Posts Tagged Evidence
Belo Horizonte: Court at Rotterdam (using English as language of the oral procedure): Access to seized documents is no provisional measure under Brussels I Recast.
Arnold van Steenderen and Milan Simić have complete and concise review here of judgment of the Rotterdam court of December 2017 in re the Belo Horizonte (officially Cefetra et al v Ms ‘IDA’ Oetker Schiffahrtsgesellschaft MbH & Co KG et al). The case is a follow-up to 2015 proceedings. In these the Rotterdam court had first sanctioned seizure, and then rejected further action for claimant had not formally requested access to the documents.
Arnold and Milan summarise the facts very very helpfully – I am much obliged for the judgment is in Dutch (although as the judgment shows, the proceedings were actually conducted in English: a nice example of the use of regulatory competition in civil procedure) and their efforts have saved me a lot of translation time:
The decisions of the Rotterdam Court are a result of the carriage under bill of lading
of soya beans on behalf of Cefetra B.V. (Netherlands based) on board of the “Belo
Horizonte” from Argentina to the United Kingdom. Cefetra supplies raw materials to
the feed, food, and fuel industries. Cefetra Ltd. (UK based) was the holder of the
b/l’s and English law applied to the b/l’s. The vessel is owned by MS ‘IDA’ Oetker
and is time chartered by Rudolf A Oetker (both German based, together addressed
as Oetker). MS ‘IDA’ Oetker is the carrier under the b/l’s. London arbitration is
agreed upon for any dispute rising from the contract of carriage and the b/l’s.
Following engine failure, ‘(d)uring the voyage, experts commissioned by both Cefetra and Oetker visited the “Belo Horizonte” to preliminary assess the condition of the vessel and its engines. Further investigation was conducted upon arrival in England. Oetker, however, only granted permission for inspection of the engine room and refused to disclose the documents on board. Crew interviews were not allowed as well. Subsequently, Cefetra obtained leave to attachment for the purpose of preserving evidence in the Netherlands on 27 October 2015. The leave was effected by the bailiff on 28 October 2015 on board of the “Belo Horizonte”. Several documents were seized and handed over to a sequestrator. Cefetra initiated proceedings’ to gain access to the seized documents.
The dispute in the main is arbitrable in London.
Oetker disputes jurisdiction of the court at Rotterdam on the basis of defendants’ domicile in Germany. Cefetra argue in favour of jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(1), alternatively 7(2) or indeed Article 35 Brussels I Recast:
- 7(1) forum contractus: for, it is argued, the main agreement between the two parties implies an obligation to provide any relevant evidence; the place of performance for that ‘obligation in question’ lies in The Netherlands since that is where the sequestrator holds them.
- 7(2) forum delicti: Oetker’s obstruction of truth finding is a tort which is located (locus delicti commissi) at Rotterdam since that is where Oetker opposes disclosure.
- 35 provisional, including protective measures.
The Court does not at all entertain Cefetra’s arguments on the basis of 7(1) or 7(2). Wrongly so: plenty of not at all obvious contracts or torts could qualify as same under these provisions, to not address them at all does not make them simply go away.
The court first of all (5.7 in fine) rejects relevance of the arbitration exclusion on the basis of C-391/95 Van Uden Deco-Line. It then sticks to a very restrictive approach to Article 35, with the classic provisionary (not covered by Article 35) v provisional (covered) nature of measures, as also discussed in C-104/03 St. Paul Dairy/Unibel (to which the Court refers). In the words of the court: seizure of evidence is provisional; actual access, copy or extract is not (5.8): the court suggests this is not provisional since it allows the party to gauge the evidentiary position of the party and hence is irreversible.
I disagree -and I have at least a shelf in my library to support the discussion.
Ireversibility in fact (once the evidence seen, the party can never wipe it from its memory, so to speak) does not equate ireversibility in law. The court takes a very limited view of Article 35 and I do not believe it is the right one.
There are not that many national judgments covering Article 35 quite so expressly. This is one to treasure.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.15.
This is one for the conflict of laws anoraks. In C-29/16 HanseYachts the Court of Justice held (on 4 May) that an application for proceedings to preserve or establish, prior to any legal proceedings, evidence of facts on which a subsequent action could be based, does not constitute a proceeding within the meaning of (now) Article 32(1) Brussels I. If it had, it would trigger the lis alibi pendens regime of that Article, impacting therefore on any future substantive proceedings.
At 33 the Court defers to the insight into the relevant provisions of French judicial procedure, offered by the French Government: Although there may indeed be a connection between the court seised on the basis of the relevant French Article and the court having jurisdiction to hear the substance of the case with a view to which the measure of inquiry was ordered, the fact remains that such proceedings for the taking of evidence are independent in relation to the substantive procedure which may, if necessary, be brought subsequently. The Court’s ruling however is dependent (at 34) upon the French courts confirming this interpretation of French civil procedure: for the CJEU does not offer final interpretations on internal State law.
Of note is of course also that the Court seized with the substantive procedure, may en parcours de route take measures to preserve evidence etc.: that court would have already been ‘seized’.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.
In National Grid Electricity Transmission, the UK High Court correctly confirmed the Evidence Regulation as being subsidiary only.
The European Commission had found 20 companies to have been engaged in an extensive and sophisticated cartel regarding the supply of GIS, Gas Insulated Switchgear, which controls energy flow in electricity grids, and is therefore used as a major component in power substations. National Grid alleges that it suffered substantial losses by reason of overcharges resulting from the illegal cartel. Current judgment is an interim judgment on the issue of disclosure. Estimating the cartel overcharge is very dependent on expert economic evidence.
Alstom and Areva are both French-domiciled defendants. They argue that providing disclosure will put them, as French companies, in breach of a prohibition under French law which attracts criminal penalties, and therefore should not be ordered. This prohibition is referred to in the High Court judgment as the ‘French Blocking Statute‘, of 1968, as amended, most notably in 1980. The prohibition is mostly meant to assist French companies in resisting excessive disclosure requests originating in the United States. Applicants had made a request under the EU’s Evidence Regulation and had served that request to the French Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry eventually refused, mostly for technical legal reasons (the request made had identified the defendants as the ones having to produce the evidence, rather than the court having to order them to do so). Alstrom and Areva subsequently argued that the only route for them to be safe from prosecution under the French law, was for the UK court to seek the assistance of a French Court under the EU Evidence Regulation.
Roth J first considered (with French expert help) the likelihood of the companies involved being prosecuted under the Act. On that point, he concluded ‘I find it virtually inconceivable that where jurisdiction over a company is exercised pursuant to an EU regulation to make it a defendant to proceedings in another EU Member State, for damages alleged to result from an established and serious violation of a fundamental provision of EU law, which proceedings serve an objective of EU policy, the public authorities of one EU Member State would in the exercise of their discretion institute criminal proceedings against that company for complying with the procedural rules of the courts of the Member State where the proceedings are brought.’
He subsequently discussed the evidence Regulation. This Regulation is of a subsidiary nature, as I have flagged once or twice before. It does not rule out national procedural rules as an alternative. Roth J correctly holds that the Regulation would not assist in this case (whether or nor it applies to disclosure proceedings between litigious parties at all is a different matter), inter alia because of the delays and because of the potential for the French courts eventually not to meet the request, thus leading to further uncertainty. He held therefore that the French Defendants should be subject to an order for disclosure in the same way as all the other defendants.
Appeal on 22 October 2013 did not lead to the findings being overturned. The French companies now face the proverbial rock and hard stone: comply with the English order but face the possibility, however remote, of prosecution under French law. Or be safe from prosecution under French law but face contempt in the UK courts.
postscript: The Supreme Court refused permission to appeal in December 2013.