A primer on the latest climate litigation judgment: Friends of the Earth et al v UK Government. Victory on transparency and data grounds.

Others will no doubt analyse Friends of the Earth Ltd & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [2022] EWHC 1841 (Admin) at much more length. I just thought I would pen down my thoughts when reading the judgment.

The case is a further judgment holding Governments to account for not addressing climate change challenges properly. The United Kingdom being a dualist country (all the more so following Brexit), the arguments do not much feature the Paris Agreement directly. Rather, claimants aim to hold Government to how Parliament said it should act in addressing climate change  in the Climate Change Act 2008 – CCA 2008, and, additionally, through the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, whether or not in combination with the UK Human Rights Act. The core of the exercise and judgment therefore is one of statutory interpretation.

Of note first of all is that most of the claimants’ arguments were rejected and one assumes therefore that they will be seeking permission to appeal (just as the Government will).

The judgment kicks off with the oblique reference to trias politica. Holgate J [22] cites R (Rights: Community: Action) v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2021] PTSR 553 at [6]: –

“It is important to emphasise at the outset what this case is and
is not about. Judicial review is the means of ensuring that public
bodies act within the limits of their legal powers and in
accordance with the relevant procedures and legal principles
governing the exercise of their decision-making functions. The
role of the court in judicial review is concerned with resolving
questions of law. The court is not responsible for making
political, social, or economic choices. Those decisions, and those
choices, are ones that Parliament has entrusted to ministers and
other public bodies. The choices may be matters of legitimate
public debate, but they are not matters for the court to determine.
The court is only concerned with the legal issues raised by the
claimant as to whether the defendant has acted unlawfully.”

And [194]: judicial review in this case must not be merits review and the judge must adopt a ‘light touch’.

Starting with the ECHR arguments, there were summarily dismissed [261] ff. They engaged with Article 2 ECHR’s right to life, Article 8’s right to family life (these two being the classic anchors for environmental rights in the ECHR) and Article 1 of the first protocol (‘A1P1′)’s right to [protection of property. Holgate J holds that the claimants’ argument on the ECHR ‘goes beyond permissible incremental development of clear and constant Strasbourg case law’ [275] and [269-270] that the Dutch Urgenda decision offers a narrow window of ECHR relevance to climate law which does not open in the current case (with [270] in fine an explicit warning that Dutch authority, it being a monist country, should not hold much sway in England and Wales).

A first ground discussed the role of quantitative v qualitative assessment and whether and the degree to which the Minister was to show the targets could be met quantitatively. The judge held that ‘the CCA 2008 does not require the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the quantifiable effects of his proposals and policies will enable the whole of the emissions reductions required by the carbon budgets to be met. The [statutory] obligation …does not have to be satisfied by quantitative analysis alone.’ [193].

However one of the grounds on which the challenge did succeed is the quality of the input for the Minister’s decision: this overall briefing was held to have omitted data the minister was legally obliged to take into account, and which was not insignificant. As a result the Minister failed to take it into account as a material consideration, so that his decision was unlawful (compare [200]). [221] the briefing was held to have been wanting, in that it failed to identify under the quantitative analysis the contribution each quantifiable proposal or policy would make to meeting the UK’s carbon budgets; and it failed to identify under the qualitative analysis which proposals and policies would meet the 5% shortfall for one of the carbon budgets and how each would do so.

[246] ff (where Holgate J does refer, albeit with statutory distinguishing, to relevant Irish cases), another partial ground is upheld namely that of proper information given to Parliament (and therefore also the public; both a sore point in the current UK Government) on the data reached for the Ministerial conclusion and data on the pathways for delivery themselves. [257]: ‘contributions from individual policies which are properly quantifiable must be addressed in’ the report given to Parliament and hence the public.

The result therefore is important in terms of accountability and transparency (where unfortunately no mention was made of the Aarhus Convention which continues to apply to the UK), with the latter element also being inspirational for other jurisdictions where Governments have been told to go back to the climate change drawing board.

Geert.

The CJEU confirms a corporation’s general duty of care is not caught by the corporate carve-out. Judgment in ZK v BMA (Peeters Gatzen suit) impacts on business and human rights litigation, too.

The CJEU a little while back held in C‑498/20 ZK v BMA on the applicable law for the Dutch ‘Peeters Gatzen’ suit, for which I reviewed the AG Opinion here. The suit is  a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held at the jurisdictional level it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation.

A first issue of note, which I discuss at some length in my earlier post, is whether the liability is carved-out from Rome II as a result of the lex societatis provision. The CJEU confirms the AG’s contextual analysis, without repeating his general criterion, emphasises the need for restrictive interpretation, and specifically for the duty of care holds that liability resulting from a duty of care of a corporation’s bodies and the outside world, is covered by Rome II. This is important for business and human rights litigation, too: [55]

Pour ce qui concerne spécifiquement le manquement au devoir de diligence en cause au principal, il convient de distinguer selon qu’il s’agit du devoir spécifique de diligence découlant de la relation entre l’organe et la société, qui ne relève pas du champ d’application matériel du règlement Rome II, ou du devoir général de diligence  erga omnes, qui en relève. Il appartient à la seule juridiction de renvoi de l’apprécier.

The referring judge will have to decide whether the case engages the duty of care vis-a-vis the wider community (including the collectivity of creditors) however it would seem most likely that it does. If it does, locus damni is held, confirming the AG view, to be The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s seat is based there. The financial damage with the creditors is indirect only and does not establish jurisdiction.

[44] Should a judge decide that they do not have jurisdiction over the main claim, they also and necessarily have to relinquish jurisdiction over the warranty /guarantee claim against a third party under A8(2) BIa. CJEU Sovag is referred to in support.

Geert.

Sánchez-Bordona AG in ZK v BMA on applicable law for the Peeters Gatzen insolvency suit. Includes important suggestions for the corporate life (lex societatis) exception and duty of care.

Sánchez-Bordona AG opined at the end of October on the law applicable to the Peeters /Gatzen suit (of Nk v BNP Paribas fame) in Case C‑498/20 ZK, in his capacity of successor to JM, insolvency practitioner in the insolvency of BMA Nederland BV v BMA Braunschweigische Maschinenbauanstalt AG – ZK v BMA for short. An English version of the Opinion is still not available.

Peeters /Gatzen is a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation. The obvious applicable law port of call is Rome II. A first point which the AG reviews is a rather important discussion on the lex societatis exception to Rome II. The extent of that exception is important e.g. also for business and human rights cases, for the Peeters /Gatzen suit essentially engages duty of care towards third parties.

The AG emphasises (35) one of my points of attention in the BIa /Rome I/II interplay: that in accepting a certain amount of consistency in interpretation, the courts must nevertheless appreciate each instrument’s autonomy and quite different subject-matter. (46) The reasoning behind the exclusion of the lex societatis from the 1980 Rome Convention is said to be the ambition at the time to harmonise company law across the EU which, as we know from CJEU Daily Mail and all its successors, has still not come true. The AG then refers to the internal /external dimension of corporate relations such as discussed in C‑25/18 Kerr and C‑272/18 Verein für Konsumenteninformation. However he then suggests (51) that the reference to the ‘internal’ dimension of the life of a corporation does not suffice to justify 2 of the examples which Rome II explicitly lists in A1(2)d as being part of the corporate exception: the personal liability of officers and members as such for the obligations of the company or body and the personal liability of auditors to a company or to its members in the statutory audits of accounting documents.

At (52-53) he then posits his way out of the conundrum, immediately acknowledging that the criterion he suggests may not be easily applicable: all contractual and non-contractual elements for which a specific solution exists which emanates from the relationship between those elements and the internal life and mechanisms of a corporation (whether they relate to the internal workings or the external relations), are covered by one statutory corpus, namely the lex societatis. Put differently, they are excluded insofar as and because their corporate law element absorbs all other. Specifically viz non-contractual obligations, if the relevant rule is so ‘drenched’ with elements specific to the corporate law context that it looses its meaning outside that context, that rule qualifies as being part of the lex societatis exception.

He immediately acknowledges (56) that this kind of litmus test is not easy to apply in practice and suggest (57 ff) to employ the ratio legis of the liability at stake to assist with the exercise. If that ratio lies in the general neminem laedere rule, Rome II is engaged. If that ratio however immediately follows from corporate law considerations, such as a director’s loyalty to the corporation, the exception is engaged. The AG lists examples (63), including the scenario at stake in CJEU OFAB. At (66) the AG concludes, albeit not directly, that the Peeters Gatzen suit in all likelihood is not covered by Rome II and he discusses the other questions in subsidiary fashion.

(67ff) with reference ia to CJEU Lazar the CJEU refers to the tricky characterisation of damage as (in)direct and opts in cases such as these that the direct damage occurs in the insolvent (or otherwise facing liquidity issues) corporation: the diminishing impact on the creditors is indirect, ricochet. Locus damni therefore is The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s estate is based there. (76) Whomever initiates the suit (the insolvency practitioner and /or the creditors) is irrelevant, as is (80) the fact that some of the creditors are located outside the EU.

(83ff) then follows the discussion of A4(3) Rome II’s escape clause (most recently discussed in Scott v AIG). A pre-existing contractual relationship (which the AG suggests (95ff) may also be called upon by claimants that are not party to that relationship) is just one among many factors that may play a role – not a particularly dominant one: (93-94) particularly where such relationship (such as here, taking the form of a credit facility) is one where choice of law was made: A4(3) RII is directed at situations where the non-contractual relationship has a closer connection to a law other than the locus damni. Lex voluntatis does not necessarily reflect the tort’s closer relationship but rather the parties’ voluntary expression.

An important Opinion.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 4.22.,  para 4.39 ff.

High Court refuses capped cost order for English corporate defendant in Malawi sexual exploitation case, emphasising access to justice. Noli sequitur forum non arguments dress up as cost application.

Update 25 February 2022 Lord Justice Coulson today refused permission to appeal:  [2022] EWCA Civ 233.

Cavanagh J (unusually assisted by Brown J, who has extensive experience in cost orders) last week in Thomas & Ors v PGI Group Ltd [2021] EWHC 2776 (QB) refused to grant a ‘Capped Cost Order’, ‘Cost Capping Order’ or CCO (these also exist for judicial review proceedings and in arbitration). This application for a CCO was reportedly the first made under CPR 3.19.

In the case, brought before Brexit date under Article 4 Brussels Ia, a group of Malawi claimants are suing tea company Lujeri’s English parent company PGI alleging complicity in exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse.  Claimants allege the Defendant owed a duty of care to them on the basis that it promulgated relevant policies, standards and guidelines, that it exercised supervision and control over Lujeri, and/or that it held itself out as exercising such supervision and control. The Claimants further allege that the Defendant breached that duty of care and that they suffered loss and damage as a result.

English proceedings against Lujeri were dropped following claimants’ admission that they were unlikely to meet a jurisdiction challenge against same on the basis of Malawi being the natural forum for that claim [14]. The defendant does not resist A4 jurisdiction, acknowledges the UK is the natural forum for the claims against it, that there is no abuse of process (neither in my view have any place in A4 jurisdiction) and that the case is at least arguable.

Had the CCO been granted, it would have the effect of limiting the future costs recoverable by the Claimants, should they ultimately be successful, to £150,000 (or thereabouts). It would not impact the recoverable costs of the defendants if they are successful, although [25] they are unlikely to be able to recover any. As the judge notes [13] even if the core claim is successful, compensation will be far below parties’ legal costs in the case. The non-financial, ‘vindication’ [13] objectives are more important.

Despite defendants’ acknowledgment that a jurisdiction challenge is effectively impossible under A4 (A33-34 do not seem engaged), their arguments for a CCO [28 ff] are forum non via the backdoor:

Whilst not disputing that the Claimants are entitled to bring these proceedings against the Defendant in England, the Defendant submits that it is still open to the Claimants to bring proceedings in Malawi against Lujeri, their former, or, in some cases, their current, employer, and, indeed, against the Defendant. The Defendant submits that it would be more appropriate for the Claimants to bring their claims against Lujeri, in Malawi, especially as such claims would be advanced on the simple and straightforward basis of vicarious liability, rather than on the basis of a more complicated claim against the UK-domiciled parent company.

At 43 claimants make the obvious point that this is a ‘(lightly) disguised attempt to strike out these proceedings on the basis that they are an abuse of process, or that England is a forum non conveniens’.

At 72 the judge holds that claimants are right that it would not be appropriate, having regard to the CPR required principle of proportionality [‘the overriding objective [of the CCO, GAVC] of enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost’] to cap the costs at a figure that is less than the minimum costs that are required for them to litigate their claims effectively in the High Court. Costs in other words cannot be disproportionately incurred if they are below the amount that is required by the party to litigate its claims effectively, unless [74] parties’ costs are out of proportion to the potential benefits to the Claimant of the litigation’ – quod non in casu: [79]: ‘The sums that are likely to be recoverable, though small by English standards, are very significant for poor Malawian plantation workers, and they may indeed be life-changing. I accept the Claimants’ submission that in any event, the Claimants’ objectives in bringing these proceedings are not entirely, or even principally, about money.’

At 82-83 the resurrected forum non arguments feature again,  with the judge holding

In any event, in the present case, one of the parties, the Defendant, is domiciled in England. It is a matter of public importance in this country whether a company that is domiciled here is in breach of a duty of care to workers on plantations in Malawi, owned by a subsidiary company. CPR 44.3(5)(e) states that the extent to which a claim is in the public interest is a matter to be taken into account when considering proportionality.

That is an important consideration for future CCOs, outside the Brussels Ia context and indeed an argument that would feed into an A33-34 analysis, too.

At 91 ff the judge reinforces his findings on the basis of access to justice:

‘I think that it is highly significant, in this regard, that the imposition of a CCO would almost certainly have the effect of forcing the Claimants to abandon their claims…

this is not a case in which a wealthy Claimant is deliberately pursuing a low-value claim, at great expense, in order to harass the Defendant, or to cause as much unnecessary cost to the Defendant as possible. Rather, this is a case in which extremely poor Claimants are pursuing a relatively low-value claim for a number of legitimate reasons, only one of which is the prospect of damages.

This is an important finding, both under A4 Brussels Ia and beyond it, under residual English conflicts rules.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

Applicable law (Article 4 and 7 Rome II) in the Dutch Shell climate ruling. Not quite as momentous as the core message.

I have an article forthcoming on the application of Rome II’s Article 7, ‘environmental damage’ rule. Last week’s widely reported first instance ruling in the Dutch Shell climate case will of course now feature.

I reported on application of A7 in Begum v Maran. There I submit, the Court of Appeal engaged without sufficient depth with the Article. It held against its application. Xandra Kramer and Ekaterina Pannebakker then alerted us to the use of Article 7 in last week’s momentous Milieudefensie v Shell (umpteen) ruling [Dutch version here, English version here], in which Shell by a first instance judge has been ordered to reduce its CO2 emissions. In that ruling, too, the judges leave a lot of issues on Rome II underanalysed. The conclusion  however goes in the opposite direction: the court held A7 is engaged and leads to Dutch law as the lex loci delicti commissi (Handlungsort or ldc).

I have taken the Dutch version of the judgment as the basis for the analysis for the English version is a touch under par when it comes to the finer detail. The Dutch version it has to be said is not entirely clear either on the conflict of laws analysis.

Firstly, Milieudefensie argue that A7 is engaged, and it suggests it opts for Dutch law given the choice left to it by that Article. Whether it does so as lex loci damni (Erfolgort or ld) or lex loci delicti commissi is not specified. It is reported by the courts that in subsidiary fashion Milieudefensie argue that per A4(1)’s general rule, Dutch law is the lex causae: that has to be Erfolgort.  (Lest the court inaccurately reported parties’ submissions here and the argument made under A4 focused on Article 4(3)’s displacement rule) [4.3.1].

The judges further report [4.3.2] that parties were in agreement that climate change, whether dangerous or otherwise, due to CO2 emissions constitutes ‘environmental damage’ in the sense of A7 Rome II (and the judges agree) and that they were in disagreement on the locus delicti commissi. Milieudefensie argue that Shell’s holding policy viz climate change and emissions, dictated from its corporate home of The Netherlands, is that Handlungsort. Shell argue that the place of the actual emissions are the Handlungsorts (plural), hence a Mozaik of applicable laws. (This nota bene has interesting applications in competition law, as I suggest here).

Then follows a rather sloppy reference to Jan von Hein’s note bene excellent review of Article 7 in Calliess; distinguishing of the arguments made by Shell with reference to ia product liability cases; and eventually, with reference to ia the cluster effect of emissions (‘every contribution towards a reduction of CO2 emissions may be of importance’ [4.3.5]) and the exceptional, policy driven nature of A7, the conclusion [4.3.6] that the holding policy is an independent cause of the CO2 emissions and hence imminent climate damage and obiter [4.3.7] that A4(1) would have led to the same conclusion.

The ruling will of course be appealed. It would be good to get the application of Article 7 right, seeing as environmental law is a core part of strategic and public interest litigation.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Begum v Maran. A hopeful Court of Appeal finding on duty of care; however open issues on its engagement with Rome II’s environmental heading.

Update 10 May 2022 The claim has been settled.

I am late in reporting  Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 326, in which the Court of Appeal rejected an application for strike-out. I reported on the High Court judgment here and I should add I am instructed for claimant in the case. Oliver Holland, the lead Leigh Day solicitor in the case, discusses its implications together with Rachel Bonner (who was led by Richard Hermer) here.

Coulson LJ held that it is at least arguable (reminder: the specific action that was being discussed was an application for strike-out) that Maran does have a duty of care. His analysis essentially leans heavily on the fact that Maran availed itself of a disposal route, the consequences of which it was much aware of. It is clear that the well-known Bangladesh route to escape health, safety and environmental standards for the dismantling of ships, is questionable under the Basel Convention on Hazardous wastes and their disposal, and that shipowners have been using privity of contract in an attempt to shield themselves from any liability for consequences which are neither unexpected nor infrequent.

Others have written on the duty of care issue and I will focus on the A7 Rome II discussion: the lex specialis for environmental damage – on which I have a paper forthcoming (but to find more time!).  At 78 ff Coulson LJ firstly links the requirement of causality (the use of the flimsy ‘arising out of’) to the non-contractual obligation claimed (here: corporate duty of care), rather than the one immediately following the damage (here: negligence, recklessness causing death). That duty of care does not, it was held, ‘arise out of’ environmental damage. [82]: ‘In essence, it is the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the sale of the vessel for demolition purposes did not endanger human life or health. That duty did not arise out of environmental damage; it had nothing to do with environmental damage at all. It arose out of the complete absence of workplace safety.’ And at 86: ‘even if the court had to consider whether the death (rather than the duty) arose out of environmental damage, the result would be the same…the death arose out of the absence of safe working practices and, in particular, the absence of a safety harness.’ Support is found in scholarly sources suggesting a narrow interpretation of A7; other sources are not discussed (despite having been submitted) and I continue to be convinced such limiting interpretation is not supported by the travaux. Males J, in his mostly concurring opinion, agrees that the last thing on A7 is far from said although he, too, holds that A7 is not engaged in casu.

Lord Justice Coulson obiter considers locus delicti commissi (which would be  the alternative lex causae under A7) and at 91 succinctly holds (pro memoria: obiter) that this would not have been England. There is authority I would suggest for the opposite finding and the judge’s interpretation of Arica Victims, I submit,  leaves room for discussion: at 91 he correctly refers to the Ovre Norrland Court of Appeal having pointed to ‘key decisions’ having been made in Sweden. These to me seem present in current case, too (and here: located in England).

At 110 ff the ordre public argument under A26 Rome II, which could displace the shorter statute of limitation of the Bangladeshi lex causae, for the longer English one, is succinctly dismissed as not meeting A26’s high hurdle. This leaves a narrower (and perhaps curiously indirect) ‘undue hardship’ argument under the E&W Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 to be discussed as a preliminary issue at the remanded trial in the High Court.

A most relevant case, also highlighting the many unresolved issues under A7 Rome II.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.54 ff.

High Court declines jurisdiction in Municipio de Mariana. An important (first instance) #bizhumanrights marker.

Update 8 July 2022 the Court of Appeal today has unanimously upheld the appeal ([2022] EWCA Civ 951), holding unanimously that the forum non conveniens, A34 Brussels Ia and case-management stay applications all fail. Bar a (likely) attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court, the victims of the 2015 Fundão Dam disaster may now sue in England and Wales. I will have analysis on the decision up soon in a separate post.

Update 27 July 2021 the Court of Appeal today granted the CPR 52.30 application and has given permission to appeal.

Update 10 May 2021 the Court of Appeal have agreed to hear our application to challenge the refusal for PTA.

Update 31 03 2021 the Court of Appeal have confirmed refusal to appeal in an order which fails to engage properly with inter alia the A34 issues.

Update 1 February 2021 Turner J last week refused permission to appeal (which can now still be taken to the Court of Appeal itself).

I am instructed for claimants in the case hence my post here is a succinct report, not a review and it must not be read as anything else.

Turner J yesterday struck out (not just: stayed) the case against the companies jointly operating the facilities that led to the 2015 Brazilian dam break and consequential human and environmental loss in Município De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 2930 (TCC). I reported on the case before here.

Eyre J’s earlier Order had identified the threefold jurisdictional challenge: 1. Forum non conveniens for non-EU defendants; 2. Article 34 Brussels IA for the EU-based defendants; 3. Abuse of process, case management for both.

In his judgment Turner J makes abuse of process the core of the case, hinging his subsequent obiter analysis of forum non and of Article 34 on his views viz abuse. At the centre of his abuse analysis is his interpretation of AB v John Wyeth & Brother (No.4), also known as the benzodiazepine litigation, with the points he takes from that judgment (even after the subsequent CPR rules wre issued) summarized at 76.

At 80 ff is a discussion (see e.g. my earlier review of Donaldson DJ in Zavarco) on the use of case-management powers, including abuse, against EU-domiciled defendants post CJEU Owusu (the ‘back-door analogy per Lewison J in Skype technologies SA v Joltid Ltd [2009] EWHC 2783 (Ch) ).

At 99 ff Turner J pays a lot of attention to the impact of accepting jurisdiction on the working of the courts in England, discusses some of the practicalities including language issues, and decides at 141 in an extract which has already caught the attention of others, that ‘In particular, the claimants’ tactical decision to progress closely related damages claims in the Brazilian and English jurisdictions simultaneously is an initiative the consequences of which, if unchecked, would foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions.’

At 146 ff follow the obiter considerations of the remaining grounds, Article 34 Recast, forum non conveniens and case management stay. On Article 34 viz BHP Plc, the issue of ‘relatedness’ is discussed with reference of course to Euroeco and the tension between that case and Privatbank, as I flag ia here, holding at 199 in favour of Privatbank as the leading authority (hence focus on desirability of hearing cases together rather than on practical possibility). On relatedness, Turner J does not follow the approach of either Zavarco or Jalla, both of course first instance decisions.

At 206 Turner J takes the instructions of recital 24 Brussels Ia’s ‘all circumstances of the case’ to mean including circumstances which would ordinarily be part of a forum non consideration, despite Owusu, and at 231 Jalla is distinguished (at least practically; Jalla is not authority for the judge here) and i.a. at 221 Turner J lists his reasons for allowing an Article 34 stay (again: these are obiter views). As already noted, these echo his findings on abuse of process.

The forum non conveniens analysis viz BHP Ltd at 235 ff, applying Spiliada, delivers inter alia on an inherent implication of Lord Briggs’ suggestions in Vedanta: that a commitment of defendants voluntarily to submit to the foreign alternative jurisdiction, hands them the key to unlock forum non. At 241: ‘In this case, both defendants have offered to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Brazil. Thus the force of any suggestion that there may be a risk of irreconcilable judgements against each defendant is attenuated.’

Conclusions, at 265:

(i) I strike out the claims against both defendants as an abuse of the process of the court;

(ii) If my finding of abuse were correct but my decision to strike out were wrong, then I would stay the claims leaving open the possibility of the claimants, or some of them, seeking to lift the stay in future but without pre-determining the timing of any such application or the circumstances in which such an application would be liable to succeed;

(iii) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claim against BHP Plc by the application of Article 34 of the Recast Regulation;

(iv) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claims against BHP Ltd on the grounds of forum non conveniens regardless of whether the BHP reliance on Article 34 of the Recast Regulation had been successful or not;

(v) If my findings on the abuse of process point were wrong, then a free-standing decision to impose a stay on case management grounds would probably be unsustainable.

Appeal is of course being considered.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

Jalla and others v Shell. High Court upholds mother holding jurisdiction, no stay granted on the basis of Brussels Ia’s Article 34 forum non conveniens-light.

Update 29 10 2021 the first instance judge’s decision not to extend time to serve Date of Damage Pleadings (“DODPs”) and associated material, was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Update 1 October 2021 Stuart-Smith J’s finding that the case could not proceed as a representative action was upheld: Jalla & Anor v Shell International Trading And Shipping Co Ltd & Anor (Appeal (2): Representative Action) [2021] EWCA Civ 1389.

Update 27 January 2021 ) – the jurisdictional issues were not under appeal, which was held today: see Jalla & Ors v Shell International Trading And Shipping Company & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 63, in which the Court of Appeal held that claimants do not have a cause of action for the continuing nuisance, leading to the claim of most of them being statute-barred.

Update 3 December 2020 see for an interim case-management decision on the issues under appeal here.

Update 18 August 2020 for subsequent procedural judgment unrelated to jurisdiction see [2020] EWHC 2211 (TCC).

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [2020] EWHC 459 (TCC) concerns a December 2011 oil spill which claimants allege companies forming part of the Shell group are responsible for. Anchor defendant in the UK is Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited – STASCO.

Stuart-Smith J on Tuesday last week upheld jurisdiction against the London-based mother holding on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia, and rejected an application for stay on Article 34 grounds. The judgment is lengthy, the issues highly relevant: this post therefore will be somewhat more extensive than usual.

Standard applications in cases like these now take the form of opposing jurisdiction against UK based defendants using Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non conveniens -light; readers will remember the issues from ia Privatbank (cited by Stuart-Smith J) and other A34 postings on the blog); alternatively, resisting the case go to full trial on the basis that there is no real issue to be tried; abuse of process arguments (against such defendants: based on EU law); and case-management grounds. The latter two are of course disputed following Owusu. And against non-UK (indeed non-EU based defendants), using forum non conveniens; abuse of process; case-management and no real issue to be tried.

[A further application at issue is to amend form claims to ‘correct’ defendant companies, an application which is subject to limitation periods that are disputed at length in the case at issue. This is civil procedure /CPR territory which is less the subject of this blog].

The jurisdiction challenges are what interests us here and these discussions start at 207. The discussion kicks of with core instructions for ‘Founding jurisdiction’ in principle: the five step ladder expressed by Lord Briggs in Vedanta – which of course confusingly include many echoes of forum non as well as Article 34 analysis. Claimant must demonstrate:

(i) that the claims against the anchor defendant involve a real issue to be tried;

(ii) if so, that it is reasonable for the court to try that issue;

(iii) that the foreign defendant is a necessary or proper party to the claims against the anchor defendant;

(iv) that the claims against the foreign defendant have a real prospect of success; and

(v) that, either, England is the proper place in which to bring the combined claims or that there is a real risk that the claimants will not obtain substantial justice in the alternative foreign jurisdiction, even if it would otherwise have been the proper place, or the convenient or natural forum.

For the purposes of current application, Stuart-Smith J focuses on i, ii, and v:

  • When considering whether there is “a real issue to be tried” the test to be applied is effectively the same as the test for summary judgment: reference here is made to Okpabi. It may be important to point out that the ‘real issue to be tried’ test must not be confused as a negation of Owusu. The test effectively has a gatekeeping purpose, not unlike the similar test in e.g The Netherlands as shown in Kiobel.
  • The second condition, reasonableness to try the real issue, Stuart-Smith J concedes that this condition has been heavily debated for it is not entirely clear. He links the condition to the anchor jurisdiction issue: for Stuart-Smith J, the fact that the anchor defendant is sued for the sole or predominant purpose of bringing the foreign defendant into the action within the jurisdiction is not fatal to an application to serve the foreign defendant out of the jurisdiction. He seems to suggest therefore a light reading of the reasonableness requirement and emphasises (at 215) as Lord Briggs had done in Vedanta, that per C-281/02 Owusu, the effect of the mandatory terms of A4(1) BIa is that jurisdiction that is vested in the English Court by the article may not be challenged on arguments which in other circumstances would be forum non conveniens grounds. (This reinforces his flexible reading of the reasonableness requirement).
  • On the fifth condition, Stuart-Smith J at 217 focuses on the scenario of an A4 defendant likely to continue being sued regardless of the English PIL decision (forum non in particular) viz the non-EU defendants (an issue which was quite important in Vedanta, where no A34 arguments were raised). If that is indeed likely then in his view this must have an impact on how the court considers the application of the English rules.

As noted Stuart-Smith J lists these arguments as ‘founding jurisdiction’ and at 227 finds there is a real issue to be tried: a reliable conclusion in the other direction (that STASCO had not retained legal responsibility for the operation of the Northia) cannot be found at this jurisdictional stage.

The Abuse of EU law argument is given short, one para (at 218) shrift, with reference to Lord Briggs in Vedanta (who focused on Article 8(1) CJEU authority for there is little precedent on abuse of EU law).

Turning then to the pièce de résistance: Article 34.  Readers of the blog will have followed my regular reporting on same.

Stuart-Smith’s first discusses authority in abstracto, and his points are as follows:

  • BIa’s section 9, ‘lis pendens – related actions’, harbours two twins. At 222: ‘Articles 29 and 33 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties. Articles 30 and 34 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions are “related” without satisfying the additional prerequisites for the application of Articles 29 and 33 (i.e. the same cause of action and between the same parties).‘ The twins are of course not identical: in each set, one involves action ex-EU, the other looks to intra-EU scenarios.
  • Zooming in on the A30-34 twin: A30 defines ‘related’ and A34 does not. Under A30(3), actions are related where they are “so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from different proceedings.” (at 222) under A34(1)a, the discretion to stay an action under that article does not arise unless “it is expedient to hear and determine the related actions to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from separate proceedings”. Semantically one might suggest the latter therefore is a subset of the former (which would also suggest not all actions that are ‘related’ under A30 are so under A34). Stuart-Smith J however proposes to focus on the commonality of both, which is the presence of expediency, ‘to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from <different: A30> <seperate: A34’ proceedings. Again at 222: ‘Although there is a semantic argument that this means that cases falling within Article 34(1)(a) are a subset of “related actions”, I cannot conceive of circumstances where this would matter: the expediency criterion is a pre-requisite for the exercise of the court’s discretion both under Article 29 and under Article 34.’
  • At 223 then follows the discussion of “risk of irreconcilable judgments”. ‘Because Articles 30 and 34 do not require the proceedings to involve the same cause of action and to be between the same parties, it is plain that the “risk of irreconcilable judgments” to which Articles 30(3) and 34(1)(a) refer cannot require that there be a risk that one judgment may give rise to an issue estoppel affecting the other.’ In other words, the test of irreconcilability is suggested to be more easily met in A30 (and 34) then it is under A29 (and 33). Nevertheless, with reference to Donaldson DJ in Zavarco, Stuart-Smith J suggests the points of difference between the judgments (whether arising from findings of fact or of law) would have to “form an essential part of the basis of the judgments” before A30 or 34 may be engaged.
  • At 225 he then refers to Privatbank, held by the Court of Appeal after proceedings in Jalla had been closed, in which the Court of Appeal held that the fact that actions could not be consolidated and heard together (much as of course such togetherness cannot be imposed upon the foreign courts) is relevant to the exercise of the Court’s discretion and, in the absence of some strong countervailing factor, will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay. At 246, that importance of the impossibility of consolidated hearings is re-emphasised.

At 228 then Stuart-Smith J arrives at the application in concretoHe starts with the defendants’ arguments: ‘In their written submissions the Defendants rely upon a number of claims brought by groups of claimants or communities before various courts in Nigeria and one action of rather different complexion, known as the Federal Enforcement Action [“FEA”]. They submit that the English proceedings against STASCO should be stayed, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments being reached in England and in one or more of the Nigerian proceedings by waiting for the determinations of the Nigerian Courts and then taking proper account of those determinations in disposing of the English proceedings. The Defendants submit that, by the imposition of a stay, the court would avoid “a course of conflict with the courts of a friendly state” and avoid “cutting across executive actions of the Nigerian State in relation to property situated within its territory” which the Defendants submit would be in breach of the act of state doctrine and considerations of comity.‘ He then proceeds to discuss the arguments:

  • Firstly he discusses at length the status of the FEA (which counsel for the defendants focused on) as well as a number of other actions pending in the Nigerian courts.
  • Of note is his observation at 234: ‘It is a fact material to the exercise of the court’s discretion on these applications that the Defendants in these proceedings rely upon the existence of the FEA as grounds for imposing a stay pursuant to Article 34 while at the same time SNEPCO is maintaining its root and branch opposition to the validity (as well as the factual merits) of the FEA.’
  • At 237 he notes the not carbon copy but nevertheless overlap between proceedings, at the level of claimants, defendants, and facts, but not the allegations of negligence and Rylands v Fletcher which are not directed at STASCO in the FEA proceedings. Of note is that he adds in fine that the potential problem of double recovery is simply an issue with which the English and Nigerian courts may have to grapple in due course.
  • At 241 he holds obiter that expediency is not met here for a stay would not reduce the risk of irreconcilable judgments. Here, the true nature of forum non (I realise of course A34 is only forum non light) re-emerges: the English proceedings will continue after the stay in all likelihood will have been lifted (there will continue to be a case to answer for STASCO). ‘(A)lthough the English court would afford due attention and respect to the findings of the Nigerian courts, the findings of the Nigerian courts in the FEA and the other actions would not bind the English court to make equivalent findings even on the most basic matters such as whether the December 2011 Spill reached land.’ However ‘in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal [in Privatbank, GAVC] that expediency is a theoretical concept, I will proceed on the assumptions (without deciding) that, for the purposes of Article 34, (a) the actions in Nigeria are related actions and (b) it is expedient to determine the related actions together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from different proceedings.’
  • That leaves the question whether a stay is necessary for the ‘proper administration of justice.’
    • At 242 the elements of recital 24 are considered in turn. Stuart-Smith emphasises in particular that while the damage occurred in Nigeria, there is a strong international element that is alleged to give rise to a duty of care owed by STASCO to the Claimants; and he underlines the uncertainty as to the length of the Nigerian proceedings).
    • At 245 he concludes that no stay is warranted: I shall recall the para in full (underlining is mine, as is the lay-out):
      • ‘Balancing these various considerations together, I am not satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
      • I start with the fact that jurisdiction is based on Article 4 and that it is contemplated that the proceedings against STASCO may continue after a temporary stay to await the progress of the Nigerian actions.
      • Second, the length of that stay is indeterminate whether one looks at the FEA or the other actions; but on any view it is likely to be measured in years rather than months, thereby rendering these Claimants’ claims (which were issued late) almost intolerably stale.
      • Third, a stay would prevent any steps being taken towards the resolution of the difficult limitation and other issues which the earlier parts of this judgment identify; and it would prevent any other steps being taken to ensure the swift and just progression of the English action if and when the stay is removed. That is, in my judgment, a major drawback: if and to the extent that there are valid (i.e. not statute-barred) claims to be pursued, there is a compelling interest of justice in their being pursued quickly. Otherwise, as is well known, there is a risk that valid claims may fall by the wayside simply because of the exorbitant passage of time.
      • Fourth, although the factual connection with Nigeria is almost complete, the English court’s jurisdiction is not to be ousted on forum non conveniens grounds and, that being so, there is no reason to assume that imposing a stay until after the Nigerian courts have reached their conclusions will either cause the English proceedings to be abandoned or determine the outcome of the English proceedings or eliminate the risk of irreconcilable findings altogether. I am certain that the English court would and will, if no stay is imposed at this stage, remain vigilant to the need to respect the Nigerian courts and their proceedings; and I do not exclude the possibility that circumstances might arise at a later stage when a pause in the English proceedings might become desirable in the interest of judicial comity and respect for Nigeria’s sovereign legal system.
      • Fifth, I bear in mind the fact that the scope of the FEA action is not clear, so that it is not clear what issues will be determined, save that the issue of STASCO’s responsibility and actions will not be as they are not before the Nigerian Court. Turning to the other actions, STASCO is only a party to the HRH Victor Disi Action which, though technically pending, cannot be assumed to be certain to come to trial. The status of the remaining actions, where STASCO is not a party, is as set out above but does not give confidence that one or more of those actions will emerge as a suitable vehicle for determining issues relating to the spill so as to fetter the freedom and resolve of the English court to reach a different conclusion on behalf of different claimants and in an action against STASCO if that is the proper result.
      • Sixth, in my judgment, the proper administration of justice is better served by taking interim steps to bring order to the English proceedings, specifically by addressing the issues of limitation and, potentially, existence and scope of duty, which are disclosed in the earlier parts of this judgment. The outcome of those steps should determine whether and to what extent STASCO is available as an anchor defendant.’

There is an awful lot here which may prove to be of crucial relevance in the debate on the application of Article 34. Most importantly, Stuart-Smith’s analysis in my view does justice to the DNA of A34, which includes a strong presumption against a stay.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

Canadian Supreme Court gives go ahead for consideration of the CSR issues in Nevsun Resources.

I have reported earlier on the issues which yesterday led to the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court 2020 SCC 5 Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, in which the Supreme Court was asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication in the case at issue. The case does not have jurisdictional issues to consider so I shall leave the substantive public international law analysis (not my core area) to others: Dr Ekaterina Aristova’s Twitter feed referenced below should give readers plenty of pointers, as does (which came out just as I was finalising this post) Stephen Pitel’s analysis here.

The case does raise the kinds of questions upon which the US Supreme Court (Kiobel; Jesner) refused to be drawn, particularly issues of corporate culpability under public international law. Again, this is not my area of core expertise and my thoughts here are merely that.

Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd. The Eritrean workers started proceedings in British Columbia against Nevsun and sought damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity. They also sought damages for breaches of domestic torts including conversion, battery, unlawful confinement, conspiracy and negligence.

Nevsun brought a motion to strike the pleadings on the basis of the ‘act of state’ doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government. Nevsun also took the position that the claims based on customary international law should be struck because they have no reasonable prospect of success.

The act of state doctrine is “a rule of domestic law which holds the national court incompetent to adjudicate upon the lawfulness of the sovereign acts of a foreign state” (R. v. Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No. 3), [2000] 1 A.C. 147 (H.L.), at p. 269) (Lord Millett). The doctrine exists in Australian and English common law (with plenty of discussion) but is not part of Canadian common law. At 30 Abella J for the majority explains the connections and differences with the doctrine of state immunity. [The doctrine was also at stake in [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India on which I reported earlier].

The motion was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in majority has now agreed, arguing  (ia at 44-45)

The act of state doctrine and its underlying principles as developed in Canadian jurisprudence are not a bar to the Eritrean workers’ claims. The act of state doctrine has played no role in Canadian law and is not part of Canadian common law. Whereas English jurisprudence has reaffirmed and reconstructed the act of state doctrine, Canadian law has developed its own approach to addressing the twin principles underlying the doctrine: conflict of laws and judicial restraint. Both principles have developed separately in Canadian jurisprudence rather than as elements of an all‑encompassing act of state doctrine. As such, in Canada, the principles underlying the act of state doctrine have been completely subsumed within this jurisprudence. Canadian courts determine questions dealing with the enforcement of foreign laws according to ordinary private international law principles which generally call for deference, but allow for judicial discretion to decline to enforce foreign laws where such laws are contrary to public policy, including respect for public international law.

Nor has Nevsun satisfied the test for striking the pleadings dealing with customary international law. Namely it has not established that it is “plain and obvious” that the customary international law claims have no reasonable likelihood of success.

Of note is at 50 the insistence with reference to authority that ‘deference accorded by comity to foreign legal systems “ends where clear violations of international law and fundamental human rights begin” ‘, and the majority’s opinion’s references to the stale nature of the established concept that public international law exists for and between States only.

Clearly the case is not home and dry for the lower courts will now have to address the substantive issues and may still hold for Nevsun. Moreover claimant’s case is based on parts of international law traditionally considered ius cogens – of less use in other corporate social responsibility cases involving environmental issues or more ‘modern’ social rights other than the hard core ius cogens category. Hence in my initial view the precedent value of the case may not be as wide as one might hope. However the clear rejection of the act of state attempt is significant.

Of interest finally is also the judgment at 75 and at 109 citing Philippe Sands’ (KU Leuven doctor honoris causa) formidable East West Street in support.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

NN v Barrick Tz Limited (Acacia) in the English courts. Another CSR /jurisdictional marker with likely role for Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia.

I have for the moment little to go on in a new claim, launched in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category. The claim was apparently filed against Barrick Tz Limited, formerly Acacia Mining, domiciled in the UK, alleging human rights abuses by security forces at the company’s North Mara mine.

Of jurisdictional note undoubtedly will be the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia: forum non conveniens – light, and a likely application for summary judgment by defendant. There is as far as I know no mother holding issue involved, unlike in Vedanta or Bento Rodriguez /Samarco.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

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