Posts Tagged ordre public

Lernout & Hauspie: US opt-out class action settlement accepted by Belgian court.

Belgium’s Lernout & Hauspie case recently entered a further stage in its civil law chapter. The case is part of Belgium’s (and especially Flanders’) collective memory as an illustration of what can go wrong when markets and investors alike are fooled by corporate greed. Is it world-famous, in Belgium: for those outside, Wiki should help.

Of interest to this blog is the recent judgment of the Gent criminal court on the civil chapter of the case: see my colleague proximus Stefaan Voet’s analysis here. Stefaan has helpfully translated the most relevant sections of the judgment, in particular the court’s rejection of the argument that the US opt-out class action settlement were contrary to Belgium’s ordre public. The court, in my view entirely justifiably, holds that Belgium’s Private international law act does not oppose recognition and enforcement. Of note is the extensive comparative reference which the court makes not just to existing Belgian law on class actions (the Belgian legal order can hardly oppose what it tentatively has introduced itself), but also to a European Recommendation on comparative class action law in the EU (a sort of Ius Commune idea).

Recognition and enforcement rarely makes it to substantive review in Belgian case-law. This judgment is one of note.

Geert.

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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 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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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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Conflicts, conflicts Uber-al. Employment and conflict of laws (Rome I) in the Uber decision.

Thank you Steve Peers for alerting me to the relevance of the conflict of laws and the Rome I Regulation in particular in the recent Aslam et al v Uber Employment Tribunal decision. The case essentially revolves around whether claimants are employees – it is a pivotal case determining the immediate regulatory context for this part of the ‘sharing economy’. Para 87 is a particularly delightful expression of scepticism towards the sharing economy’s claims (further highlights are here).

Conflict of laws is addressed at para 103 onwards, a completion of the analysis in case of rejection of the tribunal’s view that the UK company in the Uber group employs claimants, and instead one would have to regard Uber BV (of The Netherlands) as employer. I do not think the tribunal expresses itself entirely clearly on Rome I.

If Uber BV is the employer, reclassification of the contract as one of employment (as opposed to one for the provision of services), makes the choice of law for Dutch law partially inoperable (not, as the tribunal notes at para 105 in fine, replaced with the laws on England and Wales). Next the tribunal (paras 106-109) continues to speak of ’employer’ but reviews application of Article 3 (including the application of Article 3(3)’s ‘purely domestic contracts’. If there is a contract of employment, in my view only Article 3(1) and (2) can have any impact on the analysis: the remainder of Article 3 concerns provisions for which Article 8 itself provides exhaustive rules.

From para 110 onwards, the tribunal does more tidily address Article 8 Rome I and holds, after reference to counsel view, that if indeed the Dutch BV is the employer (for it does not suggest that the contract would have to be qualified as one of services), Dutch law would largely apply, except for a limited number of provisions of English law by way of mandatory rules. (Reference to Article 21’s ordre public is justifiably rejected).

I am assuming Uber are appealing. Expect the conflicts analysis to return.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

 

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Meroni: Mareva orders are compatible with EU law (ordre public).

For the facts of the case, and the reasoning of the AG in C-559/14 Meroni, I refer to my earlier posting. At the end of May (I am indeed still hoovering up the queue) the Court held very much alongside Kokott AG’s Opinion, I shall therefore not repeat its reasoning here. The CJEU does insist that if third parties rights are directly affected with the intensity as in the case at issue, that third person must be entitled to assert his rights before the court of origin (which English courts provide for), lest one runs the risk of the injunction being refused recognition under ordre public. As I had feared, the Court does not address the AG’s concern whether Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation.

Post Brexit, this considerable attraction of English courts in interlocutory proceedings might become a lot less real. (Like many of us, I am working on a short review of Brexit consequences for European private international law).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 2.2.16.1.1, 2.2.16.1.4

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My translation into English of the Belgian vulture fund Act.

I have reported earlier on the 2015 Belgian Act tackling the enforcement of vulture fund litigation. In preparation of a paper on the topic, I have had to translate the (relevant parts of: I have omitted intro- and extroductory parts) the Act. I thought I might as well share. Source reference would be much appreciated if you do employ the translation below.

Geert.

Article 2

When a creditor pursues an unfair benefit by purchasing Government bonds or receivables, his rights vis-à-vis the debtor State are limited to the price paid for the bonds or receivables.

Regardless of the law governing the legal relationship between the creditor and the debtor State, no enforcement title can be obtained in Belgium and no protective or enforcement measure can be taken in Belgium at the request of such creditor in connection with a payment to be received in Belgium if such payment procures an unfair benefit vis-à-vis the creditor.

Pursuing an unfair benefit exists where there is clear disproportion between the purchase price and the bonds or securities’ face value, or between the purchase price of the bonds and the sums actually claimed by the creditor.

Such clear disproportion  must be supplemented by at least one of the following criteria for it to qualify as an unfair benefit:

–         Bankruptcy or suspension of payments of /by the debtor State was established, or imminent, when the bonds or receivables were purchased;

–         The creditor has its seat in a State or territory which

a)       Either is included in the list of uncooperative States and territories as established by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); or

b)       Meets with the definition of tax haven established per Article 307, para 1, fifth indent of the Income Tax Act 1992; or

c)       Is included in a Government list of States unwilling to negotiate an agreement which in accordance with relevant OECD standards, provides as of 2015 for the automatic exchange of data with Belgium on fiscal and banking matters;

–         The creditor systematically employs litigation to obtain reimbursement of the bonds previously purchased;

–         The creditor has refused to co-operate with the establishment restructuring measures for the debtor State;

–         The creditor has abused the debtor State’s weakened position so to negotiate a clearly imbalanced repayment agreement; or

–         Repayment in full of the sums claimed by the creditor would have a clearly establishable negative impact on the public finances of the debtor State and could endanger the socioeconomic development of its population.

Art.3

This Act does not affect the application of international Treaties, the law of the European Union, or bilateral Treaties.

 

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Kokott AG on the notion of ‘judgment’ and the compatibility of Mareva orders with EU law (ordre public).

In Kokott AG’s words, ‘following the West Tankers case…in the present case the Court is once again confronted with a specific procedural feature of the Anglo-American legal system.’

Article 34 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 35 in the recast) enables a court, by way of derogation from the principles and objectives of the Regulation, to refuse to recognize a judgment given by a court of another Member State. The whole starting point of the Regulation and its antecedents was to avoid much recourse to refusal of recognition. Free movement of judgments lies at the very core of the foundations of European private international law.

Little wonder then that the Regulation leaves limited freedom for Member States authorities (including courts) who are asked to recognise and enforce another State’s judgment. As I noted at the time, in Trade Agency the CJEU insisted that refusal of recognition on the basis of ordre public is only possible after review of the individual merits of the case. Courts in other EU Member States may not decide that the English system as such as contrary to public policy in the state of enforcement. Relevant case-law was most recently summarised by (the same) Kokott AG in fly LAL and also in Diageo.

The exequatur procedure of the Brussels I Regulation has been amended in the Brussels I Recast. However it is exactly on issues of the rights of the defence that exequatur can never be entirely automatic, even among EU Member States.

In Case C-559/14 Meroni, at issue are Mareva injunctions: (sometimes) worldwide freezing orders issued by English courts (among others), designed to prevent a creditor being deprived of access to the debtor’s assets as a result of a prior disposal of those assets. However, as is often the case, the reputation of Mareva injunctions far exceeds their actual bite. There is no one size fits all such injunction and a number of tools are at the disposal of both the debtor affected, and third parties, to have the order varied or indeed lifted. The rights of third parties in particular are quite relevant in the current review with the CJEU. Part of the injunction are often the debtor’s participations in companies: for the recalcitrant debtor may find all sorts of useful ways to spirit value away from his companies and into vaults safe from prying English or European eyes – especially if the debtor is sole or majority shareholder.

In the case at issue, Mr A.L. is prohibited, inter alia, from disposing of assets which can be attributed directly or indirectly to his property. The injunction extends to  interests in the Latvian company VB. Mr A.L. has a direct interest in that company with only one share. According to the referring court, however, he is also the ‘beneficial owner’ of shares in at least one other company (‘Y’), which itself has substantial interests in VB. Mr Meroni is part of the management of Y. Following a seizure ordered by the relevant Latvian office, he also acts as the bailee for the interests in Y. for which Mr A.L. is the beneficial owner. Mr Meroni claims that the freezing injunction prevents the shareholder Y. from exercising its voting rights in respect of VB. This affects constitutionally protected property rights, especially since the company was not heard in the English proceedings. This, it is argued, is contrary to the principle of the right to a fair trial.

The AG Opined differently. At 44, she argues that it is not clear to what extent that injunction might be contrary to basic principles of Latvian substantive law or procedural law, especially since, as the referring court acknowledges, the Latvian legal order does permit judgments as provisional measures without a prior hearing of the party against whom enforcement is sought. Consequently measures such as Mareva orders cannot be said to be fundamentally against the Latvian ordre public. At 45: ‘ Aside from this, the English freezing injunction at issue does not provide for any irreversibly drastic measures for its enforcement overseas, in particular in so far as third persons who were not parties to the proceedings in England are concerned. Rather, the freezing injunction claims legal effects on third persons resident in other countries — and thus the companies controlled by Mr A.L. — only subject to strict requirements: first, it is to have legal effects on a without notice basis only where this is permitted by the foreign law; second, anyone served with the freezing injunction may apply to the court to vary or discharge it; and, third, compliance with contractual obligations in other countries is still to be possible notwithstanding the freezing injunction.‘ (footnotes omitted)

There is no evident breach of basic principles of the legal order of the State in which enforcement is sought – breach of ordre public must therefore be rejected.

Now, earlier in the judgment, the AG also considers albeit more or less obiter (the CJEU is certain not to entertain it) what may in fact be the more important (for it tends to be less sub judice at the CJEU) part of her Opinion: whether the Mareva orders actually constitute a ‘judgment’ for the purposes of the Regulation. Ms Kokott suggests that the Denilauler criteria (easily fulfilled in the case at issue: see para 31) ought to be relaxed under the Regulation, as opposed to the stricter approach under the 1968 Convention. That is because following judgment in ASML, notwithstanding defects in service, if the person concerned fails to commence proceedings in the State of origin of the judgment to challenge the judgment issued upon default, when it was possible for him to do so, recognition may not be refused. The AG suggests to extend the ASML rule to provisional measures.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, 2.2.16.1.1, 2.2.16.1.4

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