Clearing up my backlog.
In  EWCH 2208 (Comm) Zavod Ekran v Magneco the Blair J held in September 2017 that a company must not hide behind documents initiating arbitration being drafted in Russian, when a properly observant litigant should have known that arbitration proceedings were being commenced. The most important point from a practical perspective was found to be that the heading of a letter, in English, states that it comes from the Moscow arbitration body—the International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation. From that alone it should have been obvious that an arbitration was being commenced. There was no other reason for ICAC to be writing to the company.
An utterly practical approach.
It does not happen all that often: this is a call for assistance. Following a student’s Q re ‘habitual residence’ in Rome I, I have now noticed something I had not before (I more often than not use the English version of the Regulation in my teaching and practice): Article 6(1) on ‘consumer contracts’ uses the term ‘habitual residence’ ‘gewone verblijfplaats’ (defined, or not, for natural persons, in Article 19) in the introductory para (which identifies applicable law). However in littera a it then uses ‘domicile’ ‘woonplaats’: a term which is not otherwise used in Rome I and which is not defined by it.
A quick scan of other language versions (French, English, German) reveals no such error: they all use the equivalent of ‘habitual residence’ in both instances. Now, evidently the error must be pushed aside given the other language versions however: is any reader of the blog aware of a corrigendum ever published? For if it has, I cannot locate it.
(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
The issue under consideration in Citysprint was whether claimant, Ms Dewhurst, a cycle courier, was an employee of Citysprint or rather, as defendant would have it, a self-employed contractor. I am not a labour lawyer but I do have an interest in the ‘gig economy’, peer to peer etc. [Note Google defines (or conjures up a definition of) the gig economy as a labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs].
I also have an interest in language and the law. After an employment tribunal in Uber blasted the company’s use of byzantine language, in Citysprint, too, (in particular at 64 ff) the tribunal looks beyond the fog of legalese to qualify the contract for what it really is. A great development.
“These general terms and conditions will be governed by and construed in accordance with English law.
With respect to any suit, action or proceedings relating to these general terms and conditions each party irrevocably submits to the jurisdiction of the English courts.”
In Anchorage, the High Court had already dismissed a semantic approach to choice of court agreements in contracts (and choice of court clauses) subject to English law. In Global Maritime Investments Cyprus v O.W., Teare J considered in summary judgment, sought by GMI, whether the aforementioned clause is exclusive, and if not, whether proceedings commenced by GMI in England, block any future proceedings on the same (or wider) contractual issues sought by OW in Denmark. GMI had started proceedings in England following OW’s November 2014 filing for bankruptcy in Denmark. OW had initiated proceedings in Denmark in March 2015. At issue was among others the ‘netting-out’ provisions between parties (effectively, a final settlement of reciprocal dues in different currencies, with derivatives of commodity transactions being the underlying transactions between the parties in this case).
Teare J held that the clause even if not so phrased verbatim, was meant to be exclusive, among others in line with what ‘the reasonable commercial man’ (the bonus mercator, if you like) would have understood the clause to be, especially under the lex contractus, English law. All the more so in light of the use of ‘irrevocably’. At 51 he does offer sound commercial advice to avoid disputes such as the one at issue: it is desirable to employ transitive language, such as in ‘each party agrees to submit all claims’.
I do not think there is justification for the Court not to have considered the impact of the Brussels I (and /or Recast) Regulation on the clause: the judgment keeps entirely shtum about it. Under the rules of the Regulation, all clauses are considered exclusive unless specifically stated. Saying that the clause expressis verbis amounts to non-exclusivity, would be quite a stretch. (I agree it is not clearly worded exclusively – however that is exactly where the Brussels I Regulation is of assistance).
It is quite clear to me that this judgment (issued 17 August – I have delayed reporting for exam reasons) will not be the end of the jurisdictional affair. In particular, parties I am sure will be at loggerheads as to what litigation is to be considered ‘relating to these general terms and conditions’, in particular with OW’s insolvency proceedings in the background.
I have reported elsewhere (In Dutch – I am hoping for some time at some point to write something similar in English; see in particular para 23) on the fact that the conjunctive ‘or’ has been dropped in all language versions of Article 19 of the Brussels I recast:
The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:
- which is entered into after the dispute has arisen;
- which allows the consumer to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section; or
- which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same Member State, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that Member State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that Member State.
This contrast with the similar proviso on choice of court in employment contracts, Article 23:
The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement:
- which is entered into after the dispute has arisen; or
- which allows the employee to bring proceedings in courts other than those indicated in this Section.
I have suggested, with others, that much as I do not understand why the conjunctive has been dropped, its deletion, combined with its being kept in Article 23, means that for consumer contracts, choice of court pre the dispute are now simply impossible under the Regulation, while being maintained for employment contracts. I was also puzzled as to why such an important change was not discussed at all in the run-up to the recast.
A little bird at the European Commission (one high up the conflicts tree) now tells me that what has happened in reality, is quite different. Reportedly the ‘juristes-linguistes’ took it upon them to correct an apparent linguistic mistake in the previous version of the Regulation (indeed one going back to the Brussels Convention): there ought not to be a conjunctive when listing more than one, non-cumulative alternative. That would also explain the difference with Article 23, where there are only 2 alternatives.
This clears up the legislative intent. It does not to me, at least, clear up the linguistic confusion. We may have been grammatically wrong under the previous format (I cannot judge the correctness of that in all these language versions). However at least we were legally certain. Being fully respectful of grammatical correctness myself (punctuation jokes never fail to amuse me), I am not sure which one to prefer in this instance.
Postscript 18/12/2014: the Tribunal de Commerce held on 8 December 2014: in view of applicable Belgian law, and despite the Bank’s efforts to distinguish the ECJ’s ruling, the sum was awarded to the liquidators. Appeal may follow.
I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion in C-251/12, van Buggenhout /van de Mierop. The ECJ yesterday disagreed: the AG had opined on the basis of teleological and linguistic analysis. The Court does so, too, however reaches a different conclusion, in particular on the basis of a narrow reading of ‘to the benefit of’ or ‘in favour of’ the debtor:
The Court refers amongst others (and in deciding fashion so it would seem (see para 30 of the judgment)) to Article 24(1)’s provision that the obligation honoured for the benefit of the insolvent debtor ‘should have been for the benefit of the liquidator‘. I am not so sure that ‘should have been’ applies in a case such as in the main proceedings where the whole point is that the third party paid a debt in favour of the debtor, subject to insolvency, bona fide not being aware of said insolvency. ‘Should have been made’ may be so in the eyes of the liquidators, but not in the eyes of the unaware third party.
The ECJ does conclude ‘However, the fact that Article 24(1) of Regulation No 1346/2000 is not applicable to a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings does not, in itself, give rise to the obligation for the bank concerned to reimburse the disputed sum to the general body of creditors. The issue regarding any liability of that bank is governed by the applicable national law.’ In other words, the liquidators are not home and dry yet. (Update 18 December 2014: see however postscript).