Posts Tagged Human rights
Steady now. Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. The CJEU on jurisdiction and removal of hate speech.
My interest in C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, concerns mostly the territorial reach of any measures taken by data protection authorities against hosting providers. The Court held last week and o boy did it provoke a lot of comment.
The case to a large degree illustrates the relationship between secondary and primary law, and the art of reading EU secondary law. Here: Article 15 of the e-commerce Directive 2001/31 which limits what can be imposed upon a provider; and the recitals of the Directive which seem to leave more leeway to the Member States. Scant harmonisation of tort law in the EU does not assist the Institutions in their attempts to impose a co-ordinated approach.
The crucial issue in the case was whether Article 15 prohibits the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level? The Court held the Directive does not as such preclude such order, and that as to the worldwide injunctive issue, EU law has not harmonised and that it is up to the Member States to direct in any such orders in compliance with public international law.
The judgment to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed pre the judgment succinctly here, Dan Svantesson post the judgment here, as did Lorna Woods, and a frenzied Twitter on the day of the judgment e.g. in this thread. A most balanced analysis is provided by Andrej Savin here. e-Commerce law is not the focus of this blog, neither my professed area of expertise (choices, choices). I do want to emphasise though
- that as always it pays to bear in mind the CJEU’s judicial economy. Here: the need to interpret its judgment in line with the circumstances of the case. As Steve Peers noted, the Austrian court had ruled that the post was defamatory, which is a recognised basis for limiting freedom of expression; see also at 40: ‘In that regard, it should be made clear that the illegality of the content of information does not in itself stem from the use of certain terms combined in a certain way, but from the fact that the message conveyed by that content is held to be illegal, when, as in the present case, it concerns defamatory statements made against a specific person.‘ Nota bene, the same need to read the judgment in context goes for the earlier Google v CNIL case, applying Directive 95/46 and the GDPR, which I review here.
- that speaking strictly as a member of the public who has seen the devastating effect of ‘social’ media on people close to me, the technical discussions on filtering (‘what filter does the CJEU think might possibly ever be available to FB to remove content in the way the Court wishes’) are emphatically beside the point. The public justifiably are not interested in the how. A service is offered which clearly has negative effects on EU citisens. Remedy those effects, or remove the service from those citisens. That is true for the negative impacts of goods (in 25 years of regulatory Bar practice I have seen plenty of that). There is no reason it should be any less true for services.
The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more from the blog’s point of view: the territorial scope of any removal or filtering obligation. In Google viz the GDPR and the data protection Directive, the Court confirmed my reading, against that of most others’, of Szpunar AG’s Opinion. EU law does not harmonise the worldwide removal issue. Reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief on ‘right to be forgotten’ issues. Public international law and EU primary law are the ultimate benchmark (Google V CNIL). It is little surprise the Court held similarly in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, even if unlike in Google, it did not flag the arguments that might speak against such order. As I noted in my review of Google, for the GDPR and the data protection Directive, it is not entirely clear whether the Court suggests EU secondary law simply did not address extraterritoriality or decided against it. For the e-commerce Directive in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek the Court notes at 50-52
Directive 2000/31 does not preclude those injunction measures from producing effects worldwide. However, it is apparent from recitals 58 and 60 of that directive that, in view of the global dimension of electronic commerce, the EU legislature considered it necessary to ensure that EU rules in that area are consistent with the rules applicable at international level. It is up to Member States to ensure that the measures which they adopt and which produce effects worldwide take due account of those rules.
In conclusion, Member States may order a host provider to remove information covered by the injunction or to block access to that information worldwide within the framework of the relevant international law. To my knowledge, the Brussels Court of Appeal is the only national court so far to consider public international law extensively viz the issue of jurisdiction, and decided against it, nota bene in a case against Facebook Inc.
Any suggestion that the floodgates are open underestimates the sophisticated engagement of national courts with public international law.
In general, the CJEU’s approach is very much aligned with the US (SCOTUS in particular) judicial approach in similar extraterritoriality issues (sanctions law; export controls; ATS;…). There is no madness to the CJEU’s approach. Incomplete: sure (see deference to national courts and the clear lack of EU law-making up its legislative mind on the issues). Challenging and work in progress: undoubtedly. But far from mad.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199, Heading 188.8.131.52.5.
The internet’s not written in pencil, it’s written in ink. Szpunar AG in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook, re i.a. jurisdiction and removal of hate speech. (As well as confirming my reading of his Opinion in Google).
Case C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, revolves around Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive. Does Article 15 prohibit the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level?
Szpunar AG in his Opinion kicks off with a memorable Erica Albright quote from The Social Network: The internet’s not written in pencil, [Mark], it’s written in ink’.
His Opinion to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed succinctly here and which is not the focus of this blog. The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more: the territorial scope of any removal obligation.
Firstly, Szpunar AG matter of factly confirms my reading, against that of most others’, of his Opinion in C-505/17 Google: at 79:
‘in my Opinion in that case I did not exclude the possibility that there might be situations in which the interest of the Union requires the application of the provisions of that directive beyond the territory of the European Union.’
Injunctions (ordering removal) are necessarily based on substantive considerations of national law (in the absence of EU harmonisation of defamation law); which law applies is subject to national, residual conflicts rules (in the absence of EU harmonisation at the applicable law, level, too): at 78. Consequently, a Court’s finding of illegality (because of its defamatory nature) of information posted may well have been different had the case been heard by a court in another Member State. What is however harmonised at the EU level, is the jurisdiction for the civil and commercial damage following from defamation: see e-Date, in particular its centre of interests rule which leads to an all-encompassing, universal’ jurisdiction for the damages resulting from the defamation.
Separate from that is the consideration of the territorial extent of the removal obligation. Here, the AG kicks off his analysis at 88 ff by clearly laying out the limits of existing EU harmonisation: the GDPR and data protection Directive harmonise issues of personal data /privacy: not what claimant relies on. Directive 2000/31 does not regulate the territorial effects of injunctions addressed to information society service providers. Next, it is difficult, in the absence of regulation by the Union with respect to harm to private life and personality rights, to justify the territorial effects of an injunction by relying on the protection of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 1, 7 and 8 of the Charter: the scope of the Charter follows the scope of EU law and not vice versa. In the present case, as regards its substance, the applicant’s action is not based on EU law. Finally, Brussels Ia does not regulate the extra-EU effects of injunctions.
In conclusion therefore EU law does not regulate the question of extraterritorial reach in casu.
For the sake of completeness, the AG does offer at 94 ff ‘a few additional observations’ as regards the removal of information disseminated worldwide via a social network platform. At 96 he refers to the CJEU’s judgment in Bolagsupplysningen which might implicitly have acknowledged universal jurisdiction, to conclude at 100 (references omitted)
the court of a Member State may, in theory, adjudicate on the removal worldwide of information disseminated via the internet. However, owing to the differences between, on the one hand, national laws and, on the other, the protection of the private life and personality rights provided for in those laws, and in order to respect the widely recognised fundamental rights, such a court must, rather, adopt an approach of self-limitation. Therefore, in the interest of international comity…, that court should, as far as possible, limit the extraterritorial effects of its junctions concerning harm to private life and personality rights. The implementation of a removal obligation should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the protection of the injured person. Thus, instead of removing the content, that court might, in an appropriate case, order that access to that information be disabled with the help of geo-blocking.
There are very sound and extensive references to scholarship in the footnotes to the Opinion, including papers on the public /private international law divide and the shifting nature of same (the Brussels Court of Appeal recently in the Facebook case justifiably found jurisdictional grounds in neither public nor private international law, to discipline Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc for its datr-cookies placed on Belgian users of FB).
I find the AG’s Opinion convincing and complete even in its conciseness. One can analyse the jurisdictional issues until the cows come home. However, in reality reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief. However these bump both into the substantial trade-off which needs to be made between different fundamental rights (interest in having freedom removed v freedom of information), and good old principles of comitas gentium aka comity. That is not unlike the US judicial approach in similar issues.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206, Heading 220.127.116.11.5.
Kalma v African Minerals. Vicarious liability for human rights abuses at the hands of Sierra Leone police.
 EWHC 3506 (QB) Kalma v African Minerals et al was held by the High Court on 19 December 2018. It essentially entails vicarious liability of UK-incorpored companies (jurisdiction firmly settled therefore) for human rights abuses committed by Sierra Leone police (SLP), who ensured security at the defendants’ mine. All claims were held to have failed. The judgment is lengthy and very factual, please refer to same.
Matrix have brief analysis here, critical reception of the judgment is inter alia here. The case does not raise the kind of jurisdictional or applicable law issues which trigger interest of this blog (such as yesterday’s post on Nevsun Resources). Nevertheless discussion of the factual involvement of the companies with SLP activities, required to establish vicarious liability, has echoes of the discussion on the level of oversight required for mother companies to be held liable for subsidiaries’ actions (such as e.g, in Apartheid or in various CSR cases making their way through UK courts).
Of additional note:
- Turner J’s discussion at 61 ff headed ‘keeping things in proportion’: the difficulty of a judge;s task, particularly at 63: ‘I make no complaint about the volume of written material which has been provided for my assistance. I have read all of it carefully. Both sides have been extremely well served by the industry and thoroughness of their respective legal teams. Inevitably, however, and for the sake of proportionality, I have had to leave a very considerable number of these points on the cutting room floor. This does not mean that I have failed to consider them or that I have discarded them as being entirely redundant but merely that the inclusion of their analysis or resolution in an already lengthy judgment would not have a material impact on the determination of the central issues.’ Less can be more.
- At 84: irrelevance of CSR discussions: ‘Both sides were very enthusiastic about the idea of setting the parameters of their evidence and submissions to cover broad issues concerning the general level of social responsibility displayed by the defendant – upon which topic they predictably entertained very different views. This, however, I have not permitted. The consequences of the exploration of such issues would have been entirely disproportionate, in terms both of time and costs, to the limited value of resolving them. For the same reason, I do not propose to adjudicate upon the rights and wrongs of the community and employment disputes which lay behind the incidents to which they gave rise.’
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.
Done but not dusted. Sophocleous v Foreign Secretary (historic human rights infringement): common law conflicts history (double actionability, tort) at the Court of Appeal.
 EWCA Civ 2167 Sophocleous v Foreign Secretary et al is a good reminder that conflicts rules past have a tendency not to be so easily forgotten. And in the case of the English law, one or two of them may well be revived post-Brexit (with the usual caveats). Judgment in first instance was  EWHC 19 (QB) which is reviewed here.
Longmore J: ‘The common law private international rule used by the courts to determine liability in an English court in respect of foreign torts (usually referred to as the double actionability rule) was prospectively abolished by the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”) for all torts except defamation. But it casts a long shadow because section 14(1) of the 1995 Act expressly provides that its provisions do not apply to “acts or omissions giving rise to a claim which occur before the commencement” of the relevant Part of the Act. The 1995 Act has itself been largely superseded by the provisions of the Rome II Convention (sic) but that likewise only applies to events occurring after its entry into force.
Claimants seek damages for personal injuries sustained in Cyprus, as a result of alleged assaults perpetrated in Cyprus by members of the UK armed forces, seconded British police officers and servants or agents of the then Colonial Administration. The appeal relates to alleged torts committed during the Cyprus Emergency sixty years ago between 1956 and 1958. Accordingly the old common law rule of double actionability applies. In the last edition of Dicey and Morris, Conflict of Laws published before the 1995 Act (12th edition (1993)) the double actionability rule was stated as follows in rule 203:
“(1) As a general rule, an act done in a foreign country is a tort and actionable as such in England, only if it is both
a) actionable as a tort according to English law, or in other words is an act which, if done in England, would be a tort; and
b) actionable according to the law of the foreign country where it was done.
(2) But a particular issue between the parties may be governed by the law of the country which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship with the occurrence and the parties.”
The last element is known as the “flexible exception” – of note is that the exception can apply to the whole of the tort of only part of the legal issues it provokes: depecage, therefore, is possible.
In fact whether Cypriot law is lex causae is first of all relevant for determining whether the claim has exceeded the statute of limitation: again in the words of Longmore J: ‘the Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 (“1984 Act”) governs limitation in claims where the law of any other country is to be taken into account. Section 1 provides that where foreign law falls to be taken into account in English proceedings that includes the foreign law of limitation, unless the law of England and Wales also falls to be taken into account, in which event the limitation laws of both countries apply, the effective limitation period being the shorter of the two. However, section 2 provides an exception: where the outcome under section 1 would conflict with public policy, section 1 is disapplied to the extent that its application would so conflict. By section 2(2) the application of section 1 conflicts with public policy “to the extent that its application would cause undue hardship to a person who is, or might be made, a party to the action or proceedings …”. It is therefore necessary to determine whether foreign law falls to be taken into account; this has to be determined in accordance with rules of private international law.’
To settle the issue the locus delicti commissi needs to be determined (the double actionability rule is only relevant where the tort is actionable according to the law of the foreign country where it was done). This is clearly Cyprus: at 21: ‘..there is only one tort. If that tort was committed by the primary actor in Cyprus, the fact that a person jointly liable for the commission of the tort was elsewhere when he gave the relevant assistance makes no difference to the fact that the tort was committed in Cyprus.’
On whether the flexible exception for determining lex causae as a whole applies (reminder: here relevant only for the issue of limitation), Longmore J disagrees with Kerr J, the judge in the first instance case at the High Court. The flexible exception remains an exception and must not become the rule. At 56 (after lengthy reflection of various arguments brought before him): ‘In the case at issue there are no “clear and satisfying grounds” required by Lord Wilberforce at page 391H of Boys v Chaplin for departing from the general rule of double actionability. There is a danger that if the exception is invoked too often it will become the general rule to give primacy to English law rather than law of the place where the tort was committed. That would not be right.’
And at 63, he agrees with Kerr J that the flexible exception does not apply singularly to the issue of limitation.
Conclusion: both the law of Cyprus and the law of England and Wales apply for the purpose of determining limitation. The remainder of the issues are to be held later.
Fun with conflicts – albeit evidently on not a very happy topic.
The Court held some weeks ago in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. I held back reporting on the case for exam reasons – yep, some of the places I teach at already have exams.
Judgment was issued in Grand Chamber. There can be no clearer indication of the relevance the Court attaches to the question. The CJEU introduces in my view further complication in the Article 7(2) rule (jurisdiction for torts) by requiring the court seized carry out analysis of ‘main economic activity’ with those same courts being told not to get carried away however in that analysis. The judgment does not I believe offer a solid conclusion for the issues of removal and rectification.
An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.
Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.
I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion here – let me recap core issues: Bobek AG suggested there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update.
At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joined Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule (both locus delicti commissi and locus damni lead to jurisdiction) in the age of internet publications. Not unexpectedly, the Court of Justice further refined Bier, but did not overrule it.
It held first of all that legal persons like natural persons can claim for damages in their centre of interests (at 38): the split in Bier was introduced for reasons of judicial suitability (‘sound administration of justice’), not personal interest of the plaintiff hence the qualification of that plaintiff has no bearing on the rule.
Following e-Date, the national court therefore needs to determine a centre of interests for a legal person just as it would for a natural person. At 41: for legal persons, this centre of interests ‘must reflect the place where its commercial reputation is most firmly established and must, therefore, be determined by reference to the place where it carries out the main part of its economic activities. While the centre of interests of a legal person may coincide with the place of its registered office when it carries out all or the main part of its activities in the Member State in which that office is situated and the reputation that it enjoys there is consequently greater than in any other Member State, the location of that office is, not, however, in itself, a conclusive criterion for the purposes of such an analysis.’ As one knows from the definition of ‘domicile’ under the Brussels I Regulation, leading to positive jurisdictional conflicts (it is perfectly possible for more than one Member State considering itself the domicile of a corporation), it is far from self-evident to determine where a company’s ‘main’ economic activities are located.
At 43 the Grand Chamber reminds the national courts that their role in the application of the Brussels I Recast is limited to the jurisdictional stage: they must not go into the merits (yet), hence if it is ‘not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain Member State’, the Court must conclude that the Article 7(2) locus damni for the full damage is not available to that claimant.
The Court then distinguishes actions for rectification of false information and removal of comments: there is no jurisdiction before the courts of each Member State in which the information published on the internet is or was accessible. The Court follows Bobek AG’s Opinion on this point (although the AG also employed it to support his view on withdrawal of Bier altogether) at 48: ‘in the light of the ubiquitous nature of the information and content placed online on a website and the fact that the scope of their distribution is, in principle, universal …an application for the rectification of the former and the removal of the latter is a single and indivisible application and can, consequently, only be made before a court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage [the Court refers to Shevill and e-Date] and not before a court that does not have jurisdiction to do so.’
On this latter point, the judgment is bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant, and of the locus delicti commissi, and of the centre of interests of the complainant. These evidently do not necessarily coincide. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction I do not see a solution in the Court’s approach.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.