Posts Tagged immunity

State immunity. Congo v Commisimpex. French Supreme Court rules Sapin II applies retroactively.

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.

Geert.

 

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Pearl v Kurdistan. The DIFC on waivers of sovereign immunity.

Update 17 November 2017 For discussions in Dutch case-law (including re contractual waiver) with respect to SHAPE, see here.

Thank you Peter Smith over at Tamimi for flagging [2017] DIFC ARB 003 Pearl v Kurdistan. Peter summarises as follows:

‘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.

Geert.

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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 [2015] 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.

Geert.

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