Posts Tagged immunity
Ships classification and certification agencies: The immunity ship ain’t sailing according to Szpunar AG in Rina.
In C‑641/18 Szpunar AG opined on Tuesday and notes that the request of the referring court brings to mind the current debate about the influence of human rights on private international law. It seeks to ascertain whether and, if so, to what extent the scope of ‘civil and commercial’ in the Brussels Ia Regulation may be influenced by the interest in ensuring access to the courts, a right guaranteed by Article 47 Charter.
(The case itself is subject to Brussels I which did not yet include ‘acta iure imperii’. As the AG notes at 56, this is merely a clarification following CJEU interpretation of the previous concept.
Relatives of the victims, along with survivors of the sinking of the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98, a ship sailing under the flag of the Republic of Panama, which happened in 2006 on the Red Sea and caused the loss of more than a thousand lives, have brought an action before the District Court, Genoa against the companies Rina SpA et Ente Registro Italiano Navale. Claimants argue that the defendant’s certification and classification activities, the decisions they took and the instructions they gave, are to blame for the ship’s lack of stability and its lack of safety at sea, which are the causes of its sinking.
Defendants plead immunity from jurisdiction. They state that they are being sued in respect of certification and classification activities which they carried out as delegates of a foreign sovereign State, namely the Republic of Panama. They argue activities in question were a manifestation of the sovereign power of the foreign State and the defendants carried them out on behalf of and in the interests of that State.
The AG first of all reviews how the principle of customary international law concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States relates to the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. He starts his analysis noting that in the absence of codification at international level (international conventions on the issue not having met with great success), the principle concerning the jurisdictional immunity of States remains to a large extent governed by customary international law.
There is little use in quoting large sections of the Opinion verbatim so please do refer to the actual text: the AG opines (referring ia to C-154/11 Mahamdia) that it is unnecessary to refer to the principle of customary international law concerning State immunity from jurisdiction when considering the scope ratione materiae of Brussels Ia. Those principles he suggests do play a role when it comes to enforcing any exercise of such jurisdiction against the will of the party concerned.
At 46: ‘the distinction between disputes which are civil or commercial matters and those which are not must be drawn by reference to the independent criteria of EU law identified by the Court in its case-law. Consequently, an act performed in the exercise of State authority (acta iure imperii) from the perspective of the law relating to immunity, is not necessarily the same as an act performed in the exercise of State authority according to the independent criteria of EU law.’ (The latter as readers of the blog will know, are not always clearly expressed; see ia my review of Buak).
In the second place, the AG then considers whether an action for damages brought against private-law entities concerning their classification and/or certification activities falls within the scope of BIa. At 83, following extensive review of the case-law (almost all of which I also reviewed on the blog and for earlier cases, in Chapter 2 of the Handbook), the AG opines that neither the fact that the acts in question were performed on behalf of and in the interests of the delegating State nor the possibility of the State’s incurring liability for harm caused by those acts, in itself conclusively characterises those acts as ones performed in the exercise of powers falling outside the scope of the ordinary legal rules applicable to relationships between private individuals. 814/79 Rüffer also makes a non-conclusive appearance.
At 95 then follows the core of the factual assessment: defendants’ role is limited to carrying out checks in accordance with a pre-defined regulatory framework. If, following the revocation of a certificate, a ship is no longer able to sail, that is because of the sanction which, as the defendants admitted at the hearing, is imposed by Panama law. Not acta iure imperii – the issue falls under Brussels Ia.
Finally, must as a result of a plea of immunity from jurisdiction a national court decline to exercise the jurisdiction which it ordinarily derives from the Regulation? In a section which will be interesting to public international lawyers, the AG reviews international and EU law (particularly Directive 2009/15) and concludes that there is no principle in international law which grants immunity to certification agencies in cases such as the one at hand.
To complete the analysis, the AG opines that should the Court disagree with his views on immunity, the national court’s views on jurisdiction would not be impacted by the right to court guarantees of the Charter, for there is no suggestion at all that the victims would not have proper access to Panamian courts for their action.
Note of course that the Opinion does not address lex causae.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.1.
I applied for funding 2 years back to have someone conduct a thorough review of recent development in State Immunity. Funding was not granted: quelle horeur!. Reviewers suggested there was no need to revisit an area where law and practice is settled: quelle erreur!
Needless to say both statutory and case-law developments have proven reviewers wrong since. I would still be happy by the way to supervise research in the area (happier still for someone to fund it).
Now, coming to the point: in 16-22.494 Congo v Commisimpex the French Supreme Court essentially held that the French Sapin II law applies retroactively. State assets employed iure imperii are only available for seizure following express and property-specific waiver. The Court’s decision does not reflect unisono developments in other States (neither indeed, I agree with Victor Aupetit), does it help France with regulatory competition in civil procedure: quite a few jurisdictions have taken a more relaxed and wide approach to contractual waiver of State immunity.
Update 17 November 2017 For discussions in Dutch case-law (including re contractual waiver) with respect to SHAPE, see here.
‘In 2007, Crescent Petroleum, the oldest privately-owned oil and gas company in the Middle East, agreed with Dana Gas, one the leading publicly-listed natural gas companies in the region, to create a joint venture called Pearl Petroleum (together, “the Consortium”). The Consortium entered into an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) for the development of the Khor Mor and Chemchemal petrochemical fields in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The KRG were and remain engaged in a political dispute with the Federal Government of Iraq, meaning that the Consortium were unable to export gas produced by the developed fields. As a result, the KRG became liable under its contract with the Consortium to pay a minimum guaranteed price, but it failed to make the required payments in full.’
Arbitration in London under LCIA rules ensued. The contract between the Consortium and the KRG was governed by English law and provided explicitly that “the KRG waives on its own behalf and that of [The Kurdistan Region of Iraq] any claim to immunity for itself and its assets”.
Cooke J held that whilst the UAE’s recognition of other states was a matter of foreign policy which the DIFC Courts could not rule on, construing the KRG’s waiver of immunity was a question of law and not public policy. In agreeing to arbitrate, a party agrees that the arbitration shall be effective in determining the rights of the parties (at 26). The waiver of any claim to immunity for itself and its assets must mean waiver of immunity from execution (at 28): any argument on that is blocked by issue estoppel (at 36).
Sovereign immunity therefore was not a trump which could be played at the time of enforcement: whatever immunity there might or might not have been had been contractually signed away.
An interesting and well argued judgment.
The UKSC in MOD v Iraqi Civilians: Immunity of coalition forces is procedural. Civilians’ claim in tort is time-barred.
Ministry of Defence [MOD] v Iraqi civilians highlights a classic in private international law (statutes of limitation), with an interesting link to State immunity. Procedural issues are considered to be part of the lex fori. Meaning, a court always applies its own procedural rules. For the discussions in the Rome II context, see an earlier posting. However what is less settled is whether statutes of limitation fall under procedure or substantial law. If the former, then they follow the lex fori. If the latter, then they follow lex causae: the law applicable to the substantive matter at issue.
Limitation, which deprives the litigant of a forensic remedy but does not extinguish his right, was traditionally classified by the English courts as procedural. The result was that until the position was altered by statute in 1984, the English courts disregarded foreign limitation law and applied the English statutes of limitation irrespective of the lex causae. This was widely regarded as unsatisfactory, mainly because of the rather technical character of the distinction on which it was based between barring the remedy and extinguishing the right.
The Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984 changed the position and provided for the English courts, with limited exceptions, to apply the limitation rules of the lex causae.
Now, in MOD v Iraqi Civilians, on appeal from  EWCA Civ 1241, the civilians claim to have suffered unlawful detention and/or physical maltreatment at the hands of British armed forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, for which the MOD is liable in tort. It is agreed between the parties that any liability of the Ministry in tort is governed by Iraqi law. Under article 232 of the Civil Code of Iraq, the standard limitation period applicable to claims of this kind in Iraqi law is three years from the day on which the claimant became aware of the injury and of the person who caused it. The action sub judice was begun more than three years after most of the claimants must have been aware of these matters.
However, Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17, which had and still has the force of law in Iraq, made it impossible for claimants to sue the British government in Iraq. Section 2(1) of the Order provides that coalition forces in Iraq (including British forces) are “immune from Iraqi legal process.” Claimants argue that Order 17 needs to be seen as an ‘impediment’ within the meaning of article 435 of the Iraqi Civil Code, which is one of a number of provisions suspending the running of time in particular cases. It provides:
” Article 435 – (1) The time limit barring the hearing of the case is suspended by a lawful excuse such as where the plaintiff is a minor or interdicted and has no guardian or is absent in a remote foreign country, or where the case is between spouses or ascendants and descendants, or if there is another impediment rendering it impossible for the plaintiff to claim his right.
(2) The period which lapses while the excuse still exists (lasts) shall not be taken into account (for the running of the time limitation).”
Lord Sumption leading, held (at 11) that Order 17 is not a rule of limitation, but a particular form of state immunity, which serves as a limitation on the jurisdiction of the courts. It is therefore necessarily procedural and local in nature. It is not legally relevant, given the claimants have brought proceedings in England, what impediments might have prevented similar proceedings in Iraq [at 13]. Claimants could have always and did eventually sue in the UK. Claimants’ submission, if accepted, would mean that there was no limitation period at all affecting the present proceedings in England, by reason of a consideration (CPA Order 17) which had no relevance to English proceedings because it has no application outside Iraq and has never impeded resort to the English court (at 16).
The Appeal was dismissed. In the wider context of immunity, it is important precedent. Claimants faced with immunity obstacles to litigation in a jurisdiction, must not hesitate to start proceedings elsewhere, where no such obstacles exist. In proceedings before the English courts, any delay in doing so is subject to the ordinary limitation periods of the lex causae.