 would enable plaintiff to draw in a whole range of other issues between the parties.

Finally, the AG suggests joinder of the contractual claim (the nullity of the gift) to the right in rem claim, is possible under Article 8(4) and rejects that national rules of civil procedure should or even can play a role in this respect. This part of the Opinion may be optimistically short. For if the joinder route of Article 8(4) may lead to the same result as the one the AG had just rejected, one assumes there ought to be discretion for the national courts to reject it. Not, as the AG rightly suggests, by reference to national civil procedure rules (that would lead to unequal application) but rather by reference to the (probably) EU inspired rule that abuse of Article 8 be avoided.

The Court will probably not answer all the questions the case raises, particularly on Article 8. Expect this to return.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6