Disciplining forum and process shopping. Mostyn J in I and L.

A quick note on [2020] EWHC 893 (Fam) I and L (children), in which Mostyn J berates and effectively disciplines a father’s abuse forum and process shopping.

At 11:

‘I pause at this point to reflect on the actions taken by the father. Not only did he act in bad faith, as I have explained, but he also was guilty not only of blatant forum shopping but also of process shopping. If the father had genuinely developed misgivings about the wisdom and merits of the parenting agreement signed by him on 5 August 2019 then the appropriate place to raise those misgivings was the court in South Africa [the habitual residence of the children, GAVC]. Instead, by a ruse de guerre he lured the mother and children to this jurisdiction where he immediately started proceedings in the forum which he considered to be most favourable to him. By striking pre-emptively he also selected the process which he considered most favourable to him. Had he merely retained the children on 3 January 2020 and awaited the mother to take steps in response she would, unquestionably, have raised a case under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. In such a process the welfare of the children, while being an important consideration, would not have been the paramount consideration. Instead, the court would have started with the position that the children should be returned to the place of their habitual residence unless the father could demonstrate a defence.’

In the end he held that under the Children Act, in which the welfare of the children is the paramount criterion, a return to their habitual residence (to be effected as fast as possible following the end of Covid-19 lock-down) is in their best interest, thus torpedoing the abuse. Clearly like in QD, the English courts do not appreciate cloak and dagger manipulation of forum or process.

Geert.

 

Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.

In [2019] EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.

Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.

At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’

Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’

In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.

That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.

Geert.

 

The provisional text of the Hague Judgments Convention.

Update 21 November 2019 final text now here.

The representatives at the Diplomatic Conference at the Hague Convention have issued a provisional text of the Convention here. I am short of time to post a quick scan of the Convention – see some of my earlier posts on same. Also, since the Convention has taken on the format of the Brussels regime, it is of course quite an exercise even just to give a quick overview.

Of interest is that Jane Holliday posted a summary of key positive takeaways by prof Paul Beaumont, who was heavily involved in the drafting i.a. as a representative of the EU. These include the room for asymmetric choice of court (not covered by the Hague choice of court Convention and crucial for many common law jurisdictions); and the blend between the US and the EU regime for forum contractus: Article 5(g):

‘the judgment ruled on a contractual obligation and it was given by a court of the State in which performance of that obligation took place, or should have taken place, in accordance with

(i) the agreement of the parties, or (ii) the law applicable to the contract, in the absence of an agreed place of performance,

unless the activities of the defendant in relation to
the transaction clearly did not constitute a purposeful and substantial connection to that State.

Of note of course is also the carve-out for intellectual property and of ‘unilateral’ sovereign debt restructuring, but also of defamation and of privacy.

Much analysis no doubt to follow, as are complications in reaching a unified interpretation of the Convention once ratified.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2.

SM: Kafala and migration before the European Court of Justice.

Case C-129/18 SM v Entry Clearance Officer, UK Visa Section was held last Tuesday in Grand Chamber. It concerns the application of the EU’s main migration Directive, 2004/38 and essentially addresses the fear of the Member States (many of whom appeared before the court, all arguing a rather restrictive interpretation) that the islamic system of Kafala or Kefala hands human traffickers a means to support their trade.

As I flagged in an earlier post, in which I also referred to the case involving SM, kafala is clearly not equivalent to adoption. It is more akin to guardianship or custody in advance of adoption, or in the case of the Middle East, is even used as a form of visa et al sponsorship for migrant workers (hence leading to issues of slavery and the like).

In SM’s case, Mr and Ms M are two French nationals who married in the UK in 2001. They travelled to Algeria in 2009 to be assessed as to their suitability to become guardians of a child under Algerian kafala and were deemed ‘suitable’. SM, who was born in Algeria in June 2010, was abandoned by her biological parents at birth. In October 2011, Mr M returned to the UK where he has a permanent right of residence, for professional reasons. For her part, Ms M remained in Algeria with SM. In May 2012, SM applied for entry clearance for the UK as the adopted child of an EEA national. Her application was refused by the Entry Clearance Officer on the ground that guardianship under Algerian kafala was not recognised as an adoption under UK law and that no application had been made for intercountry adoption.

The Court essentially agrees with the Member States that the case does not fall under directive 2004/38’s heading on ‘direct descendants’ (‘blood’ relatives in e.g. the Dutch version) which the Court interprets (as do the Member States) as both biological and adopted direct descendants. This is a consequence of the qualification by the lex fori itself: unlike adoption, which is prohibited by Algerian law, the placing of a child under kafala does not mean that the child becomes the guardian’s heir. In addition, kafala comes to an end when the child attains the age of majority and may be revoked at the request of the biological parents or the guardian.

Yet the Court also finds that the Member States’ concerns over human trafficking are properly addressed by the Directive’s provisions for ‘other family Members’. Unlike the right to entry for direct descendants, other family members’ visa applications must be processed taking into account an extensive examination of their personal circumstances. At 69: in the case of minors, that assessment must take into consideration, inter alia, the age at which the child was placed under Algerian kafala system, whether the child has lived with its guardians since its placement under that system, the closeness of the personal relationship which has developed between the child and its guardians and the extent to which the child is dependent on its guardians, inasmuch as they assume parental responsibility and legal and financial responsibility for the child.

That the Algerian system of kafala guardian’s assessment clearly does not meet with the 1996 Hague Convention requirements for assessment of prospective adoptive parents and the interests of the child (to which Algeria is not a party but the Member States are) is not material: such assessment must be weighed against the factual elements identified by the Court at 69, see above.

Hague and Kafala at Kirchberg. Not an everyday occurrence.

Geert.

 

 

The Hague Judgments project rolls on. And a quick note on [2018] FCA 549 Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese.

Update 22 February 2019 for a most excellent and critical paper by Ronald Brand calling for the  2019 Judgments Project Conference to be aware of all options for international harmonisation in the area see here.

Kraft Foods v Bega Cheese [2018] FCA 549 was signalled to me by Michael Mitchell back in early May – now seems a good opportunity briefly to report on it. The Federal Court of Australia issued an anti-arbitration injunction to restrain a multinational food conglomerate from pursuing arbitration in New York. Kraft had pursued litigation in Australia which not only sought to restrain the respondent from certain radio and television advertising, but also sought final relief including damages.

Parties had agreed to mediate and arbitrate under the dispute resolution provisions of a Master Agreement for licensing of IP. Bega had acquired certain rights from Mondelez (a company in the Kraft group), including certain trademark rights that Kraft had licensed to Mondelez pursuant to the Master Agreement.

Of interest to the blog is the myriad number of issues that led the Court to issue the injunction, among others the fact that what was sought included interim relief, the position of which when it comes to enforcement is not entirely clear in the New York Convention. Throw intellectual property, mediation as well as arbitration, common law doctrine principles such as the Aldi rule in the mix, and the jurisdictional soup becomes quite attractive as well as complex. Precisely why intellectual property is hotly debated in the Hague Judgments project and likely to be excluded from it.

That latter brings me to the second part of the blog title: the HCCH have issued a Revised Draft Explanatory Report, and a document on the possible exclusion of anti-trust matters from the Convention as reflected in Article 2(1)(p) of the 2018 draft Convention. Both signal the continuing difficulty of the roll-out of the Hague Process, as well as continued intent to let the train roll into its end destination; although one wonders how many wagons will have been left behind en route.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2.

A quick update on the Hague Judgments project.

A post more meant to refer the readers to resources rather than to add much analysis myself. I have of course earlier posted on the ‘Hague Judgments Convention’. Things have not stood still since.

A first interesting resource is the April 2018 study prepared for the European Parliament. I am pleased the stellar team of colleagues who compiled the study, although overall (in my view a tad too) optimistic on the project, did not whitewash the difficulties involved in the process. The additional layer of complexity, were the EU to accede to the eventual (if any) Convention, was highlighted as a cause for concern. Also in April: the Australian Government consultation paper on the Hague process.

Next up, the May 2018 documents published on the HCCH gateway, including a new draft Convention and a preliminary draft explanatory report. Each and every one of the articles of the Draft can be the subject of very extensive analysis indeed – one need only look at the Chapters on jurisdiction in the books on EU private international law, to appreciate the level of complexity; and of course the every so slight or not so slight differences between the ‘Brussels regime’ and the ‘Hague process’. I trust one or two of my colleagues are devoting their summer writing up just such an analysis.

The process is to be continued for we are not there just yet.

Geert.

 

Ermgassen v Sixcap Financials: Singapore High Court the first to recognise and enforce under the Hague Choice of Court Convention

[2018] SGHCR 8 Ermgassen v Sixcap Financials to my knowledge is the first recognition and enforcement by any court under the 2005 Choice of Court Convention. Together with the 28 EU Member States (and the EU itself), Singapore, with Mexico, are the 30 States for which the Convention has entered into force.

In his decision for the High Court, Colin Seow AR recognises a High Court ex parte summary judgment, taking the process to the Hague motions: whether the issue is civil and commercial; whether choice of court was concluded in favour of the courts having issued the judgment; and pointing to the UK’s membership of the Convention and to counsel for the plaintiff having been heard at the London High Court hearing: this makes the judgment one on the merits, not just a judgment in absentia (of the defendant: a Singapore-domiciled company). Of note is Seow AR’s flexible approach to the requirement to produce certified copies of the judgment (at 23 ff).

Geert.

 

The Brussels jurisdictional regime at 50. A conference at Leuven on 23 March.

As I am about to take the family on a half-term break (and with no less than 22 draft blog posts in the ledger – February /March are likely to be intense blog months), I am pleased to flag a conference which I am calling together with Jura Falconis, the faculty’s student-run law review.

Registration and program are here. Below is the blurb and exciting line-up. It would be great to see many of you at Leuven! Geert.

*****

In 2018 we celebrate the 50th year since the adoption of the 1968 Brussels Convention on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. The 1968 attempt to facilitate the free movement of judgments in the EU, helped lay the foundations for the exciting developments in European private international law which have occurred since. Many of the outstanding issues in what is now the Brussels I Recast (also known as EEX-bis; or Brussels Ibis) continue to have an impact on other parts of European civil procedure.

Co-organised by Leuven Law’s Institute of Private International Law and Jura Falconis, KU Leuven’s student law review, this event will consider, capita selecta wise, the application and implications of the Convention and its successors. It will also discuss the future direction of EU private international law both for civil and commercial matters, and for issues outside of commercial litigation. At a time when in most Member States the majority of commercial transactions have some kind of international element, this is a timely refresher for practitioners, judges, students and scholars alike.

PROGRAM

Morning program. Chaired by professor Jinske Verhellen (U Gent)

10:00 – 10:30 
Registration and welcome

10:30 – 10:35 
Opening by Jura Falconis

10:35 – 11:00
Les grands courants of 50 years of European private international law
Professor Geert Van Calster (KU Leuven)

11:00 – 11:30
Regulatory competition in civil procedure between the Member States
Professor Stéphanie Francq (UC Louvain)

11:30 – 12:00 
The application of Brussels I (Recast) in the Member States
Professor Burkhard Hess (Max Planck Institute Luxembourg)

12:00 – 12:15
Discussion

12:15 – 13:00
Lunch

Afternoon program. Chaired by professor Karen Vandekerckhove (European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice and Consumers, UC Louvain)

13:00 – 13:30
Brussels calling. The extra-EU application of European private international law
Professor Thalia Kruger (U Antwerpen)

13:30 – 14:00
The (not so symbiotic?) relation between the Insolvency and the Brussels I regimes
Arie Van Hoe (NautaDutilh, U Antwerpen)

14:00 – 14:30
Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Brussels Regime
Professor Stefaan Voet (KU Leuven)

14:30 – 15:00
Brussels I Recast and the Hague Judgments Project
Professor Marta Pertegas (U Antwerpen)

15:00 – 15:15
Discussion

15:15 – 15:45
Coffee break

15:45 – 16:10
Provisional measures under the Brussels regime
Professor Arnaud Nuyts (ULB)

16:10 – 16:30
Brussels falling. The relationship between the UK and the EU post Brexit
Dr Helena Raulus (UK Law Societies’ Brussels office)

16:30 – 16:50
The current European Commission agenda for the development of European private international law
Dr Andreas Stein (European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice and Consumers)

16:50 – 17:15
The CJEU and European Private International Law
Ilse Couwenberg (Judge in the Belgian Supreme Court/Hof van Cassatie)

17:15 – 17:30
Close of conference
Professor Geert Van Calster (KU Leuven)

17:30 – 18:30
Drinks

 

A new draft Hague ‘Judgments’ project. Where’s Wally?

Update November 2017. See here for the most current draft and here for the draft Alférez-Saumier report. Issues remain much the same.

I reported earlier on the November 2015 draft ‘Judgments project’ of the Hague Conference on private international law, otherwise known as the draft convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments relating to civil and commercial matters. The working group now has a February 2017 draft out. (The project nota bene has even increased in relevance given Brexit).

I could have titled this post ‘spot the differences’ for of course there are changes in formulation between current and previous version. However my main point of concern remains: the absence of Wally: some type of institutional redress which will assist courts in the interpretation of the Convention. Article 23 now calls for uniform interpretation, and there will, one assumes, be a report accompanying its adoption. (Judging by the size of commentaries on the EU mirror, Brussels I Recast, this could turn out to be a very sizeable report indeed). However without a court system ensuring uniformity of application, the Convention in my view will risk being a dead duck in the water.

Geert. (Not by nature pessimistic. But probably realistic).

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.

The November 2015 draft Hague ‘Judgments’ project. A powerful potion or a cauldron full of jurisdictional spells?

The November 2015 draft ‘Judgments project’ of the Hague Conference on private international law, otherwise known as the draft convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments relating to civil and commercial matters, is a very ambitious project which at the same time risks exposing some of the inherent weaknesses of the modus operandi of the Hague Conference. This is not the right forum for an exhaustive analysis. Rather, I would like to flag some areas of interest. Inevitably, an obvious point of reference is the European Union’s Brussels I (Recast) regime.

First, the text itself. The Working Group’s report, which accompanies the draft, explains the history and development of the text and the various options taken. No need to repeat it here. The approach of the Convention is the same ‘mission creep’ which the 1968 Brussels Convention had to resort to, to enhance the free movement of judgments between Member States. Given that the most widespread reason for refusal of recognition and enforcement (R&E), are accusations of excessive or inappropriate exercise of jurisdiction, one can only truly co-ordinate R&E if one also co-ordinates jurisdiction. The Hague Convention takes this route in Articles 5-6, (Exclusive) bases for recognition and enforcement. Following this co-ordination of jurisdictional rules, Article 7 then limits the ground upon which R&E may be refused.

Of note is that Article 4(2)’s ban on merits review (when assessing the possibility of recognition and enforcement), probably does not extend to judgments issued by default. The Article is not clear on what is meant exactly: the first para of Article 4(2) rules out ‘review of the merits’. The second para suggests ‘The court addressed shall be bound by the findings of fact on which the court of origin based its jurisdiction, unless the judgment was given by default.’ Not being bound by findings of fact does not necessarily entail a possibility for merits review, and the text can probably do with clarification at this point.

Article 5(e)’s special jurisdictional rule for contracts, has been clarified compared with earlier versions, however the text remains subject to plenty of room for debate.

Article 8’s room for refusing R&E when the exclusive jurisdictional rules of the Convention were infringed, or where matters excluded from the Convention were at issue, could in our view do with tidying up. It currently mingles scope for refusal of R&E as such, in the case of infringement of the exclusive jurisdictional rules, with discussion of excluded matters as ‘preliminary issues’ only – a clear reference to the EU’s experience with arbitration. Without editorial perfection, however, this article, in combination with Article 2’s excluded matters, risks similar and protracted debate as was /is the case under Brussels I (and the Recast).

Further, the modus operandi, and institutional consequences of the Convention. As indicated, an exhaustive review of the Convention is not possible here. That is due in large part to the extensive comments which one could address vis-a-vis each individual entry of the text. Rather like in the case of each individual provision of the Brussels regime. In the case of the latter, the CJEU is exercised on a very regular basis with the determination of the precise meaning of the heads of jurisdiction. In the Hague process, there is no such institution. One has to rely on the application of the Convention by the signatory States. At some point, one has to assess whether it is tenable not to have some kind of review process at The Hague, lest one risks the Convention being applied quite differently in the various signatory States. Coupled with the additional lawyer of complication were the EU to accede (which it is bound to; however would it really be progress to create additional layers of differentiation?), the CJEU itself might have difficulty accepting a body of judicial review, where the text to be reviewed borders so closely unto the Brussels regime.

Geert.