In  EWHC 1359 (Comm) National Union of Mineworkers v Organisation Internationale de l’energie et des mines defendant is French-domiciled and represented by its chair, Arthur Scargill. That’s right, many of us whether Brits or not will remember him from the 1970s and 1980 mine strikes. (Unlike what some think, he did not though feature in the Tracey Ullman cover of Madness’ ‘my girl’: that was Neil Kinnock.
Of more immediate relevance for the blog is the discussion at 19 ff on jurisdiction and applicable law.
Defendant is an international body to which a number of trade unions are affiliated. Those unions operate in different countries but all represent workers engaged in the fields of mining and/or energy supply. The name the Defendant uses in English is the International Energy and Mineworkers’ Organisation (“the IEMO”) and it is the successor to the International Mineworkers’ Organisation (“the IMO”) following a merger in 1994.
The proceedings relate to the parties’ respective rights in relation to sums recovered by the Defendant from Mr. Roger Windsor in August 2012 after prolonged legal proceedings in the French Republic and in England. Those proceedings were undertaken in the name of the Defendant but funded in part by the Claimant. There is a shortfall between the sums recovered and the amounts of the principal debt and the legal costs of the proceedings. The parties are in dispute as to the distribution of the sums recovered from Mr. Windsor; as to which should bear any shortfall between the sums recovered and the costs incurred in the proceedings; and as to the amounts which each has paid by way of costs in those proceedings.
The underlying indebtedness which resulted in recovery being made against Mr. Windsor derived from a loan of £29,500 which the Claimant made to him in 1984. He was then the Claimant’s Chief Executive Officer and the loan was made by way of assistance with house purchase following the relocation of the Claimant’s headquarters from London to Sheffield in 1983. There was a repayment of that loan in November 1984 but it is common ground that to the extent that there was such a repayment it came from funds which had been lent to Mr. Windsor. In 1986 the right to recover payment from Mr. Windsor (either of the original loan or of the subsequent loan) was assigned to the IMO.
Claimant argues the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction by reason of Articles 7(1) and 25(1)(b) Brussels Ia (by virtue of an agreement made in 1990), and that in any event defendant is to be treated as having accepted that the court has jurisdiction to try this matter (an Article 26 ‘prorogation’, ‘submission’ or ‘voluntary appearance’ in other words).
Eyre J at 24 agrees that submission has taken place: CPR rules (Pt11) provide the details the procedure to be followed by a defendant contesting jurisdiction. Defendant did make an application to the court within 14 days of filing the acknowledgement of service, as requested by CPR 11. However, it expressly accepted that the application was to be regarded as relating to the questions of limitation and of the effect of the Release Agreement. In its application it made extensive reference to Brussels Ia but did so in that context. In particular that material was put forward in support of the contention that the claim was statute-barred either by reference to the Limitation Act 1980 or by reference to the French limitation provisions. There was in other words no wider or more fundamental challenge to the court’s jurisdiction and the realisation probably in hindsight that jurisdiction may not be that straightforward, cannot impact on that original application.
Had there not been submission, interesting discussions could have ensued I suspect on the place of performance of the agreement (unless clear choice of court had been made), England as a forum contractus, and I for one shall be using the case in my classes as a good illustration of the ‘conflicts method’ (looking over the fence)
Attention then turns to the issue of applicable law for the time-barred argument: at 26: ‘Defendant also argued that the proceedings were to be regarded as subject to French law and in particular the French limitation provisions which impose a time limit of three years for claims. The Defendant made reference to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 and the Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984. The contention was that French law was applicable because the judgments against Mr. Windsor were obtained in France and then registered in England and Wales. That argument was misconceived. Such an argument might have relevance if the issue were one of the enforcement of the judgments against Mr. Windsor though I make no finding on that question. The current proceedings are not concerned with the enforcement of the judgments against Mr. Windsor but with the distribution of the sums which have been received by the Defendant as a result of the litigation against Mr. Windsor. It follows that the provisions to which the Defendant made reference can have no relevance to the current proceedings. The Defendant made passing reference to the fact that it is domiciled in France but this was not the principal basis of the contention that French law was applicable and without more it would not cause the parties’ dealings to be governed by French law. In those circumstances the parties’ rights and liabilities are to be determined by reference to the law of England and Wales and any questions of limitation are governed by the Limitation Act 1980.‘
I am not privy to the submissions on applicable law, but I am assuming that there must have been some discussion of the impact of the 1980 Rome Convention. Not the Rome I Regulation which would not have applied ratione temporis. That Regulation like Rome II has not altogether straightforward provisions (as I have noted on other occasions) on procedure being covered by the lex contractus. Whether Eyre J classifies the limitation issue as being covered by English law per lex fori or alternatively as lex causae (lex contractus of the 1990 agreement) is not clear.
Back in the 80s I would have never dreamed of bumping into Mr Scargill again in the context of an interesting conflict of laws issue.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1, Heading 1.3.1, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.7.