Posts Tagged independence

Almazeedi v Penner. Independence of the judiciary in international commercial courts.

[2018] UKPC 3 Almazeedi v Penner at the Privy Council was recently brought to my attention by Christopher Grout. The case concerns a challenge to the independence of a judge sitting in the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands.

Judge in the present case was Cresswell J, former judge of the High Court of England and Wales from 1991 to 2007. Following his retirement from that position, he became in 2009 an additional judge of the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court, sitting ad hoc from time to time as required. The Division consisted of the Chief Justice and two other full-time judges, together with three additional judges sitting part-time, one of whom was Cresswell J. From a time late in 2011, he also became a Supplementary Judge of the Civil and Commercial Court, Qatar Financial Centre (although he was not in the end instructed or renumerated there).

Cresswell J was the judge assigned with the conduct of a winding-up petition and associated applications and thereafter with the winding-up of BTU Power Company (“BTU”). The entire economic interest in BTU was held by its preference shareholders who were in the main Qatari interests with strong state connections, and to a minor extent Dubai Islamic Bank. The present case involves a challenge to all aspects of Cresswell J’s activity. The challenge is made having regard to Cresswell J’s position as a judge in Qatar and to the involvement in the proceedings before him of these Qatari interests and of Qatari personalities representing or interested in them.

No suggestion of actual bias at any time in either court was ever made. The question relates rather to whether the fair-minded and informed observer would discount the risk of unconscious bias. The Privy Council held such observer would not so discount: at 34: ‘with some reluctance, [we have] come to the conclusion that the Court of Appeal was right to regard it as inappropriate for the judge to sit without disclosure of his position in Qatar as regards the period after 26 June 2013 and that this represented a flaw in his apparent independence’.

Note the dissenting opinion by Lord Sumption at 36 ff, who notes ‘Sir Peter Cresswell is not alleged to have done anything which could raise doubts about his independence. The case against him rests entirely on the notion that he might be influenced, possibly unconsciously, by the hypothetical possibility of action being taken against him in Qatar as a result of any decision in the Cayman Islands which was contrary to the Qatari Government’s interests. Hypothetical possibilities may of course found a case of apparent bias, but since there are few limits to the possibilities that can be hypothetically envisaged, there must be some substance to them.’

‘The notional fair-minded and informed observer whose presumed reaction is the benchmark for apparent bias, has only to be satisfied that there is a real risk of bias. But where he reaches this conclusion, he does so with care, after ensuring that he has informed himself of all the relevant facts. He is not satisfied with a look-sniff impression. He is not credulous or naïve. But neither is he hyper-suspicious or apt to envisage the worst possible outcome.’

I believe Lord Sumption’s approach is the better one. Yet it was not carried hence in international commercial courts the standards have become very exacting indeed.

Geert.

 

 

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Landmark judgment in the making. High Court refers to Luxembourg, demarcation of Moroccon territory viz Saharawi.

How exactly is the EU bound by public international law? What is the justiciability of acts of foreign sovereign nations in EU courts? To what extent can an individual rely on customary or other sources of public international law, in national courts or at the CJEU?  All of these questions often puzzle non-lawyers (if something is illegal due to a higher rule, how can the lower rule still be in existence) and lawyers alike. At the EU level, things are complicated due to the hybrid (OK: sui generis) nature of the EU, and its complicated relationship with international law.

In Western Sahara Campaign UK, claimant is an independent voluntary organisation founded in 1984 with the aim of supporting the recognition of the right of the Saharawi people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence and to raise awareness of the unlawful occupation of the Western Sahara. Defendants are the Inland Revenue, challenged for the preferential tariff given on import to the UK of goods that are classified as being of Moroccan origin but in fact originate from the territory of Western Sahara. The second challenge is brought against the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in respect of the intended application of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement to policy formation relating to fishing in the territorial waters of Western Sahara.

Essentially, it is claimed that defendants ought not to apply the relevant European agreements for these are, arguably, in violation of public international law. Claimant contends that Morocco has annexed the territory of Western Sahara and claims it as part of its sovereign territory despite decisions of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the people of Western Sahara have the right to self-determination. Accordingly it is said that Morocco’s occupation is in breach of the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

Under EU law, only the CJEU can establish the invalidity of EU law. Blake J decided to send the case to Luxembourg for preliminary review. Defendants opposed such reference primarily because they submit that the issues raised by the claimant are matters of public international law that the CJEU will decline to adjudicate on in the present circumstances. Precedent which they relied on is not unequivocal, however. This case therefore will be an opportunity for the CJEU (Grand Chamber, one would imagine) to clarify the relationship between EU and public international law.

Geert.

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