Posts Tagged Comity

Agbara et al v Shell. Recognition /enforcement, ordre public and natural justice. Shell Nigeria ruling refused registration in the High Court.

[2019] EWHC 3340 (QB) Agbara et al v Shell Nigeria et al (thank you Adeole Yusuf for flagging) illustrates what many a conflict teacher initiates classes with. There is some, but often limited use in obtaining a judgment which subsequently cannot be enforced where the defendant’s funds are. Coppel DJ refused to enter registration of a 2010 Nigerian judgment by which claimants were awarded 15,407,777,246 Naira (approximately £33 million today) in damages in respect of the pollution of land occupied by them following the rupture of a pipeline maintained by Shell in 1969 or 1970.

Brussels Ia does not apply to recognition and enforcement of an ex-EU judgment hence the common law was applied (clearly with due deference to international comity yet the standards of natural justice nevertheless being determined by lex fori, English law). Natural justice was found to have been infringed by the proceedings at issue. This included an impossibility for Shell to cross-examine witnesses and an unusually swift completion of proceedings following the dismissal of a procedural argument made by Shell. Shell’s subsequent bumbling of the appeal via procedural mistake was not found by Coppel DJ to alter the findings of infringement of natural justice.

Obiter the factual mistakes made in the calculation of damages leading to the award and the opaque inclusion of punitive damages were also found to stand in the way of recognition and enforcement.

The ruling has some relevance for Article 33/34 BI1’s Anerkennungsprognose.

Geert.

 

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A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” et al. Anti-suit pro arbitration does have its limits.

In A v OOO “Insurance Company Chubb” [2019] EWHC 2729 (Comm), Carr J refused an ex parte application for interim relief seeking (i.a.) anti-suit and discontinuation of Russian proceedings, pro agreed arbitration in London. Defendants are domiciled at Russia, France and Switserland. At 33 ff Carr J lists five reasons for refusal, despite as readers will know the English courts’ general willingness to assist arbitration. Three of her reasons jump out: the lack of full and frank disclosure (ia relating to contractual provisions); the lack of immediate urgency requiring ex parte application; and some of the measures sought being more than just interim measures (assessment of that nature required evidence by a Russian law expert on the further continuation, if any, of Russian proceedings following anti-suit).

A good reminder that these applications are neither straightforward nor should be taken for granted.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser. The High Court is not easily impressed by pending foreign proceedings in anti-suit application (pro arbitration).

A quick note on Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser [2019] EWHC 2671 (Comm), in which Knowles J was asked to continue an anti-suit injunction restraining Weyerhaeuser from continuing proceedings in the US courts and ordering parties to turn to arbitration. He obliged.

In April 2018 Weyerhaeuser filed proceedings in the US District Court (Western District of Washington at Seattle)for a declaratory judgment in respect of certain of its insurance excess policies in the tower of excess liability. Weyerhaeuser sought, among other things, a declaration that there is no valid arbitration agreement applicable to any coverage disputes between itself and various defendant insurers and that the US District Court is the appropriate forum for any such disputes.

Knowles J lists the various proceedings pending in the US however particularly in the light of all parties being established businesses, is not impressed by arguments of comity or fairness to restrain the English courts from further involvement in the matter. He expresses the hope and expectation that the US courts will come to the same conclusion as himself, in light of the contractual provisions.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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Steady now. Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. The CJEU on jurisdiction and removal of hate speech.

My interest in C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, concerns mostly the territorial reach of any measures taken by data protection authorities against hosting providers. The Court held last week and o boy did it provoke a lot of comment.

The case to a large degree illustrates the relationship between secondary and primary law, and the art of reading EU secondary law. Here: Article 15 of the e-commerce Directive 2001/31 which limits what can be imposed upon a provider; and the recitals of the Directive which seem to leave more leeway to the Member States. Scant harmonisation of tort law in the EU does not assist the Institutions in their attempts to impose a co-ordinated approach.

The crucial issue in the case was whether Article 15 prohibits the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level? The Court held the Directive does not as such preclude such order, and that as to the worldwide injunctive issue, EU law has not harmonised and that it is up to the Member States to direct in any such orders in compliance with public international law.

The judgment to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed pre the judgment succinctly here, Dan Svantesson post the judgment here, as did Lorna Woods, and a frenzied Twitter on the day of the judgment e.g. in this thread. A most balanced analysis is provided by Andrej Savin here. e-Commerce law is not the focus of this blog, neither my professed area of expertise (choices, choices). I do want to emphasise though

  • that as always it pays to bear in mind the CJEU’s judicial economy. Here: the need to interpret its judgment in line with the circumstances of the case. As Steve Peers noted, the Austrian court had ruled that the post was defamatory, which is a recognised basis for limiting freedom of expression; see also at 40: ‘In that regard, it should be made clear that the illegality of the content of information does not in itself stem from the use of certain terms combined in a certain way, but from the fact that the message conveyed by that content is held to be illegal, when, as in the present case, it concerns defamatory statements made against a specific person.‘ Nota bene, the same need to read the judgment in context goes for the earlier Google v CNIL case, applying Directive 95/46 and the GDPR, which I review here.
  • that speaking strictly as a member of the public who has seen the devastating effect of ‘social’ media on people close to me, the technical discussions on filtering (‘what filter does the CJEU think might possibly ever be available to FB to remove content in the way the Court wishes’) are emphatically beside the point. The public justifiably are not interested in the how. A service is offered which clearly has negative effects on EU citisens. Remedy those effects, or remove the service from those citisens. That is true for the negative impacts of goods (in 25 years of regulatory Bar practice I have seen plenty of that). There is no reason it should be any less true for services.

The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more from the blog’s point of view: the territorial scope of any removal or filtering obligation. In Google viz the GDPR and the data protection Directive, the Court confirmed my reading, against that of most others’, of Szpunar AG’s Opinion. EU law does not harmonise the worldwide removal issue. Reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief on ‘right to be forgotten’ issues. Public international law and EU primary law are the ultimate benchmark (Google V CNIL). It is little surprise the Court held similarly in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, even if unlike in Google, it did not flag the arguments that might speak against such order. As I noted in my review of Google, for the GDPR and the data protection Directive, it is not entirely clear whether the Court suggests EU secondary law simply did not address extraterritoriality or decided against it. For the e-commerce Directive in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek the Court notes at 50-52

Directive 2000/31 does not preclude those injunction measures from producing effects worldwide. However, it is apparent from recitals 58 and 60 of that directive that, in view of the global dimension of electronic commerce, the EU legislature considered it necessary to ensure that EU rules in that area are consistent with the rules applicable at international level.  It is up to Member States to ensure that the measures which they adopt and which produce effects worldwide take due account of those rules.

In conclusion, Member States may order a host provider to remove information covered by the injunction or to block access to that information worldwide within the framework of the relevant international law. To my knowledge, the Brussels Court of Appeal is the only national court so far to consider public international law extensively viz the issue of jurisdiction, and decided against it, nota bene in a case against Facebook Inc.

Any suggestion that the floodgates are open underestimates the sophisticated engagement of national courts with public international law.

In general, the CJEU’s approach is very much aligned with the US (SCOTUS in particular) judicial approach in similar extraterritoriality issues (sanctions law; export controls; ATS;…). There is no madness to the CJEU’s approach. Incomplete: sure (see deference to national courts and the clear lack of EU law-making up its legislative mind on the issues). Challenging and work in progress: undoubtedly. But far from mad.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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W v L. Brussels IIa and forum non conveniens ex-EU.

When I reported [2019] EWHC 466 (Fam) V v M, I suggested that forum non considerations there, moot given that eventually jurisdiction of the English courts was upheld, would resurface in further cases. They have. [2019] EWHC 1995 (Fam) W v L eventually went much the same way as V v M.

The Brussels BIIa Regulation applies when determining the question of jurisdiction regardless of whether there is an alternative jurisdiction in a non-member state (Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2014] 1 AC 1 , later confirmed in CJEU UD v XB C-393/18 PPU [2019] 1 WLR 3083 ). Brussels IIa has an intra-EU forum non conveniens regime (applied in C‑428/15, Child and Family Agency, on which I report here).

Art 8(1) of BIIa provides that the courts of a Member State shall have jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility over a child who is habitually resident in that Member State at the time the court is seised.

MacDonald J at 30 posits that where the English court does have jurisdiction under Art 8 BIIa but there are proceedings also in a third party non-member state (here: Jordan) the issue becomes one of forum conveniens – which he subsequently discusses following the Spiliada criteria. In V v M to which current judgment refers at 34, Williams J reflected on whether forum non at all has calling following (he held it does; not convincingly). MacDonald J in current case first at 30 simply seems to accept such application. Then at 38 holds he need not decide this issue here (counsel had suggested the issue was in fact covered by Brussels Ia and the precedent value of Owusu therefor clear) for even if forum non conveniens has to be decided, it clearly points to England.

In conclusion, therefore: the issue still has not been settled and will, again, return.

Geert.

 

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The internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink. Szpunar AG in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook, re i.a. jurisdiction and removal of hate speech. (As well as confirming my reading of his Opinion in Google).

Case C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, revolves around Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive. Does Article 15 prohibit the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level?

Szpunar AG in his Opinion kicks off with a memorable Erica Albright quote from The Social Network:  The internet’s not written in pencil, [Mark], it’s written in ink’. 

His Opinion to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed succinctly here and which is not the focus of this blog. The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more: the territorial scope of any removal obligation.

Firstly, Szpunar AG matter of factly confirms my reading, against that of most others’, of his Opinion in C-505/17 Google: at 79:

‘in my Opinion in that case I did not exclude the possibility that there might be situations in which the interest of the Union requires the application of the provisions of that directive beyond the territory of the European Union.’

Injunctions (ordering removal) are necessarily based on substantive considerations of national law (in the absence of EU harmonisation of defamation law); which law applies is subject to national, residual conflicts rules (in the absence of EU harmonisation at the applicable law, level, too): at 78. Consequently, a Court’s finding of illegality (because of its defamatory nature) of information posted may well have been different had the case been heard by a court in another Member State. What is however harmonised at the EU level, is the jurisdiction for the civil and commercial damage following from defamation: see e-Date, in particular its centre of interests rule which leads to an all-encompassing, universal’ jurisdiction for the damages resulting from the defamation.

Separate from that is the consideration of the territorial extent of the removal obligation. Here, the AG kicks off his analysis at 88 ff by clearly laying out the limits of existing EU harmonisation: the GDPR and data protection Directive harmonise issues of personal data /privacy: not what claimant relies on. Directive 2000/31 does not regulate the territorial effects of injunctions addressed to information society service providers. Next, it is difficult, in the absence of regulation by the Union with respect to harm to private life and personality rights, to justify the territorial effects of an injunction by relying on the protection of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 1, 7 and 8 of the Charter: the scope of the Charter follows the scope of EU law and not vice versa. In the present case, as regards its substance, the applicant’s action is not based on EU law. Finally, Brussels Ia does not regulate the extra-EU effects of injunctions.

In conclusion therefore EU law does not regulate the question of extraterritorial reach in casu.

For the sake of completeness, the AG does offer at 94 ff ‘a few additional observations’ as regards the removal of information disseminated worldwide via a social network platform. At 96 he refers to the CJEU’s judgment in Bolagsupplysningen which might implicitly have acknowledged universal jurisdiction, to conclude at 100 (references omitted)

the court of a Member State may, in theory, adjudicate on the removal worldwide of information disseminated via the internet. However, owing to the differences between, on the one hand, national laws and, on the other, the protection of the private life and personality rights provided for in those laws, and in order to respect the widely recognised fundamental rights, such a court must, rather, adopt an approach of self-limitation. Therefore, in the interest of international comity…, that court should, as far as possible, limit the extraterritorial effects of its junctions concerning harm to private life and personality rights. The implementation of a removal obligation should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the protection of the injured person. Thus, instead of removing the content, that court might, in an appropriate case, order that access to that information be disabled with the help of geo-blocking.

There are very sound and extensive references to scholarship in the footnotes to the Opinion, including papers on the public /private international law divide and the shifting nature of same (the Brussels Court of Appeal recently in the Facebook case justifiably found jurisdictional grounds in neither public nor private international law, to discipline Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc for its datr-cookies placed on Belgian users of FB).

I find the AG’s Opinion convincing and complete even in its conciseness. One can analyse the jurisdictional issues until the cows come home. However, in reality reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief. However these bump both into the substantial trade-off which needs to be made between different fundamental rights (interest in having freedom removed v freedom of information), and good old principles of comitas gentium aka comity. That is not unlike the US judicial approach in similar issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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Arcelor Mittal v Essar. The High Court races ahead in its support for arbitration. On comity, fraud, and worldwide freezing orders.

 

[2019] EWHC 724 (Comm) ArcelorMittal USA LLC v Essar Steel Limited and others is quite the highlight in worldwide regulatory competition for championing arbitration.

As 20 Essex Street note, Jacobs J refused to vary an earlier worldwide freezing order (WFO), despite the award being foreign, Claimant and Defendant companies being foreign, there being no significant assets within the jurisdiction, and the courts at Mauritius (defendant is Mauritius-incorporated, defendant to the Arbitration Claim, and the debtor under the ICC award) potentially feeling gazumped by their English colleagues.

Of note over and above Essex Street’s analysis is

  • the defendants urging the Court on the grounds of comity (no need for the English courts to act at policeman for assets located abroad: at 72, referring to Popplewell J. in Conocophillips China Inc v Greka Energy (International) BV. [2013] EWHC 2733) to resist the call for a WFO. This was rejected (at 81) with the argument ‘I consider that I am entitled to proceed on the basis of the evidence that the Mauritian courts would not regard the WFO as offensive in some way.’; and ‘The WFO does not presently conflict with any order of the Mauritian courts, and this is not a case where the Mauritian courts have refused equivalent relief or where there is evidence that those courts would be likely to do so.’ Jacobs J therefore does consider comity quite carefully.

 

  • the Court’s sense of urgency in what it sees as a case of fraus: At 45:

‘There is no precise definition of what is meant by the phrase “international fraud” found in the case-law, but I do not consider that it is confined to cases where the underlying cause of action is a claim in deceit or a proprietary claim relating to the theft of assets. If there is a strong case of serious wrongdoing comprising conduct on a large or repeated scale whereby a company, or the group of which it is a member, is acting in a manner prejudicial to its creditors, and in bad faith, then I see no reason why the English court should not be willing to intervene rather than to stand by and allow the conduct to continue and, to put the matter colloquially, to let the wrongdoer get away with it. In the present case, I would regard the attempted dissipation of Essar Steel’s US$ 1.5 billion asset, in the face of the commencement of arbitration proceedings, as sufficient in itself potentially to warrant intervention under the “international fraud” exception, or as constituting “exceptional circumstances”.’

 

  • and the rejection at 73 of a CJEU C-391/95 Van Uden type of restraint, requiring a real connecting link between the subject matter of the measures sought and the territorial jurisdiction of the English court.

 

Geert.

 

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