Banca Intesa v Venezia: An excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation. (And of the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, with a pudding of the ‘consideration’ theory as lois de police)).

Banca Intesa Sanpaolo SPA & Anor v Comune Di Venezia [2022] EWHC 2586 (Comm) is an excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation and of the international harmonisation of same. It also discusses the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule of Article 3(3) Rome Convention, carried over into the Rome Regulation.

Background is long-running litigation involving derivative transactions used by Italian municipalities to hedge their interest rate risk, as Sarah Ott summarises the context here (she discusses Dexia Crediop SpA v Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino [2022] EWHC 2410 (Comm), a case with many similar issues).

Venice contends that, for various reasons, it lacked the substantive power to enter into the Transactions as a matter of Italian law, and that, applying English conflict of law principles, that means that it did not have capacity to enter into the Transactions and that they are not valid. It also contends that the Transactions breached various rules of Italian law which have the status of “mandatory rules of law” for the purposes of A3(3) Rome Convention 1980 (which is applicable and not the Rome I Regulation) and that as a result the Transactions are void and/or unenforceable.

The Banks deny that the entry into the Transactions contravened any provisions of Italian law, on the basis of arguments as to the effect of Italian law and its application to the facts of this case, and further deny that any such contravention would deprive Venice of capacity to contract as a matter of English conflict of laws principles in any event.

Capacity to enter into contractual relationship itself is not caught by the Rome Convention as a result of the Convention’s carve-out of Article 1(2) c (most legal systems make such capacity subject to the lex incorporationis, and [115] is determined by reference to the law in force when the Transactions were entered into). Foxton J refers as authority to Credit Suisse International v Stichting Vestia Groep [2014] EWHC 3103 (Comm) [185].

Who then is to decide whether a particular issue of Italian law raises a question of capacity, or authority, or some other kind of legal challenge to the validity and efficacy of the Transactions? Here Foxton J wrongly in my view simply refers to lex fori, English law. In reality of course it is the Rome Convention that does so, although as I have pointed out before, neither the Rome Convention nor Rome I excels at clarifying.

[129] ff then follows lengthy analysis of the issues of capacity under Italian law as the lex causae, with the conclusion being that Venice did indeed so lack capacity under Italian law.

The issue of mandatory Italian law replacing the English lex contractus as a result of Article 3(3) Rome Convention’s ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, is dealt with obiter. It fails at the first hurdle with Foxton J holding [341] that the scenario is not purely domestic. He does not much entertain the issue of whether under Italian law (lack of) a theory of contractual consideration might be of mandatory nature, referring [356] to the similar issues of consideration and privity of contracts under English law (which in effect might subsequently become relevant under the overriding mandatory rules of the forum).

An interesting judgment.

Geert.

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. 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

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