Yet more on The Prestige recognition tussle. On service, state immunity and the insurance title of Brussels Ia.

I have twice already reported on The Prestige recognition issue: see here and here. In a further judgment at the end of July, [2020] EWHC 1920 (Comm), Butcher J after helpfully summarising the various claims, considered

  • whether a Member State may be served under the EU Service Regulation 1393/2007, or whether residual PIL (here: the UK State immunity Act) may insist on an alternative. This did not so much engage the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ (CJEU Fahnenbrock being cited) on which both parties agreed. Rather on the exhaustive effect or not of the Service Regulation, in particular, whether Member States may insist on service upon authorities of other Member States via diplomatic means only. Butcher J holding correctly in my view at 45, that service via the means provided for in the Regulation, suffices.
  • next, whether the case engages sovereign immunity of Spain and France which Butcher J held that they do not for the most part. He mostly cites the States’ submission to arbitration in this respect.
  • further, whether the English courts have jurisdiction or whether that is ruled out by virtue of the arbitration exception or the insurance title of the Regulation (at 93 ff; the preceding paras concern claims which fall outside BIA and are to be judged under common law). At 107 Butcher J holds that the arbitration exclusion is not engaged, citing national and CJEU authority as well as recital 12 BIa, and holding at 108 that ‘(t)he present Judgment Claims are a further step beyond what is contemplated by an ‘action or judgment concerning … the enforcement of an arbitral award’ in recital (12).’ As for the insurance heading, with reference to Aspen Underwriting, he holds that the insurance title is engaged, and (at 132) that the States they are entitled to the jurisdictional protections of Section 3, without it having to be shown that they are in fact economically weaker parties. (There is a lingering doubt over one of the claims subrogated to Spain). The insurance title being engaged, this mains that the parties protected by it may only be sued in their jurisdiction (Article 14(2)’s exception to that was held not to be applicable), hence the English Courts for those claims do not have jurisdiction.

The result is a partial jurisdiction in England only – and permission to appeal, I imagine.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

The Prestige recognition tussle – ctd. On arbitration and state immunity.

A short update on the Prestige litigation. I reported earlier on the disclosure order in the recognition leg of the case. In that review I also listed the issues to be decided and the preliminary assessment under Title III Brussels Ia. That appeal is to be heard in December 2020 (see also 21 ff of current judgment). In The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v Spain (M/T “PRESTIGE”) [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) Henshaw J on 18 June held on yet another set of issues, related to arbitration and State Immunity.

He concluded after lengthy analysis to which it is best to refer in full, that Spain does not have immunity in respect of these proceedings; that the permission to serve the arbitration obligation our of jurisdiction, granted earlier to the Club should stand; and that the court should appoint an arbitrator.

I am pondering whether to add a State immunity chapter to the 3rd ed. of the Handbook – if I do, this case will certainly feature.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.

The Prestige recognition tussle puts the spotlights on (now) Article 45 Brussels Ia, and on the relation between competing arbitral awards and judgments in ordinary.

Spain v The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd [2020] EWHC 142 (Comm) reports on the CMR (case management conference) re what promises to be interesting litigation. A Spanish judgment concerning liability for the pollution damage caused when the vessel PRESTIGE broke in two off the coast of Spain in 2002, needs to be enforced in the UK. Brussels Ia’s contestation of recognition is involved: particularly Articles 34(1) and (3).

At 2 Teare J summarises the story so far:

The parties have been in dispute about liability for many years. Criminal proceedings were brought against the master of PRESTIGE in Spain in 2002 and, after the conclusion of the investigative stage of the proceedings, civil proceedings were brought against the master, the Owners of PRESTIGE and the Club, as liability insurer of the Owners, in 2010. (I am told that in addition to Spain there are some 264 other claimants.) In 2012 the Club commenced arbitration proceedings in London against Spain and in February 2013 obtained an award from the sole arbitrator Mr. Alistair Schaff QC which declared that, as a result of the “pay to be paid” clause in the policy the Club had no liability to Spain. In this court Spain challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitrator but the court (Hamblen J. as he then was) held in 2013 that the arbitrator had jurisdiction. Later that year the court in La Coruna dismissed the civil claim against the master, Owners and Club but convicted the master of the crime of disobeying orders by the Spanish authorities to accept a tow of the vessel. In 2015 the English Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Hamblen J. In 2016 the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court in La Coruna and held that the master had been seriously negligent and that the Owners and Club were liable for the damage caused. In execution proceedings in Spain, the court in La Coruna declared the Spanish State entitled to enforce a claim up to approximately €2.355 billion against the defendants in the Spanish proceedings and declared the master, Owners and the Club liable in respect of the claims, although subject (in the case of the Club) to a global limit of liability in the sum of approximately €855 million.’

Thus the Club has an arbitration award in its favour but Spain has a judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court in its favour. Spain obtained an order from Master Cook pursuant to which the Spanish judgment was registered so that it could be enforced here against the Club. The Club seeks to appeal from that order. One of the grounds on which it seeks to appeal is that the Spanish judgment is irreconcilable with the judgment of Hamblen J. and the Court of Appeal (A34(3) BIa). Another ground is that recognition of England is contrary to the public policy of England (A34(1)).

This particular CMS concenrs disclosure requirements: the Club’s seeking of disclosure from Spain is resisted by the latter on grounds that is clashes with BIa’s intention of swift recognition.

One of the issues on which disclosure is sought, is Spain’s position under the insurance title of BIa: “Are the English Judgments not qualifying judgments within article 34(3) because the English Judgments conflict with Section 3 of Chapter II of the Brussels 1 Regulation ? In particular …(b) Is the respondent [Spain] entitled to rely on the exclusive rules for jurisdiction in Section 3 of Chapter II. In particular: (i) Is the respondent [Spain] a qualifying party that is entitled to the protective rules in Section 3 ?” Reference is made to Aspen Underwiting: the Club states that it is necessary for Spain to show that it is a member of the class protected by Section 3, which (per Aspen Underwriting, GAVC] excludes “professionals in the insurance sector or entities regularly involved in the commercial or otherwise professional settlement of insurance related claims who voluntarily assumed the realisation of the claim as part of its commercial or otherwise professional activity”. Aspen Underwriting in the meantime (Teare J’s judgment was issued in January; it has been in the blog queue) has been varied by the Supreme Court.

It will therefore be necessary, submitted counsel for the Club, for Spain to disclose documents which show “the class of business” conducted by it. If it is a member of the relevant class it can rely on section 3. If it is not, it cannot.

The second class of document of which disclosure is sought is very different and relates to the public policy defence. Did the Spanish Courts refuse to allow the master to participate in an underwater investigation of the strength of the vessel’s hull and refuse to disclose the results of the investigation (so that there was a breach of the master’s right to equality of arms and to be able to prepare a defence) or were the results disclosed to the master in sufficient time to allow him to prepare his defence. The Club therefore seeks disclosure of the documents relating to that question held by Spain. Here Teare J at 21 assumes that Spain’s evidence can be expected to support its case and to rely upon the documents which show when the results were disclosed to the master and in what terms. If the evidence does not deal with this issue then Spain will be unable to advance its factual case. ‘I therefore consider it very likely that no disclosure under this head will be required. In the unlikely event that it is required a focused application can be made after Spain has provided its evidence.’

The Order eventually imposes a timetable for exchange of evidence (including expert reports) and later settlement of disclosure issues should they arise. Hearing in principle in December 2020.

This could turn out to be a most relevant case.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.16.