Posts Tagged New York Convention

Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading: The commercial court on fraus, ordre public and arbitration.

Fraus omnia corrumpit (fraud corrupts all; alternatively formulated as ex turpi causa non oritur actio) is not easily applied in conflict of laws. See an earlier post here.  In [2017] EWHC 251 (Comm) Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading , the Commercial Court granted permission for the enforcement of a foreign arbitral award despite allegations that the transaction in question had been “tainted” by fraud: this is how the case is summarised by Mayer Brown and I am happy broadly to refer to their overview and analysis.

The Commercial Court’s relaxed attitude is another sign of strong support of the English courts for the New York Convention and its narrow application of ordre public.

An interesting case for comparative conflicts /arbitration classes.

Geert.

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High Court stay of Micula ICSID award pending CJEU finding on State Aid decision.

Update 3 May 2019 on 12 March 2019 the Brussels Court of Appeal replicated the High Court’s decision, and referred generally to the CJEU on the authority nay obligation of Member States to refuse to recognise awards of this kind.

I have written this blog post with in my mind a rather bibliographical purpose: having collated all sources I would rather like finding them all back again. In [2017] EWHC 31 (Comm) Micula and others v Romania and the European Commission, the High Court effectively halted the enforcement of an ICSID award, pending a Court of Justice Ruling (in Case T-694/15) on the legality of an EC finding of State Aid. The Award arose out of the Romania-Sweden BIT and as such got caught up in the maelstrom (this could have been an intended pun however etymologically the word is Dutch, not Swedish) of discussions surrounding EU competencies in intra-EU Bilateral Investment Treaties (for background on that issue see here).

Not quite following the rabbit down the hole however nevertheless quite a wonderland of colliding legal regimes.

Geert.

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A little pousse-cafe. Gaz de France v STS: annulment of arbitral award on grounds of ordre public.

Something to digest quietly, to start this new year: in Gaz de France v STS the French Conseil d’Etat annuled an arbitral award for breach of ordre public. The Conseil objected in particular to the panel’s denial of mandatory French (administrative) law. Reed Smith have analysis here, including of the issue on jurisdiction (Conseil d’Etat or Court de Cassation).

Upon reading the judgment, my question is this (just putting it in the group, as it were): does the Conseil have terminology right where it seems to classify breach of mandatory law as a violation of ordre public (it is the latter only which justifies annulment under the New York Convention)? Incidentally (at 5) it also refers to the possibility of mandatory EU law being part of this interpretation of ordre public. This structure is clearly inspired by the Rome I Regulation where, as I have noted before, the presence of mandatory law, overriding mandatory law, and ordre public, is causing confusion.

Happy New Year, happy reading, Geert.

 

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New York fracking boundaries: The ultimate relocation advice resulting from regulatory competition.

Travel is a wonderful opportunity to catch up on reading back issues of The Economist. Now I have made a valiant effort in recent years to reduce the pile. I am now only a few months behind. (I read the magazine diagonally when it comes out. Properly a little later). In the issue of 28 February of this year, there is a report on the town of Windsor, New York, along with 14 other towns along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, wanting to secede and join Penn. I have not been able to get an update on the state of affairs, and I am not sure whether the idea got much traction.

It is the ultimate answer to regulatory competition: to move an entire slice of territory into what is perceived as a preferable regulatory regime. The cause? New York’s strict (some might say: cautious) policy on fracking /shale gas. Penn State is fracking friendly. New York has banned it.

The Economist also flag that State secession in the US has only ever succeeded in 1777: when a chunk of New York became Vermont. Now, that’s a State where others pack and move to in upwards harmonisation fashion: for Vermont is arguably the top of the regulatory curve when it comes to environment and food regulation.

Geert.

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Hague principles on Choice of law in international commercial contracts. A quick and dirty comparison with Rome I.

I have delayed reporting on the Hague Principles on choice of law in international commercial contract for exam reasons. The principles (and accompanying commentary) have not taken the form of a classic Hague convention, rather, it is hoped that they inspire practice. Bottom-up harmonisation, in other words. For the EU, the Rome I Regulation evidently already harmonises choice of law hence the principles must not be followed where Rome I applies. However in particular given the principles’ ambition to be applied by arbitral tribunals, they may have some effect in the EU, too.

I asked my students to compare the Principles with the Rome I Regulation. Such quick and dirty scan, without wishing to be complete, reveals the following: (I take a bullet-point approach such one might follow in an exam setting. = refers to similarities; to differences

  • ≠ The Hague principles concern choice of law principles only. Rome I covers applicable law in the wider sense (it also determines applicable law if no choice of law has been made).
  • ≠: The Principles apply to courts and arbitral tribunals. General consensus is that arbitral panels subject to the laws of an EU Member State as the lex curia are not bound by Rome I.
  • ≠The Hague principles only apply B2B, not B2C. They deal with international ‘commercial’ contracts only. Famously Rome I includes and indeed pampers B2C contracts.
  • Purely domestic contracts are covered by Rome I, with choice of law being corrected to a considerable degree. ≠ Hague principles: these do not cover purely domestic contracts because they are not ‘international’.
  • = party autonomy and depecage are supported in both.
  • = universal character: Parties may choose any law, they or the contract need not have any material link with that law.
  • ≠ rules of law. Rome I probably allows choice of State law only (its recitals are inconclusive, as is its legislative history). Hague Principles: allows parties to opt for non-State law.
  • Tacit choice of law is effectively dealt with the same in both.
  • Scope of the chosen law: while more or less similar, one obvious ≠ is that the Hague Principles cover culpa in contrahendo. In the EU, this is subject to the Rome II Regulation.
  • Article 11 of the Hague Principles allow for a wider remit for courts and tribunals to apply overriding mandatory law that is not that of the forum.
  • Article 9(2): formal validity of the contract may be established by many a law that might have a bearing on it. Favor negoti, in other words: as in Rome I.

A fun exercise, all in all. I for one am curious how arbitral tribunals will approach the principles.

Geert.

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Belgian initiative to tackle ‘vulture funds’ acknowledges these are, after all, migratory birds.

Update 21 March 2016 (these updates seem to follow an equinox pattern) NML Capital Ltd reportedly are contesting the legality of the Act before the Belgian Constitutional Court. (Update 24 March the Constitutional Court has the case down under three seperate actions, 6371, 6372, 6373).

Update 21 September 2015: the Act was adopted in July and enters into force today.

I have delayed reporting on this initiative for exam reasons. The Belgian Parliament is currently debating a private members’ proposal for statute to address so-called ‘vulture funds’. These funds are described by the financial dictionary as ‘A fund that buys distressed debt of commercial companies or sovereign nations at a cheap price and then often sues them for the entire value of the debt. The resemblance to vultures is because these funds profit from the debt of failing companies or poor nations.

The text of the proposal (in Dutch and French) is available here. Vulture funds litigation is generally called immoral in the proposal. Reference is made to a number of high-profile recent judgments where vulture funds have been given approval by various courts worldwide, to seek redress against assets held by the sovereign nations concerned, or indeed their creditors. Particularly sore is the enforcement sought against funds destined for development aid.

The proposal essentially defines ‘vulture funds’ and then suggests that recognition and enforcement of relevant judgments or arbitral awards, regardless of the law applicable to the underlying relationship with the government concerned, is considered to be contrary to Belgian ordre public international, hence unenforceable. The proposal as it stands now adds (probably superfluously) that relevant EU (read: the Brussels I recast Regulation) and international (read especially: the 1958 New York Convention) law takes priority.

The part of the proposal that is bound to attract attention is the attempt at defining the ‘vulture’ in vulture funds. Frits Bolkestein for instance (former EU Commissioner) has remarked that buying up ‘bad debt’ need not always be morally reprehensible (I would suggest it is not that part of the fund’ activities which has attracted the Belgian Parliament’s attention). The enforcement /recognition part of the proposal is interesting because it applies ordre public in a categorical manner, rather than in the ad hoc application which both EU law and residual Belgian conflicts law (the Belgian Private International Law Act) ordinarily call for. For residual Belgian law, this is probably Parliament’s prerogative. However for EU law (and the New York convention), a general apprehension against vulture funds may not qualify as a proper exercise of the ordre public exception. Courts at the least may wish formally to disregard the act when the judgment /award concerned is covered by Brussels I cq. New York; however they can point to the sentiment expressed in the Act, to support incompatibility with Belgian ordre public when tested against an individual case.

The drafters are aware that this initiative may be a drop in the ocean. Reference is made to other, national initiatives (France, UK, US) which may point to an emerging pattern of anti-vulture funds sentiment. Indeed the realities of forum shopping mean that vulture funds action will migrate away from the Belgian legal order. On the other hand, Belgium’s safe harbour may also mean that relevant assets will seek refuge there. All of course, presuming the initiative will actually be adopted by Parliament.

Geert. Disclosure: I advised the MPs concerned on the technical aspects of the recognition and enforcement leg of the proposal. [My advice may or may not have been followed ].

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Gazprom. Arbitral anti-suit injunctions and the Judgments Regulation. Grand Chamber holds they are outside the scope, but not therefore invincible.

The ECJ today has held in C-536/13 Gazprom in a matter of factly manner (I had suspected the Court would be brief), that the enforcement of arbitral awards falls outside the Brussels I-Regulation, where that enforcement by the court of that State, effectively prohibits the party concerned from taking the case to a court in that very Member State. Rich was the main formula referred to, among the various precedents: ‘reference must be made solely to the subject-matter of the dispute‘ to assess the scope of Brussels I’s arbitral exclusion.

Importantly, West Tankers was distinguished particularly on the basis that in the facts at issue, there was no competing court in another Member State, hence no scope for the principle of mutual trust to be violated. The AG’s review of the impact of the recitals newly added by the Brussels I recast, was not addressed at all by the Court.

The judgment does not solve all outstanding issues, however. Firstly, the Court’s reasoning seems to suggest that where competition with a court in another Member State is at issue, effet utile of the Brussels I Regulation might take the upper hand, as it did in West Tankers. Recognition of the award arguably in such case would amount to anti-suit. Further, the Court (this was a Grand Chamber judgment) points out that the award still has to go through the national court’s standard recognition and enforcement process, outside the framework of Title III of the Regulation, instead governed by national residual law as well as the New York Convention. Both of these (including through ordre public) might still offer quite a remit for the Lithuanian courts to refuse recognition.

Geert.

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Toyota v Prolat and the Brussels I arbitration exception. Plus ça change.

In Toyota v Prolat [2014] EWHC 3649 (Comm) the High Court was asked by Toyota to confirm the existence of an agreement between parties to arbitrate. The arbitral panel, already seized by Toyota, agreed that it would be best for the Court preemptively to settle this issue since it suspects any ruling by the tribunal itself will be subject to litigation by Prolat. The agreement (existence of which is disputed by Prolat; it had employed an authorised agent, whose signings on behalf of Prolat are disputed) concerns the delivery of sugar by Toyota to Prolat. Prolat objects to the jurisdiction of the tribunal. It has itself started proceedings in Naples for damages for various alleged wrongdoing by Toyota, whether for breach of contract or tort.

The interest of the case for this blog lies in particular with the concurrent proceedings in Italy and the UK. Should the UK decline? The case is subject to Regulation 44/2001, not to the recast. Cooke J holds that ‘This Court is not being asked to interfere with the functions of the Italian court as no form of anti-suit injunction is being sought against Prolat. This Court is being asked to determine whether or not there is an arbitration agreement and to make a declaration in the light of its conclusion.West Tankers is therefore distinguished.  Would, had it applied, Regulation 1215/2012 made a difference? Cooke J held that it would not: ‘Article 1(2)(d) remains unchanged from the earlier Regulation but is more fully explained in paragraph 12 of the Preamble. I was also referred to Article 73 which states that the Regulation will not affect the application of the New York Convention. (…)‘ (at 16)

He concludes ibidem ‘Although it is not yet in force, it was suggested that some might regard the new Regulation as declaratory of the existing state of the law. . The jury on that, as is well-known, is out.

Cooke J further explores the issue of the applicable law to the contract per its putative law (Article 10(1) Rome I). Firm and justifiable conclusion (at 18) there, is: English law.

Geert.

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Gazprom, arbitral Antisuit Injunctions and the Judgments Regulation: Wathelet AG gets one or two things off his chest

Wathelet AG opined yesterday in Gazprom, Case C-536/13, re the fate of arbitral anti-suit injunctions. (See my posting on the application, for context). He takes the opportunity to add to the chorus of criticism of the ECJ’s West Tankers ruling, at considerable length; and to review the ‘new’ regime under the Brussels I recast, in light of recital 12 of that Regulation.

His review of the ‘new’ regime of the Brussels I recast, and the contrasting positions of the EC and a number of Member States, support my proposition that the recast, by incorporating a summary of previous case-law in its recitals, has certainly not clarified things beyond discussion. Wathelet in fact suggest that the recitals do rebuke the ECJ and return application of the Regulation to the Rich scenario – however I am not convinced that Rich itself necessarily clarifies things. (It, too, like Van Uden and like the current recital, uses a confusing variety of criteria. I have a paper forthcoming on the Brussels I recast (already in a Dutch version should readers be interested) which looks into this).

At any rate, the lengthy review of the position under the recast evidently is outside the scope of the preliminary review, since the recast does not apply to it, and the ECJ is certain not to entertain the AG’s review of the recast and his rebuke of West Tankers at all. (Although his critical views are not likely to endear him to the Court).

Returning to the actual questions, the AG suggests the Court reply that that the Brussels I Regulation is not applicable in the present case (it falling exclusively within the scope of the 1958 New York Convention) and that, in any event, (what is effectively) an anti-suit injunction issued by an arbitration tribunal is not contrary to that Regulation. Finally, that under the New York Convention, a Member State cannot classify Brussels I’s jurisdictional regime as being ‘ordre public’ and hence capable of leading to refusal of recognition of an arbitral award.

The AG decisively supports arbitration in this opinion, however the ECJ is bound to be much shorter (and perhaps less sympathetic) in its judgment. To be continued….

Geert.

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Belgian supreme court holds on gold-plated provisions in Unamar. Appeal judgment annulled, case to be revisited.

Writing a case-note on Unamar is becoming an ever moving target: the Belgian Supreme Court (Hof van Cassatie /Cour de Cassation) held on 12 September, following the ECJ’s judgment in same – I would recommend reading my earlier posting. (Relevant databases, it would seem, do not yet hold a copy of the judgment in Cassatie. Please be in touch should you like one. (Language of the case: Dutch)).

The Court has annulled the Court of Appeal judgment for lack of due justification. In doing so, it (only) refers to the ECJ’s dictum, in full, followed by the conclusion that the Court of Appeal has not duly justified its decision. Now, Supreme Court judgments are not necessarily easy to read: often lengthy and verbatim reference is made in particular to applicants’ legal argument, followed by much more succinct conclusion by the court itself. Interpretation therefore hinges on being able to identify those specific arguments which may have swayed the court. I confess I have not found it easy to do so in this instance.

In my view, the ECJ’s judgment clearly implies a presumption against the mandatory nature of gold-plated provisions: ‘only if the court before which the case has been brought finds, on the basis of a detailed assessment, that, in the course of that transposition, the legislature of the State of the forum held it to be crucial, in the legal order concerned, to grant the commercial agent protection going beyond that provided for by the directive, taking account in that regard of the nature and of the objective of such mandatory provisions.‘ (emphasis added)

The Court of Appeal at Antwerp had focused its analysis on the correct transposition of the minimum requirements of the commercial agents directive in Bulgarian law. It had referred to discussion in the Belgian parliament, suggesting the altogether limited mandatory character of the Belgian rules from the moment a conflict of laws context is present.

In other words, paraphrasing the ECJ,  there was no ‘detailed assessment, that, in the course of that transposition, [Belgium] held it to be crucial, in [its] legal order, to grant the commercial agent protection going beyond that provided for by the directive. Neither, though, did applicants’ arguments, at least as referred to in the Supreme Court’s judgment, include such detailed assessment. Had there been so in applicants’ submission, I would have assumed the Court would have referred to it.

There is in my view no active requirement for the courts to scout for indications of mandatory character. The default position is against such character. In the absence of indications of detailed assessment (not just one or two references to passing discussion in parliament) by applicants themselves, I believe the Antwerp Court of Appeal has been wrongly rebuked for not having duly entertained such assessment.

The case now goes back to appeal (this time at the Brussels Court of Appeal).  The ball must be squarely in the court of the applicants. They seek to establish the mandatory character: they ought to provide the ‘detailed assessment’ that the ECJ requires, which the Brussels Court of Appeal at its turn may or may not be convinced by. (Please note that the Court does not address at all the issue of non-abitrability, which as I noted, was not part of the reference to the ECJ).

Geert.

 

 

 

 

 

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