Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners. Unfinished business on endangering Brussels Ia’s effet utile, ‘civil and commercial’ in revenue matters, enforcing foreign public law and Dicey Rule 3.

At issue in Skatteforvaltningen (The Danish Customs And Tax Administration) v Solo Capital Partners LLP & Ors [2021] EWHC 974 (Comm)  is ‘Dicey Rule 3’ which states that “English courts have no jurisdiction to entertain an action: (1) for the enforcement, either directly or indirectly, of a penal, revenue or other public law of a foreign State; or (2) founded upon an act of state“. The assertion of such claims is an extension of a sovereign power of taxation and, per Lord Keith of Avonholm in Government of India v Taylor [1955] A.C. 491, 511: “an assertion of sovereign authority by one State within the territory of another, as distinct from a patrimonial claim by a foreign sovereign, is (treaty or convention apart) contrary to all concepts of independent sovereignties“.

By its claims, SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds.

Brussels Ia and Lugano (the latter viz a number of defendants domiciled in Lugano States) feature in the discussion because SKAT argue that [22] ‘: (i) this is a ‘civil and commercial matter’, not a ‘revenue, customs or administrative matter’, under A1(1) BIa; and (ii) it is therefore not possible to invoke Dicey Rule 3 to dismiss its claims against Brussels-Lugano defendants, because to do so would be to decline to exercise a jurisdiction conferred by the Brussels-Lugano regime otherwise than in accordance with its rules.’

If the argument were upheld, any claims falling within Dicey Rule 3 would proceed against Brussels-Lugano defendants while being dismissed against other defendants. 

Dicey Rule 3 is not a jurisdictional rule: it is a substantive rule of English law. Yet SKAT’s argument in my view essentially means that an application of Dicey Rule 3 to the matter, would deprive A1(1) BIa of its effet utile.

Logically the BIa /Lugano argument would have had to have been considered first. Baker J does the opposite (his thinking process, unlike writing up, may of course first have considered the BIa argument) and holds at 120 after thorough consideration of the authorities on Dicey Rule 3, that the rule applies: SKAT’s claims seek indirectly to enforce in E&W, Danish revenue law.

In an interesting Coda at 121 ff, he also considers obiter the argument that, in essence, was that in line with a long public international law history, the cross-border recovery of tax refunds wrongfully procured is seen as or assumed to be a matter of revenue law requiring to be dealt with (if at all) by supranational legal instrument. Refence here is made ia to 1925 League of Nations reports.

Justice Baker starts [132] the BIa /Lugano argument along familiar lines: need for autonomous interpretation. QRS 1 ApS et al v Frandsen [1999] EWCA Civ 1463 is English authority under the Brussels Convention, and CJEU C-49/12 Sunico (to which both the AG and the CJEU refer in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al) CJEU authority.

[142] In Sunico, the CJEU considered claims brought by HMRC alleging missing trader VAT carousel frauds. The substantive claims, for damages at common law for an alleged tortious conspiracy to defraud, were pursued in E&W against defendants domiciled in Denmark. HMRC also brought ancillary  proceedings in Denmark to attach assets with a view to enforcing any damages judgment obtained in England. Those Danish proceedings were objected to on the basis that they were a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ excluded from BI.

[144] The CJEU concluded at [41]-[43], essentially, that because the claim was framed in tort and not as a claim under a tax law, the proceedings were a ‘civil and commercial matter’ and not a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Regulation, so long as “the commissioners were in the same position as a person governed by private law in their action against Sunico and the other non-residents sued in the High Court of Justice” (ibid at [43]).

At 149 Baker J concedes that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Frandsen was incorrect per Sunico, however then holds that the result would be the same: the classification of proceedings as a ‘civil and commercial matter’ or a ‘revenue [etc] matter’ for the purpose of applying the Brussels-Lugano regime does not touch the question whether Dicey Rule 3 applies so as to defeat the claim. He suggests [149] a search for the lex causae under Rome II would be largely irrelevant for per A16 Rome II Dicey Rule 3 qualifies as lois de police, and finds support for his view that despite scholarly suggestion (i.a. by prof Briggs), Frandsen must not be displaced, in The Law Debenture Trust Corporation [2017] EWHC 655 (Comm) [and in Andrew Dickinson’s reporting on same], in which the English Act of State doctrine was upheld despite Rome II’s classification of the matter as civil and commercial.

At 165 ff he, somewhat superfluously still considers the more recent CJEU authority of Buak and the aforementioned Movic, and decides at 174 that per BUAK and Movic (on the use of evidence etc.) that SKAT was neither attempting nor able to change the rules of the litigation game, either as to the substantive rules of law that would apply in determining its claims, or as regards the procedural rules applicable in the litigation, or as regards the status or effect of any of the evidence it might deploy or disclose. SKAT was not by this litigation pursuing public law proceedings, in which liabilities are determined as if this were a judicial review of SKAT’s actions, decisions or exercise of public law powers.

Yet that the matters are of a civil and commercial nature, in the end does not matter at all: [176]

To the extent that SKAT relied on the Brussels-Lugano regime as the basis for this court having jurisdiction over the Brussels-Lugano defendants that have been sued, including it may be for serving proceedings out of the jurisdiction, in my judgment it was right to do so. But its having been entitled to do so did not oust or disapply Dicey Rule 3 in respect of those defendants.

Using prof Dickinson’s words (26-27), there is a dissonance here between Brussels Ia and the applicable law. One that, I would suggest, endangers the effet utile of Brussels Ia. Dicey Rule 3’s character as a substantive rather than a jurisdictional rule, does not to my mind save that.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

Banco San Juan v Petroleos De Venezuela: Another call for lois de police and sanctions law.

Banco San Juan Internacional Inc v Petroleos De Venezuela SA [2020] EWHC 2937 (Comm) is a lengthy judgment which I report here for its discussion of Rome I Article 9’s provisions on overriding mandatory laws /lois de police. The discussion is similar to the consideration of A9 in Lamesa Investments, to which reference is made.

The Claims comprise two substantial claims in debt by claimant BSJI, a bank incorporated in Puerto Rico, against defendant PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas company.  PDVSA arue inter alia that payment obligations fall to be performed in the US and contends that US sanctions ought to be regarded as part of the order public (sic) of US law. It is said these are a central component of US foreign policy and its political and economic aims as regards Venezuela. It is argued that the terms of the Executive Orders themselves make clear that they are reactions to perceived political and human rights injustices in Venezuela and describe this as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States“.

However Article 9(3) Rome I comes with a sizeable amount of discretion: ‘Effect may be given to the overriding mandatory provisions of the law of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed, in so far as those overriding mandatory provisions render the performance of the contract unlawful. In considering whether to give effect to those provisions, regard shall be had to their nature and purpose and to the consequences of their application or non-application.’

At 118 Cockerill J decides not to use the discretion for the same reason she had earlier dismissed application of the Ralli Bros principle. That rule was recently discussed in Colt v SGG. (As summarised here by Mrs Justice Cockerill at 77) it ‘provides that an obligation under an English law contract is invalid and unenforceable, or suspended in the case of a payment obligation, insofar as the contract requires performance in a place where it is unlawful under the law of that required place of performance.’ And at 79: ‘The doctrine therefore offers a narrow gateway: the performance of the contract must necessarily involve the performance of an act illegal at the place of performance. Subject to the Foster v Driscoll principle [also discussed in Colt and of no relevance here, GAVC], it is no use if the contract could be performed some other way which is legal; and it is no use if the illegal act has to be performed somewhere else’ and at 84 ‘it is only illegality at the place of performance which is apt to provide an excuse under the Ralli Bros doctrine; it also makes clear that the party relying on the doctrine will in general not be excused if he could have done something to bring about valid performance and failed to do so.’ 

The lex contractus is English law which already has the Ralli Bros rule. At 120 Cockerill J suggest that if the court in question has no equivalent rule of law, Article 9(3) will have a significant impact. But not if the lex contractus is English law.

I have to give this some further thought and I am not sure it would make much difference in practice but could it not be said that A9(3) Rome I exhaustively regulates the use of overriding mandatory law to frustrate a contract? This would mean that where Rome I applies, Ralli Bros and even Foster v Driscoll must not apply and must not be entertained. That is a question of some relevance, even after Brexit albeit with a complication: for to the extent (see discussions elsewhere) the Rome Convention re-applies to the UK post Brexit, that Convention’s Article 7 rule on mandatory rules ordinarly applies – albeit the UK have entered a reservation viz A7(1) on which see also here. That article gives  a lot of freedom for the forum to apply mandatory laws of many more States than the lex loci solutionis [Article 7(1) Rome Convention: ‘ When applying under this Convention the law of a country, effect may be given to the mandatory rules of the law of another country with which the situation has a close connection, if and in so far as, under the law of the latter country, those rules must be applied whatever the law applicable to the contract. In considering whether to give effect to these mandatory rules, regard shall be had to their nature and purpose and to the consequences of their application or non-application’].

At the very least an exhaustive role for A9 Rome I (and again in future for UK courts, potentially A7 Rome Convention; but see the note on reservation) would require from the judge a different engagement of the issues than under Ralli Bros. Again, whether indeed, and per Cockerill J’s suggestion here (she applies both Ralli Bros and A9)  in the case of England that would make much difference in outcome is uncertain. Update 6 November 10:20 AM: see prof Dickinson’s impromptu contribution to the issue here.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3.

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

Wallis v Air Tanzania. A good reminder of the (soon to be resurrected) UK reservation viz the Rome Convention.

In Wallis Trading Inc v Air Tanzania Company Ltd & Anor [2020] EWHC 339 (Comm), at stake is a claim by Wallis Trading, a Liberian company which carried on the business of acquiring and leasing aircraft, against Air Tanzania and the Government of Tanzania in respect of sums which Wallis says are due to it from the Defendants arising out of a lease of an aircraft by Wallis to ATCL.

Of interest to the blog is the discussion of the Rome Convention at 74 ff. Defendants contend that the Lease is invalid, and ‘null and void’ because it was entered into in breach of the Procurement Legislation. Butcher J holds that the Lease expressly provided that English law was to be its governing law. The putative law of the lease therefore is English law (the bootstrap of Article 8 Rome Convention, now Article 10 Rome I. The Procurement Legislation is not part of English law, and non-compliance with it does not, as a matter of English law, render the Lease invalid, null or void.

What however about the application of A7 Rome Convention’s rule on lois de police /mandatory law?

1. When applying under this Convention the law of a country, effect may be given to the mandatory rules of the law of another country with which the situation has a close connection, if and in so far as, under the law of the latter country, those rules must be applied whatever the law applicable to the contract. In considering whether to give effect to these mandatory rules, regard shall be had to their nature and purpose and to the consequences of their application or non-application.

2. Nothing in this Convention shall restrict the application of the rules of the law of the forum in a situation where they are mandatory irrespective of the law otherwise applicable to the contract]

Here, Butcher J points out that Article 7(1) of the Rome Convention does not have the force of law in the United Kingdom: the UK had entered an Article 22 reservation viz the lois de police rule. The impossibility of same viz Rome I led to the stricter language in Article 9. In the event of Rome I not being part of the future relations between the UK and the EU, the Convention and its reservation will once again be applicable.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3.

 

Are proclamations of lois de police an absolute prerogative of the Member States? Italy’s response to Covid19 /Corona and the package travel sector.

Update 11 May 2020 see further review by Caterina Benini here.

Update 15 April 2020 for similar Greek measures see here.

Thank you Ennio Piovesani for signalling and reviewing one of the first conflicts-specific developments on the Corona /Covid 19 landscape. Update 28 March 2020 see the comments on and Ennio’s comprehensive response to his own post and comments, for further interesting discussion going beyond the immediate Corona context.

In an effort to safeguard the economic position of the travel sector, the Italian Government by decree has essentially frozen the travel sector’s statutory duty to reimburse travellers whose package travel has become impossible due to the pandemic. Ennio reports that the decree refers specifically to Article 9 Rome I’s overriding mandatory law provisions (earlier applied in Unamar), (in his translation): ‘“The provisions of the present article constitute overriding mandatory provisions within the meaning of Article 17 of Law of 31 May 1995, No. 218 [“Italian PIL Act”] [5, 6] and of Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No. 593/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 17 June 2008 [“Rome 1 Regulation”]”.

Ennio signals and important issue: how much leeway may be given to Member States to push their own definition of the concept of ‘lois de police’ /overriding mandatory law in light of the CJEU definition in Joined Cases C-369/96 and C-376/96 Arblade. In Brussels Ia of course the CJEU has pushed the concept of ordre public in a limited direction. Lois de police however are different from ordre public and Rome I is not Brussels Ia, and I am therefore not so pessimistic as Ennio when it comes to leaving a lot of discretion to Member States. What to me looks a touch more problematic is the relation with the package travel Directive 2015/2302 which applies to many of the travel arrangements concerned and which is the source of many of the protections for travellers.

No doubt to be continued.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8.3.

 

DES v Clarins. The law applicable to ending commercial agency: Granarolo (and Rome I’s /Rome Convention’s overriding mandatory law rules) applied by Paris Court of Appeal.

In RG 16/05579 DES v Clarins (I have a copy on file for those finding it difficult to get access) the Paris Court of Appeal on 19 September 2018 effectively applied the CJEU’s Granarolo judgment on jurisdiction, to issues of applicable law. Yet it leaves many questions unanswered and does not carry out a neat and tidy analysis at all.

The case was signalled to me by , who has complete analysis here in French as well as here in English.

Companies belonging to the Clarins group (of France and Luxemburg) were sued for breach of their business relationship with a French company that distributed Clarins cosmetics in Algeria through local companies there, and for the alleged sudden halt in negotiations to try and resuscitate their contractual relationship.

The Court of appeal first of all (p.16-17 of the PDF version of the judgment) summarily rejects objections to the anchoring of non-France based defendants onto Clarins, with domicile in département 92 – Hauts de Seine: claimants request damages from all defendants, on the basis of the same facts and the same legal basis. So as to avoid conflicting judgments the Court sees no reason at all not to join the cases.

In terms of applicable law, the Court refers to Granarolo to qualify the relationship as contractual (reference is made to a tacit contract), yet then skips the application of the cascade rules of the Rome Convention (which applied ratione temporis rather than Rome I) to simply jump straight to the qualification as the relevant French rules as lois de police. As Christophe points out, there are plentry of the Convention’s default categories which could have applied to the case. Skipping the cascade to go straight to the exception is not the right way to go about conflict of laws.

The Court similarly cuts plenty a corner by summarily qualifying the sudden stop to negotiations to resuscitate a previous contractual relationship as non-contractual and applying French law as lex loci damni per Rome II (p.18), particularly as Rome II has a specific rule for culpa in contrahendo.

I am assuming an appeal with the Supreme Court is underway.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9; Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3).

Rincon. Overriding mandatory law or ‘lois de police’ in California.

Update 22 November 2019 for a similar case see Handoush v. Lease Financing Group.

Rincon ((2017) 8 Cal. App 5th 1) is another case suited to comparative conflicts classes. It applies California’s restrictive regime on waiver of jury trial to a contract governed by New York law and with choice of court for New York.

‘Lois de police‘, also known as lois d’application immédiate or lois d’application nécessaire,  are included in the EU’s Rome I Regulation (on applicable law for contracts) in Article 9. (I reported earlier on their application in Unamar).

Jason Grinell has background to the case. Parties had made choice of law and choice of court in favour of New York. The link with New York was real (in EU terms: this was not a ‘purely domestic’ situation), inter alia because of the involvement of New York-based banks, parties being sophisticated commercial undertakings, and the contract having been negotiated in NY. However the real estate development is located at San Francisco, giving CAL a strong link to the case. Under CAL law,  parties generally cannot waive a jury trial before the commencement of a lawsuit unless they use one of two methods approved by the legislature. New York law does not have the same provision and choice of court clauses in favour of New York do not include reference to the only options available under CAL law.

In the case at issue, the boilerplate choice of court clause was set aside by the Court of Appeal. The lower court had denied a substantial enough Californian interest in the case – the CA disagreed. The relevant part of the judgment runs until p.22.

That comparative conflicts binder is filling out nicely.

Geert.

 

Von Munchausen ft. von Savigny. Szpunar AG in Nikiforidis.

Update 19 October 2016. The court held yesterday. I shall have review it soon.

Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Hellenic Republic v Grigorios Nikiforidis has travelled half the world with me in my briefcase. Time to tackle the blog queue…

As I had reported earlier, the Bundesarbeitsgericht has given the CJEU an opportunity to provide much needed clarity on the application of Rome I to continuing (employment) contracts, and on the Regulation (or as the case may be, the Rome convention)’s provisions on overriding mandatory law.

The Opinion (not available in English) first of all clarifies the temporal scope of Rome I. Article 28 Rome I provides that it applies to contracts concluded ‘as from 17 December 2009’ (this is the corrected format; initially Article 28 read ‘after’). When exactly a contract is ‘concluded’ needs to be determined in accordance with the putative lex causae as identified by the Regulation (an extension of Article 10(1), suggested by most if not all of relevant scholarship). What, however, about ‘continuing’ contracts’: those concluded before the temporal scope of the Regulation, continuing after, however renewed, renegotiated, amended…: do these continue to be covered by the Rome convention ad infinitum, or is there a cut-off point at which these continuing contracts become newly concluded?

I had suggested in my earlier posting that one’s intuitive assumption may be to prefer autonomous interpretation of the concept ‘concluded’. That, after all, is the standard approach of the Court. However I argued that in the current state of (lack of) harmonisation of contractual law, it is more likely that the Court will prefer an Article 10(1) type solution. Szpunar AG is of the same opinion. He first of all points out (at 33) that secondary EU  law need not necessarily include verbatim transitionary measures. In the absence of a specific regime, the general rule is that the new provisions immediately apply to future effects of situations that arose under the old regime. Rome I’s transitory regime therefore, with its reference to date of ‘conclusion’  is an exception to that general principle. Can that moment of conclusion be autonomously defined? Szpunar AG shares my intuition (at 35 ff): along the lines of Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) the lex causae has to determine the moment of conclusion. For long-term contracts, this will inevitably lead to uncertainty (at 49). Yet that does not take away the soundness of the rule.

 

Next up is the application of Article 9’s provision on overriding mandatory provisions. This is the first time the CJEU will rule on that Article (Unamar was held under the Rome Convention). The Regulation quite deliberately limited the room for manoeuvre for the court seized to apply overriding mandatory law other than that of the forum: only such laws of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract ‘have to be performed’ can come into calling. That place is likely to be Germany in the case at issue (the Regulation does not define ‘place of performance’ under Article 9(3)) – however the AG suggests differently: there are a variety of reasons to assume that Greece, too, can be that place (at 95).

Szpunar AG first of all, in his very first para, remarks that scholarly attention to ‘lois de police’ far exceeds its featuring in practice. He also notes that von Savigny himself discussed ordre public (at 68 with references) and succinctly discusses the difference between the two (at 69-70). He repeats (at 78) that scholarly attention to overriding mandatory law has been excessive. He then rejects the suggestion that Article 9(3) needs to be applied restrictively to such a degree that its application becomes pretty much near-impossible. Importantly, he rejects in the process (a la Kainz) a strict parallel between ‘performance’ in Article 9(3) Rome I and Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast, and suggest that while the latter needs strict interpretation in line with the overall interpretative rules of that Regulation, there is no such need for Article 9(3) (at 92).

I wonder whether the Court will still hold before the recess (professor Szpunar Opined in April: I did flag there is a queue of cases waiting to be reviewed…

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.

Employment, foreign mandatory rules and Greek public finance.

Postscript 21 September 2015: the case is C-135/15 Hellenic Republic v Grigorios Nikiforidis.

The German Federal Labour Court, the ‘Bundesarbeitsgericht’, has provided the ECJ with an opportunity to provide much needed clarity on the application of Rome I to continuing (employment) contracts, and on the Regulation (or as the case may be, the Rome convention)’s provisions on overriding mandatory law. The Bundesarbeitsgericht has issued a press release on the case, Giesela Rühl flagged the case in March, and Lisa Günther has more detailed input on the overall context. Claimant is a Greek, employed by the Greek State at the Greek primary school in Nuremberg (Germany). His salary was reduced in accordance with relevant Greek Saving Laws. Claimant asks for payment of the sums withheld. Is the German court bound to apply the Greek Saving Laws?

The case (which as yet to appear on the ECJ’s website) first of all seeks clarification on the temporal scope of Rome I. Article 28 Rome I provides that it applies to contracts concluded ‘as from 17 December 2009’ (this is the corrected format; initially Article 28 read ‘after’). When exactly a contract is ‘concluded’ needs to be determined in accordance with the lex causae as identified by the Regulation (an extension of Article 10(1), suggested by most if not all of relevant scholarship). There has hitherto been much less noise about the application of Article 28 to ‘continuing’ contracts’: those concluded before the temporal scope of the Regulation, continuing after, however renewed, renegotiated, amended…: do these continue to be covered by the Rome convention ad infinitum, or is there a cut-off point at which these continuing contracts become newly concluded? Any suggestion along these latter lines presumably requires determination of a threshold. For instance, adaptation of price in line with inflation presumably is not sufficient to speak of a ‘new’ contract. But would contractually foreseen price renegotiation to take account of economic cycles, lead to such a new contract?

One’s intuitive assumption may be to prefer autonomous interpretation of the concept ‘concluded’ however in the current state of (lack of) harmonisation of contractual law, it is more likely that the Court will prefer an Article 10(1) type solution.

Next up is the application of Article 9’s provision on overriding mandatory provisions. This is the first time the ECJ will rule on that Article (Unamar was held under the Rome Convention). The Regulation quite deliberately limited the room for manoeuvre for the court seized to apply overriding mandatory law other than that of the forum: only such laws of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract ‘have to be performed’ can come into calling. That place is likely to be Germany in the case at issue (the Regulation does not define ‘place of performance’ under Article 9(3)).

No doubt the ECJ will cut some corners, per judicial economy, however the case nevertheless promises to be entertaining.

Geert.