Posts Tagged lex fori prorogati
 EWHC 2598 (Comm) Kaifer Aislimientos, is a good illustration of the limits of Article 25 juncto recital 20’s lex fori prorogati rule.
Claimant argues that the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Article 25 Brussels I Recast because the relevant contract contains an English exclusive jurisdiction clause and further contends that the relevant contract was concluded by AMS Mexico and/or AMS on behalf of AT1 and Ezion as undisclosed principals and that, as undisclosed principals, the contract – together with the jurisdiction agreement – was binding on AT1 and Ezion.
That is the only part of the judgment to feature the Brussels Regulation at all. Peter MacDonald Eggers DJ could have referred to CJEU precedent pro inspiratio, including Refcomp for instance. He could certainly also have referred to recital 20, and equally failed to do so.
In substance he applies the Brussels I Recast rule by applying lex fori prorogati (here: English law) to all but the formation of consent questions relevant to the validity of choice of court (here: under what circumstance undisclosed principals are subject to choice of court).
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
The French Cour de Cassation’s in Banque Privee Edmond de Rothschild Europe v X held that a unilateral jurisdiction clause was invalid under (doubtful) reference to (then) Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation. The clause was held not to be binding under the French doctrine of clauses potestatives, even though the agreed forum was Luxembourg (whence the validity of the clause was judged under the lex fori derogati, not prorogati; that will no longer be possible under the recast Jurisdiction Regulation). In Credit Suisse, it extended this view (without reference this time to clauses potestatives) to choice of court in the context of the Lugano Convention.
In Apple Sales international v eBizcuss.com, the Cour de Cassation effectively qualifies its Rotschild case-law. The Court of Appeal held as unacceptable, under the theory of clauses potestatives, choice of court obliging eBizcuss to sue in Ireland, while allowing Apple Sales International to sue either in Ireland, or the place of registered office of eBizcuss, or any place where Apple Sales would have suffered damage. The Cour de Cassation now held that this clause is perfectly acceptable under Article 23 (now 25)’s regime for it corresponds to the need of foreseeability. (Which more extreme unilateral clauses arguably do not have). As always, the judgment is scant on details of the underlying contract whence it is not entirely clear whether French law was lex contractus or whether the Cour stuck to lex fori as determining validity of choice of court.
It’s not the grammar, stupid! The High Court in Anchorage on exclusive (or not) choice of court, anti-suit injunctions, Rome, Brussels and much more
In Anchorage (BNP Paribas v Anchorage Capital Europe et al). a bank and a hedge fund are at odds as to whether a handful of instant message communications resulted in a binding contract or contracts and if so, between which parties and on what terms. The issue for decision at the High Court was whether the disputes should be determined in London (home to the London Branch of BNP Paribas and allegedly identified as the exclusive – or not – court of choice in the alleged contracts), New York (home to the hedge fund which however also has a separate LLP domiciled in London) or possibly Luxembourg (home to two funds within Anchorage Group).
For review of the facts reference is best made to the text of the judgment, for there are many framework agreements etc at stake. The High Court’s review of the case though is most interesting for highlighting the limits to what Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation harmonises. The Article aims to ensure a non-formalistic deference to parties’ agreement to have their disputes adjudicated in a particular court. As Males J notes (and the ECJ acknowledges), one should not be overly formalistic in applying Article 23.
Article 23 though does not harmonise the underlying contractual (or not) issues: with whom were contracts made, especially in an agent /principal context; what law applies to the (alleged) choice of court agreement (an issue more or less resolved in the new Brussels I Regulation). Males J applies English law to the issue of validity of the clause, on the basis it would seem of lex contractus (which arguably will no longer be possible come January 2015, as a result of the new Brussels I Regulation): either because of the express determination of such by the parties, or because the lex contractus of the agreement of which it forms part is English law by virtue of the Rome I Regulation (contract for the sale of goods; I am not sure though whether the underlying contract truly is a sale of a good). Arguments for the alternative (in particular, application of New York law to the choice of court agreement) are dismissed on the basis that they represent the kind of semantic approach to such clauses which English law has left firmly behind. Surely a poster-argument indeed for the use of English law in international commerce and an approach which is to be commended.
Even were the validity of the clause not to be upheld, the High Court outlines other jurisdictional grounds: Article 5(1) of the Jurisdiction Regulation on the basis of the place of performance of the obligation in question; Article 5(5) on the basis of a contractual dispute closely connected to the operation of a branch; Article 6(1) on the basis of the cases being closely connected. (Use of Anchorage London as an anchor defendant (lousy pun intended I fear) against the investment funds).
Forum non conveniens (potentially applicable should none of the jurisdictional grounds be valid and given the possibility of New York proceedings) was dismissed; the anti-suit injunction was granted. Here, Males J reviews the rather grammatical arguments made vis-a-vis the choice of court agreement being used transitively or not: again, the Court takes a non-formalistic approach and (respectfully) dismisses the grammatical argument as being elusive.
This is the kind of case upon which one could build an entire conflicts course. If you happen to be preparing one over the holidays period: good luck and enjoy. To all readers past, current and future: Merry Christmas and /or applicable and appropriate season’s greetings. Geert.
Unilateral jurisdiction clauses valid under English law – The High Court in Mauritius Commercial Bank Limited v Hestia Holdings Limited
The High Court (England and Wales) has upheld a so-called ‘unilateral’ or ‘one-sided’ jurisdiction clause (choice of court agreement) on 17 May last. The finding is in contrast with the French Cour de Cassation’s stance in Banque Privee Edmond de Rothschild Europe v X – which had some calling in the case by virtue of defendants arguing that the jurisdiction agreement ought to be subject to Mauritian law, which is anchored on French civil law. In that case, the Cour de Cassation held that the unilateral clause was invalid under (doubtful) reference to Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation – the clause was held not to be binding under the French doctrine of clauses potestatives, even though the agreed forum was Luxembourg (whence the validity of the clause was judged under the lex fori derogati, not prorogati; that will no longer be possible under the recast Jurisdiction Regulation).
It is noteworthy that claimant was based in Mauritius; first defendant a Mauritius-registered company; and second defendant the first defendant’s parent company and registered in India. Under the current Brussels I Regulation (this however will change once the new regime applies as of 2015), for the choice of court clause to be covered by the Brussels Regime, at least one of the parties has to be domiciled in the EU.
The contract at issue, read:
‘Clause 23 – Governing Law. This Agreement and any dispute or claim arising out of, or in connection with, it or its subject matter or formation (including non-contractual disputes or claims) shall be governed by and construed in accordance with English Law.
Clause 24 – Enforcement.
(a) The courts of England have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute arising out of or in connection with this Agreement (including a dispute regarding the existence, validity or termination of this Agreement) (a “Dispute”).
(b) The Parties agree that the courts of England are the most appropriate and the most convenient courts to settle Disputes and accordingly no Party will agree [sic, obviously a typographical error for argue] to the contrary.
(c) This Clause 24.1 is for the benefit of the Lender only. As a result the Lender shall not be prevented from taking proceedings related to a Dispute in any other courts in any jurisdiction. To the extent allowed by law the Lender may take concurrent proceedings in any number of jurisdictions.
24.2 Service of Process
(a) The Borrower and the Guarantor shall irrevocably appoint ‘Progress Corporate Services Private Limited’ presently located at 2, Lansdowne Road, Croydon, Surrey, London CR9 2ER.’
The Defendants argued that clause 24.1 is invalid under its proper law, whether that of Mauritius or England, and that in the absence of a valid English jurisdiction agreement, the court does not have jurisdiction over Hestia and Sujana. The Defendants’ challenge to the validity of clause 24.1 rested on two alternative grounds. They allege that the jurisdiction agreement contained in clause 24.1 remained subject to Mauritian law, notwithstanding clause 23; and that under Mauritian law the jurisdiction agreement is ineffective, as a result of the decision of the French Cour de cassation in Rothschild Europe v X, because it is one sided: it allows MCB to sue, or insist on being sued, in any jurisdiction in the world, but binds Hestia and Sujana to litigate in England if MCB so choose. Alternatively, it is submitted that if clause 24.1 is governed by English law, it is too one sided to be compatible with fundamental principles regarding equal access to justice and should not be upheld under English law.
The High Court rejected Mauritian law as the applicable law to the clause (although it did entertain the validity under Mauritian law obiter and was not convinced that Rotschild Europe would be applied by Mauritian courts) and saw no problem whatsoever for the validity of the clause under English law. Popplewell J referred to scholarship:
‘As Professor Fentiman has observed in a recent article in the Cambridge Law Journal entitled “Universal jurisdiction agreements in Europe” (CLJ (2013) 72 (1) 24-27) :
“Such unilaterally non-exclusive clauses are ubiquitous in the financial markets. They ensure that creditors can always litigate in a debtor’s home court, or where its assets are located. They also contribute to the readiness of banks to provide finance, and reduce the cost of such finance to debtors, by minimising the risk that a debtor’s obligations will be unenforceable. Such agreements are valid in English law . . . Indeed despite their asymmetric, optional character it is difficult to conceive how their validity could be impugned or what policy might justify doing so . . .” ‘
Arguments based on the ECHR were rejected:
‘If, improbably, the true intention of the parties expressed in the clause is that MCB should be entitled to insist on suing or being sued anywhere in the world, that is the contractual bargain to which the court should give effect. The public policy to which that was said to be inimical was “equal access to justice” as reflected in Article 6 of the ECHR. But Article 6 is directed to access to justice within the forum chosen by the parties, not to choice of forum. No forum was identified in which the Defendants’ access to justice would be unequal to that of MCB merely because MCB had the option of choosing the forum.’
Note Popplewell J’s reference to ‘improbably’: for any chosen forum would have to uphold jurisdiction on the basis of its own conflict of laws rules.
The material validity of unilateral choice of court agreements is not addressed by the recast Brussels I Regulation (in other words there is no EU rule determining their validity; the Cour de Cassation’s view on this is disputed) – and choice of court agreements continue to be exempt from the Rome I Regulation. The decision in Mauritius Commercial Bank certainly indicates a very favourable approach by the English courts. With the recast Regulation providing for lex fori prorogati as the law destined to rule on the validity of the choice of court agreement, this leads to clear instruction to counsel.