The UK Supreme Court in Brownlie (II). With the tort jurisdictional gateway widened to consequential losses, forum non conveniens emerges as the default gatekeeper.

I have posted before on the Brownlie v Four Seasons litigation, please refer to the earlier post for context. The case revolves around whether courts should hear cases where the only damage sustained in their jurisdiction, is ‘indirect’ damage.

The litigation is not terribly good publicity for English civil procedure. The length of the proceedings resembles that of systems often referred to when in ordinary circumstances the English courts are much speedier. Moreover the outcome of the final Supreme Court judgment on 20 October on the jurisdictional gateway for torts inevitably will lead to a carrousel of future litigation and long-winded jurisdictional argument.

Even though the court was seized much before Brexit day, the jurisdictional issues are not subject to Brussels Ia. (The applicable law is, however, determined by Rome II and that this is Egyptian law is not disputed). The Court of Appeal as I discussed in my earlier post,  upheld ‘damage in the jurisdiction’ on the basis of a wider notion of ‘damage’ under residual English rules than under the EU rules. The UKSC has now agreed by a majority of four to one, confirming the obiter outcome of the earlier, ‘Brownlie I’ (in current judgment recalled at [45] ff) obiter views of the Court in a different composition.

Lord Lloyd-Jones reminds us [25] of the 3 requirements to meet the jurisdictional threshold. Claimant must show firstly ‘a good arguable case’ that the claims fall within one of the gateways in the civil procedure rules – CPR, introduced by Statute; further a serious issue to be tried on the merits (this is designed to keep out frivolous suits); and finally that England is the appropriate forum for trial and the court ought to exercise its discretion to permit service out of the jurisdiction that is the ‘forum non conveniens’ test.

The only issue under consideration before the SC was the first one, in particular, whether the case meets the conditions of CPR PD 6B paragraph 3.1(9):

“Service out of the jurisdiction where permission is required. 3.1 The claimant may serve a claim form out of the jurisdiction with the permission of the court under rule 6.36 where -…

Claims in tort

(9)       A claim is made in tort where –

(a)        damage was sustained, or will be sustained, within the jurisdiction; or

(b)       damage which has been or will be sustained results from an act committed, or likely to be committed, within the jurisdiction.”

Candidates for Lady Brownlie’s claim satisfying the tort gateway in England, are [27] (a) a claim for damages for personal injury in her own right; (b) a claim for damages in her capacity as executrix of the estate of her late husband for wrongful death; and (c) a claim for damages for bereavement and loss of dependency in her capacity as her late husband’s widow.

Under EU jurisdictional rules, the only one of these three which in my view would have any chance of success under A7(2) BIa, is the latter. Despite CJEU Lazar (on the equivalent rule for applicable law under Rome II) I still do not see clear in the application of A7(2) to claims based on bereavement and loss of dependency. For these, I submit, Lloyd-Jones suggestion [73] fits even if the test, like in the EU, is based on direct effect only: ‘the event giving rise to the damage directly produced its harmful effects on Lady Brownlie in England and Wales.’

In essence the SC confirms the Court of Appeal’s insistence that the residual English rules must not ‘parrot’ the CJEU’s interpretation of ‘damage’ with its insistence on only direct damage satisfying the tort gateway – Pike in particular echoed the same feeling. Great emphasis is put on the perceived very different nature of the English private international law exercise as opposed to the EU, ‘Brussels’ regime. See for instance [55] ‘fundamental differences between the two systems would have made such an assimilation totally inappropriate’ – ditto, ex multi, [74].

This now Supreme Court confirmed ‘fundamental’ [74] difference between the regimes must and will, I submit, play a role in pending cases under Brussels Ia, such as those involving Articles 33-34 lis pendens provisions.

I do agree with Lloyd-Jones’ remark [50] that he is unconvinced of the suggested link between damage completing a cause of action (highly relevant at the applicable law stage] and the identification of an appropriate jurisdiction. Yet unlike him I would take that in a different direction. Not therefore in the direction of an in principle unlimited jurisdictional gateway for tort (Lord Leggatt, dissenting, at 171 remarks all English tourists travelling abroad will now have such gateway, without anyone suggesting ‘any principled basis for it’, and at [194] he suggests forum shopping will be encouraged eg by non-English tourists employing medical treatment in England as an anchor for jurisdiction), disciplined only by forum non conveniens (which was not under appeal here [79]; although Lord Lloyd-Jones does remark obiter at 80 that the judge had rejected forum non referring in particular referring to the fact that to a significant extent the claimant’s losses had been experienced in England ). Rather, I would revisit the original (for the EU at least) and contra legem (for A7(2) BIa like its predecessors does not mention damage) introduction of damage as a gateway in CJEU Bier.

The SC puts great trust in forum non conveniens as a gatekeeper: [79]

The discretionary test of forum non conveniens, well established in our law, is an appropriate and effective mechanism which can be trusted to prevent the acceptance of jurisdiction in situations where there is merely a casual or adventitious link between the claim and England. Where a claim passes through a qualifying gateway, there remains a burden on the claimant to persuade the court that England and Wales is the proper place in which to bring the claim. Unless that is established, permission to serve out of the jurisdiction will be refused (CPR rule 6.37(3)). In addition – and this is a point to which I attach particular importance – the forum non conveniens principle is not a mere general discretion, the application of which may vary according to the differing subjective views of different judges creating a danger of legal uncertainty. On the contrary, the principle applies a structured discretion, the details of which have been refined in the decided cases, in a readily predictable manner.

I have less trust in forum non as the predictable gatekeeper suggested by the majority. Consider Lord Leggatt’s dissenting view [200]:

In the absence of any prescribed decision procedure or ranking of factors, different judges assessing whether England and Wales is the appropriate forum will inevitably attach different degrees of weight to different factors and may reach differing conclusions on similar facts without either conclusion being susceptible to legal challenge. Not only is such inconsistency of outcome itself a source of injustice, but it also encourages satellite litigation and causes defendants who have no real connection with England to have to incur the difficulty and expense of instructing English lawyers to apply in England to contest the jurisdiction of the English courts. That gives a claimant a significant and unfair tactical advantage.

Moreover, as already highlighted by Joshua Folkard, cases of purely economic loss are likely to provoke much (and expensive) discussion. Lloyd-Jones L [43] himself notes: ‘Within the Brussels system, the distinction between direct and indirect damage is, however, sometimes elusive.’ He refers immediately to financial losses as the example with the least jurisdictional grip. He repeats this point ia [76], seeking to distinguish it from the more complex tort suffered by Lady Brownlie.

Cases of purely economic loss will continue to be litigated extensively at the jurisdictional level for current judgment does not offer any instruction on them. [76]: ‘the mere fact of any economic loss, however remote, felt by a claimant where he or she lives or, if a corporation, where it has its business seat would be an unsatisfactory basis for the exercise of jurisdiction. However, this is not such a case.’

An end to the jurisdictional tussle in current case therefore, nine years (8  years and 11 months) after the claim was issued. Yet continuing consequential uncertainty for many other pending and future claims.

Geert.

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