Banca Intesa v Venezia: An excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation. (And of the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, with a pudding of the ‘consideration’ theory as lois de police)).

Banca Intesa Sanpaolo SPA & Anor v Comune Di Venezia [2022] EWHC 2586 (Comm) is an excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation and of the international harmonisation of same. It also discusses the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule of Article 3(3) Rome Convention, carried over into the Rome Regulation.

Background is long-running litigation involving derivative transactions used by Italian municipalities to hedge their interest rate risk, as Sarah Ott summarises the context here (she discusses Dexia Crediop SpA v Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino [2022] EWHC 2410 (Comm), a case with many similar issues).

Venice contends that, for various reasons, it lacked the substantive power to enter into the Transactions as a matter of Italian law, and that, applying English conflict of law principles, that means that it did not have capacity to enter into the Transactions and that they are not valid. It also contends that the Transactions breached various rules of Italian law which have the status of “mandatory rules of law” for the purposes of A3(3) Rome Convention 1980 (which is applicable and not the Rome I Regulation) and that as a result the Transactions are void and/or unenforceable.

The Banks deny that the entry into the Transactions contravened any provisions of Italian law, on the basis of arguments as to the effect of Italian law and its application to the facts of this case, and further deny that any such contravention would deprive Venice of capacity to contract as a matter of English conflict of laws principles in any event.

Capacity to enter into contractual relationship itself is not caught by the Rome Convention as a result of the Convention’s carve-out of Article 1(2) c (most legal systems make such capacity subject to the lex incorporationis, and [115] is determined by reference to the law in force when the Transactions were entered into). Foxton J refers as authority to Credit Suisse International v Stichting Vestia Groep [2014] EWHC 3103 (Comm) [185].

Who then is to decide whether a particular issue of Italian law raises a question of capacity, or authority, or some other kind of legal challenge to the validity and efficacy of the Transactions? Here Foxton J wrongly in my view simply refers to lex fori, English law. In reality of course it is the Rome Convention that does so, although as I have pointed out before, neither the Rome Convention nor Rome I excels at clarifying.

[129] ff then follows lengthy analysis of the issues of capacity under Italian law as the lex causae, with the conclusion being that Venice did indeed so lack capacity under Italian law.

The issue of mandatory Italian law replacing the English lex contractus as a result of Article 3(3) Rome Convention’s ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, is dealt with obiter. It fails at the first hurdle with Foxton J holding [341] that the scenario is not purely domestic. He does not much entertain the issue of whether under Italian law (lack of) a theory of contractual consideration might be of mandatory nature, referring [356] to the similar issues of consideration and privity of contracts under English law (which in effect might subsequently become relevant under the overriding mandatory rules of the forum).

An interesting judgment.

Geert.

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

Update 28 December 2018 the Court of Appeal in [2018] EWCA Civ 2748 has confirmed. Rome I issues no longer featured in the analysis.

Update 10 November 2017: [2017] UKEAT 0056_17_1011: The Appeals Tribunal has confirmed.

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.

 

Banco Santander Totta: the High Court upholds snowball interest rate swaps under English law. The ‘purely domestic contracts’ provision of Article 3(3) Rome I is not engaged.

Update December 2016 the Court of Appeal has confirmed in [2016] EWCA Civ 1267.

A longer title than readers are used to from this blog. However judgment itself is also an unusually long 163 pages. In [2016] EWHC 465 Banco Santander Totta, the High Court was asked whether snowball interest rates swaps in loan agreements between a Portuguese Bank and four Portuguese public transport companies, should be declared invalid under Portuguese ‘mandatory’ law, applicable by use of the corrective mechanism of Article 3(3) Rome I.

The Transport Companies do not assert that BST wrongly advised them to enter into the swaps, or misrepresented the swaps to them. Rather,  defences raised by the Transport Companies are that:

(1) under Portuguese law, each company lacked capacity to enter the swaps which are therefore void; this is on the basis (among other reasons) of an assertion that the swaps were speculative transactions; this defence applies regardless of the law applicable to the swaps; it is common ground that, if correct, it is a complete answer to the claim;

(2) although English law governs the Master Agreements, this is subject to Art. 3(3) of the Rome Convention; this provides that where all the elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice of law are connected with one country only, the choice does not prejudice the application of rules of the law of that country which cannot be derogated from by contract (“mandatory rules”). Portuguese mandatory rules apply to the swaps, giving rise to two defences: a) under rules dealing with gaming and betting and ordre public, the swaps are void for being unlawful “games of chance”, alternatively speculations; b) seven of the nine swaps are liable to be terminated under rules dealing with an “abnormal change of circumstances” (which termination takes effect as though the swaps were void); this is on the basis that since 2009 (following the financial crisis), the reference interest rates relating to the swaps (EURIBOR and LIBOR) have been close to zero (and remain so at the time of this judgment);

(3) in presenting the swaps to the Transport Companies, the bank acted in breach of its duties under provisions of the Portuguese Securities Code which implement relevant European Union legislation; these apply to the bank as a financial intermediary and relate to the protection of the legitimate interests of the Transport Companies as clients, and to conflicts of interest; the breach is said to entitle the Transport Companies to damages thereby extinguishing their liabilities under the swaps.

Blair J reviews precedent (European (limited, mostly related to the preparatory works), English and Portuguese (likewise limited) and decides against the engagement of Article 3(3). I will not regurgitate all of the analysis: readers are best referred to the judgment, in particular p.65 onwards, and the decision at 411, where Blair J concludes

because of the right to assign to a bank outside Portugal, the use of standard international documentation, the practical necessity for the relationship with a bank outside Portugal, the international nature of the swaps market in which the contracts were concluded, and the fact that back-toback (sic) contracts were concluded with a bank outside Portugal in circumstances in which such hedging arrangements are routine, the court’s conclusion is that Art. 3(3) of the Rome Convention is not engaged because all the elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice were not connected with Portugal only. In short, these were not purely domestic contracts. Any other conclusion, the court believes, would undermine legal certainty.  

The latter element is quite important. Referring in particular to Briggs (at 374), the Court holds that the uncertainty of the rule of Article 3(3) should lead to its narrow interpretation. I agree. With party autonomy the core consideration of the Regulation, standard recourse to Article 3(3) [or 3(4) for that matter) under the pretext for instance of a general campaign against fraus legis is most definitely not warranted.

Permission was granted to appeal the issues on the Rome Convention (thank you to Ali Malek QC for pointing that out).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.1

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