The ECJ today has held in C-536/13 Gazprom in a matter of factly manner (I had suspected the Court would be brief), that the enforcement of arbitral awards falls outside the Brussels I-Regulation, where that enforcement by the court of that State, effectively prohibits the party concerned from taking the case to a court in that very Member State. Rich was the main formula referred to, among the various precedents: ‘reference must be made solely to the subject-matter of the dispute‘ to assess the scope of Brussels I’s arbitral exclusion.
Importantly, West Tankers was distinguished particularly on the basis that in the facts at issue, there was no competing court in another Member State, hence no scope for the principle of mutual trust to be violated. The AG’s review of the impact of the recitals newly added by the Brussels I recast, was not addressed at all by the Court.
The judgment does not solve all outstanding issues, however. Firstly, the Court’s reasoning seems to suggest that where competition with a court in another Member State is at issue, effet utile of the Brussels I Regulation might take the upper hand, as it did in West Tankers. Recognition of the award arguably in such case would amount to anti-suit. Further, the Court (this was a Grand Chamber judgment) points out that the award still has to go through the national court’s standard recognition and enforcement process, outside the framework of Title III of the Regulation, instead governed by national residual law as well as the New York Convention. Both of these (including through ordre public) might still offer quite a remit for the Lithuanian courts to refuse recognition.
Wathelet AG opined yesterday in Gazprom, Case C-536/13, re the fate of arbitral anti-suit injunctions. (See my posting on the application, for context). He takes the opportunity to add to the chorus of criticism of the ECJ’s West Tankers ruling, at considerable length; and to review the ‘new’ regime under the Brussels I recast, in light of recital 12 of that Regulation.
His review of the ‘new’ regime of the Brussels I recast, and the contrasting positions of the EC and a number of Member States, support my proposition that the recast, by incorporating a summary of previous case-law in its recitals, has certainly not clarified things beyond discussion. Wathelet in fact suggest that the recitals do rebuke the ECJ and return application of the Regulation to the Rich scenario – however I am not convinced that Rich itself necessarily clarifies things. (It, too, like Van Uden and like the current recital, uses a confusing variety of criteria. I have a paper forthcoming on the Brussels I recast (already in a Dutch version should readers be interested) which looks into this).
At any rate, the lengthy review of the position under the recast evidently is outside the scope of the preliminary review, since the recast does not apply to it, and the ECJ is certain not to entertain the AG’s review of the recast and his rebuke of West Tankers at all. (Although his critical views are not likely to endear him to the Court).
Returning to the actual questions, the AG suggests the Court reply that that the Brussels I Regulation is not applicable in the present case (it falling exclusively within the scope of the 1958 New York Convention) and that, in any event, (what is effectively) an anti-suit injunction issued by an arbitration tribunal is not contrary to that Regulation. Finally, that under the New York Convention, a Member State cannot classify Brussels I’s jurisdictional regime as being ‘ordre public’ and hence capable of leading to refusal of recognition of an arbitral award.
The AG decisively supports arbitration in this opinion, however the ECJ is bound to be much shorter (and perhaps less sympathetic) in its judgment. To be continued….
In Case C-536/13 Gazprom, the Lithuanian Supreme Court has challenged the ECJ to specify the limits (or not) of its findings in West Tankers – on which I have reported extensively elsewhere. The Court of Justice ruled in February 2009 on the basis of effet utile that the English courts were out of their league in issuing an anti-suit injunction, prohibiting Allianz and Generali from pursuing the case in the Italian courts (on the basis of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule for tort) and obliging them to take the case to arbitration in London.
In Gazprom, A tribunal rendered an award holding that proceedings by Lithuania in Vilnius partially breached the arbitration clause in the shareholders’ agreement between parties. The arbitral tribunal ordered the Republic of Lithuania to withdraw certain claims filed before the Lithuanian courts and to amend other claims. Gazprom is seeking enforcement of the SCC award in Lithuania. Relevant summaries of the award and of the Lithuanian proceedings are available here. The instruction of restraint contained in the award is effectively an anti-suit injunction, albeit rendered by a tribunal instead of a court. The effect of both is the same: does the West Tankers rationale therefore hold (West Tankers, readers will remember, relied on the effet utile of the Regulation to extend its reach to anti-suit injunctions in support of arbitral proceedings, notwithstanding the latter’s clear exclusion from the Regulation)?
Where an arbitral tribunal issues an anti-suit injunction and thereby prohibits a party from bringing certain claims before a court of a Member State, which under the rules on jurisdiction in the Brussels I Regulation has jurisdiction to hear the civil case as to the substance, does the court of a Member State have the right to refuse to recognise such an award of the arbitral tribunal because it restricts the court’s right to determine itself whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case under the rules on jurisdiction in the Brussels I Regulation?
Should the first question be answered in the affirmative, does the same also apply where the anti-suit injunction issued by the arbitral tribunal orders a party to the proceedings to limit his claims in a case which is being heard in another Member State and the court of that Member State has jurisdiction to hear that case under the rules on jurisdiction in the Brussels I Regulation?
Can a national court, seeking to safeguard the primacy of European Union law and the full effectiveness of the Brussels I Regulation, refuse to recognise an award of an arbitral tribunal if such an award restricts the right of the national court to decide on its own jurisdiction and powers in a case which falls within the jurisdiction of the Brussels I Regulation?
No chamber has as yet been allocated to the case however I would not be surprised were it to be the Grand Chamber.