In C-222/15 Hőszig /Hoszig, Advocate General Szpunar opined using the sensible route, on the application of Article 23 of Regulation 44/2001 . His excursus though on Article 25 of the Brussels I Recast and the new lex fori prorogati rule is the part of his judgment which I read with most interest.
First things first: can choice of court made in underlying documentation in the context of a tender, for which Hőszig entered a winning bid, be considered valid under Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation (now: Article 25 Brussels I Recast). Pursuant to Clause 23.1 of these ‘general conditions of purchase’, headed ‘applicable law and settlement of disputes’, ‘[t]he Order shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with French law. The application of the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods dated April 11, 1980 is excluded. Any dispute arising out of or in connection with the validity, construction, performance or termination of the Order, which the parties are unable to settle amicably shall be finally and exclusively settled by the courts of Paris, including in the case of a summary procedure, injunctions or conservatory measure.’
Hőszig tried to sue instead in what it considered to be the place of performance of the contract, per Article 5(1) (now 7(1) in the Recast). Its torpedo of the choice of court included in the general conditions of purchase, was based on recourse to Article 10(2) Rome I, which holds that the putative law of the contract does not apply to consider a party’s consent if it would not be reasonable to do so. In such case the law of the habitual residence of said party applies. Here this would lead to Hungarian law rather than French law and Hungarian law, it is argued, would not accept such incorporation of general terms and conditions. Szpunar AG however simply refers to the fact that choice of court agreements are excluded from the Rome I Regulation. Recourse to Article 10(2) is barred by that exclusion.
What needs to be considered under Article 23 Brussels I is whether parties have reached consensus, ‘clearly and precisely demonstrated’, the AG suggests. This wording is typically associated with choice of law under Rome I however I would support its use in the context of the Brussels I (and Recast) Regulation, too, for that is what the Court’s case-law on the Article amounts to. Applying Case 24/76 Colzani mutatis mutandis, and taking into account that express reference to the general terms and conditions in documents exchanged between the parties prior to the tender being awarded, the AG concludes that agreement had been reached.
Now, is the expression ‘courts of Paris’ sufficiently precise? Szpunar AG suggests it is and I would concur, albeit that the last word on that is probably not yet said. The Advocate General refers to Capotorti AG in Case 23/78 Meeth, who had advised that a clause worded such as here, refers by implication to the system of rules of territorial jurisdiction (typically on the basis of a combination of value and subject-matter) to determine precisely at which court proceedings must be instituted. The Court itself did not at all elaborate in the eventual judgment. Szpunar AG suggests it must have taken Capororti’s suggestion for granted. Therefore (at 44 of the Opinion) it is French procedural law which governs the question of precisely which Paris court is competent.
This leaves open the question, though (which I understand is not sub judice here) whether parties can employ choice of court to trump national rules of civil procedure. What if they agree that the courts of say province X in Member State A are preferable to settle the issue, e.g. because of perceived know-how, even if national civil procedure would ordinarily assign the case to province Y? Not an issue which to my knowledge has been settled by EU case-law.
By way of sign-off, the Advocate General then reviews whether the new text, Regulation 1215/2012, has in any way altered or added to the discussion on choice of court agreements. Readers will be aware (via this blog or the Handbook or otherwise) that the new Regulation refers to the lex fori prorogati to determine the validity of the choice of court agreement: ‘[i]f the parties, regardless of their domicile, have agreed that a court or the courts of a Member State are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which have arisen or which may arise in connection with a particular legal relationship, that court or those courts shall have jurisdiction, unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity under the law of that Member State’ (emphasis added by Szpunar AG).
Under Brussels I, various options were defended. Szpunar AG refers to Slynn AG having defended lex fori prorogati in Case 150/80 Elefanten Schuh, and Szpunar AH himself suggest (at 47 in fine) lex fori additi under the former Brussels I Regulation (44/2001).
The AG is most certainly correct in my view that the lex fori prorogati is not meant to cover all aspects of the validity of the agreement. In my Handbook I distinguish between the expression of consent (harmonised by Article 25), and the formation of consent (not touched upon by Brussels I and now subject to the lex fori prorogati). He then suggests that the insertion of lex fori prorogati was meant to align the Brussels I (Recast) with the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, to which the EU have now acceded. I do not recall any such reference in the travaux preparatoires of Regulation 1215/2012 – however it has been a while since I consulted them extensively and the AG presumably has.
The Court of course will be much more succinct than its AG.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9 Heading 18.104.22.168. Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.2 .