Posts Tagged Governmental interest analysis

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern v Heis. On comity, staying proceedings, and the ‘public /private’ divide in international litigation.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern (Being the Federal Central Tax Office of the Federal Republic of Germany) & Ors v Heis & Ors [2019] EWHC 705 (Ch) was held in March 2019 bit only came unto BAILII recently and had not caught my attention before.

The primary question raised is whether appeals by the applicants, the German Federal Tax Office (“the GTA”) and by Deutsche Bank AG (“DB”) against the rejection by the Joint Special Administrators (“the Administrators”) of MF Global UK Limited (“MFGUK”) of their respective proofs of debt, to allow the underlying claim which forms the subject of the proof to be resolved by the specialist German tax or fiscal courts, which both the applicants (for different reasons) contend are the natural forum for the determination of the claims and the forum in which they can be resolved most efficiently.

The underlying issue concerns German withholding tax.

The GTA has at all times maintained that its claim should be determined in Germany by the German tax courts, per the UK-Germany double taxation Treaty, based on the OECD model convention (for those in the know: it is Article 28(6) which the GTA has suggested exclusively reserves its GTA Claim to the German Courts). However it felt compelled to submit a proof in MFGUK’s UK administration proceedings in order to preserve its rights.

Under German law, it is within the GTA’s power to give a decision on MFGUK’s objection to relvant Amended Tax Assessment Notices. If and when it did so, it would then be for MFGUK, if it wished to pursue the matter further, to file an appeal against that decision by the GTA with the Fiscal Court of Cologne. The Fiscal Court of Cologne is one of the 18 fiscal courts in Germany which are the courts of first instance for tax matters. That seems a natural course to take however here the GTA is caught in a conundrum: at 18: the GTA has not yet formally rejected MFGUK’s objection. This is because such objection would establish proceedings in Germany, and there is a procedural rule of German law that, in order to prevent parallel proceedings, a German court will automatically defer to the court first seized of a matter. Accordingly, it seems likely that if the GTA were to reject MFGUK’s objection before the Stay Application has been decided by the UK Court, on any appeal by MFGUK, the Fiscal Court of Cologne might as a matter of comity defer to this Court in order to avoid parallel proceedings.

At 57: Brussels Ia is not engaged for the case concerns both the insolvency and the tax exclusion of Articles 1.1 and 1.2.b. At 56 Hildyard J considers the issues under English rules on the power to stay, with a focus on the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

At 84 Hildyard J holds that the GTA read too much into A28(6) and that there is no exclusive jurisdiction, leaving the consideration of whether a stay might be attractive nevertheless (at 89 ff the issue is discussed whether German courts could at all entertain the claim). This leads to an assessment pretty much like a stay under Brussels Ia as ‘related’ (rather than: the same, to which lis alibi pendens applies) cases. Note at 87(6) the emphasis which the GTA places on the actual possibility of consolidating the cases – similar to the arguments used in BIa A33-34 cases such as Privatbank and later cases).

At 115 the impact of this case having public law impacts becomes clear: ‘It seems to me that, despite my hunch that there will also be considerable factual enquiry, and a factual determination of the particular circumstances may determine the result …, the legal issues at stake are not only plainly matters of German law, but controversial and complex issues of statutory construction of systemic importance and substantial public interest in terms of the legitimate interests of the public in the protection of its taxation system from what are alleged to be colourable schemes.’

And at 116, referring ia to VTB Capital v Nutritek, ‘the risk of inconsistent decisions in concurrent proceedings in different jurisdictions, is the more acute when in one of the jurisdictions the issue is a systemic one, or may be decided in a manner which has systemic consequences. Especially in such a context, there is a preference for a case to be heard by the courts of the country whose law applies.’ Reference to VTB is made in particular with resepect to the point that Gleichlauf (the application by a court of its own laws) is to be promoted in particular (at [46] in VTB per Lord Mance: “it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in a country whose law applies. However, this factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum.’

At 117: ‘even if the factual centre of gravity may be London, the jurisdiction likely to be most affected by the result is Germany: and even if the US approach of ‘interest analysis’ is not determinative in this jurisdiction it does not seem to me to be an impermissible consideration.’

Held, at 121, there is here ‘a sufficiently “rare and compelling” reason for granting the stay sought by the GTA, provided that the German Fiscal Court are an available forum in which to determine the substance of the disputes.’ At 122 Hildyard J seeks assurances ‘insofar as the parties’ best endeavours can secure it, resolution of both the GTA Claim and the Later MFGUK Refund Claim as expeditiously as possible. That seems to me necessary in order to safeguard this jurisdictions’ insolvency processes and for the protection of the interests of the body of creditors as a whole.’

Then follows at 131 ff extensive analysis of the impact of this stay decision on the related case of Deutsche Bank, with at 190 a summary of the issues to be decided. Held at 218: ‘By careful selection of potentially dispositive issues, I consider that there is some prospect of that process enabling a determination without recourse to the intricacies of German tax law which are to be decided in the context of the GTA Claim; whereas an immediate stay guarantees a long delay before this court can determine the matter, based on presently hypothetical claims, after a long wait for non-binding guidance from the German court which may result from other cases to which DB is not a party.’ However at 219 the prospect of a stay after all is held out, should a quick resolution of those issues not be possible.

Most interesting.

Geert.

 

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Martrade Shipping: choice of law means that law can decide the limits to which it wishes to be applied. Including to promote forum shopping.

In [2014] EWHC 1884 (Comm) Martrade Shipping v United Enterprises Corporation, the High Court considered the appeal against an arbitration award in relation to the applicability of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 to charterparties providing for English law and London arbitration.

The vessel was owned by the Defendant, a Marshall Islands company. The vessel was registered in Panama and managed by a Liberian company registered in Greece. The vessel was chartered by the Owners to the Claimant charterers for a time charter trip via the Mediterranean/Black Sea under a charterparty on an amended NYPE form dated 2 July 2005. The Charterers are a German company. The vessel was to be placed at the disposal of the Charterers on passing Aden, and was to be redelivered at one safe port or passing Muscat outbound/Singapore range in Charterers’ option. In the event the vessel loaded cargoes of steel products at Tuapse (Russia), Odessa (Ukraine) and Constanza (Romania) and discharged them at Jebel Ali (UAE), Karachi (Pakistan) and Mumbai (India). Hire was payable in US$ to a bank account in Greece. The broker named in the charterparty as entitled to commission was Optima Shipbrokers Ltd who arre Greek. The charterparty recorded that it was made and concluded in Antwerp.

Consequently, contact with England other than the governing law and arbitration clause was non-existent.

A number of disputes between the parties were referred to arbitration, including a claim by the Owners for unpaid hire, in respect of which the Charterers claimed to be entitled to deduct sums for alleged off-hire, bunkers used during off-hire, and a bunker price differential claim. By the Award the tribunal held that Owners were entitled to an award in respect of hire in the sum of US$ 178,342.73. The tribunal further held that the Owners were entitled to interest on that sum calculated at the rate of 12.75% per annum from 23 September 2005 until the date of payment under the 1998 Act.

The appeal is against the award of interest under the 1998 Act. The Charterers contended before the tribunal, and contend on the appeal, that the 1998 Act has no application by reason of s. 12(1) which provides:

“This Act does not have effect in relation to a contract governed by a law of a part of the United Kingdom by choice of the parties if –(a) there is no significant connection between the contract and that part of the United Kingdom; and (b) but for that choice, the applicable law would be a foreign law.’

Section 12 of the Act therefore provides that where parties to a contract with an international dimension have chosen English law to govern the contract, the choice of English law is not of itself sufficient to attract the application of the Act. Section 12 mandates the application of the penal interest provisions only if one or both of two further requirements are fulfilled. There must be a significant connection between the contract and England (s. 12(1)(a)); or the contract must be one which would be governed by English law apart from the choice of law (s. 12(1)(b)). Either is sufficient. Popplewell J suggests this provision has two objectives:

– the Act reflects domestic policy considerations which are not necessarily apposite to contracts with an international dimension. What is required by the significant connecting factor(s) is something which justifies the extension of a deterrent penal provision rooted in domestic policy to an international transaction. And

– subjecting parties to a penal rate of interest on debts might be a discouragement to those who would otherwise choose English law to govern contracts arising in the course of international trade, and accordingly does not make such consequences automatic.

 

The s.12(1)(a) criterion of “significant connection” must connect the substantive transaction itself to England. Whether they provide a significant connection, singly or cumulatively, will be a question of fact and degree in each case, but they must be of a kind and a significance which makes them capable of justifying the application of a domestic policy of imposing penal rates of interest on a party to an international commercial contract. They must provide a real connection between the contract and the effect of prompt payment of debts on the economic life of the United Kingdom. (at 17).

‘Such factors may include the following:

(1) Where the place of performance of obligations under the contract is in England. This will especially be so where the relevant debt falls to be paid in England. But it may also be so where other obligations fall to be performed in England or other rights exercised in England. If some obligations might give rise to debts payable in England, the policy considerations underlying the Act are applicable to those debts; and if some debts under the contract are to carry interest at a penal rate, it might be regarded as fair and equitable that all debts arising in favour of either party under the contract should do so.

(2) Where the nationality of the parties or one of them is English. If it is contemplated that debts may be payable by an English national under the contract, the policy reasons for imposing penal rates of interest may be engaged; and if only one party is English, fairness may again decree that the other party should be on an equal footing in relation to interest whether he is the payer or the payee.

(3) Where the parties are carrying on some relevant part of their business in England. It may be thought that persons or companies who carry on business in England should be encouraged to pay their debts on time and not use delayed payment as a business tool even in relation to transactions which fall to be performed elsewhere. Moreover a supplier carrying on business in England may fall within the category identified in s.6(2)(a) of those whose financial position makes them particularly vulnerable to late payment of their debts, although these are not the only commercial suppliers for whose benefit the Act is intended to apply. The policy of the Act may be engaged in the protection of suppliers carrying on business in England, whether financially vulnerable or not, even where the particular debts in question fall to be paid by a foreign national abroad.

(4) Where the economic consequences of a delay in payment of debts may be felt in the United Kingdom. This may engage consideration of related contracts, related parties, insurance arrangements or the tax consequences of transactions.’ (at 20).

 

By contrast, a mere London arbitration or English jurisdiction clause cannot be a relevant connecting factor for the purposes of s.12(1)(a).

Popplewell J therefore expressly links the non-applicability of relevant domestic English law (where such as here that law itself suggests the need for there to be a connection between the case, and England) to the need to maintain the attraction of England as a seat of international commercial arbitration  or indeed litigation. Exactly the kind of attitude in which competing courts fall short.

Geert.

 

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