Posts Tagged Recognition and enforcement

Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the Belgian Vulture Fund Act of 12 July 2015 (Offical Gazette here, my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here.

Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).

As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.

The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.

Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).

The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.

Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

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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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The High Court in Midtown. This is what recognition and enforcement looks like ex-EU.

Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Recognition and enforcement intra-EU goes smoothly in civil and commercial matters. So smoothly in fact, the European Commission wanted to abolish the potential for refusal altogether in the Brussels I Recast (regular readers are aware I reported on it at the time of negotiation).

Thank you Clyde & Co for alerting me to a case which highlights how complicated things can get outside of the EU context. In [2017] EWHC 519 (Comm) Midtown Acquisitions v Essar Global parties settled their dispute in an agreement, under which the defendant accepted liability and “confessed to judgment”. The New York courts then entered a Judgment by Confession (similar to an English consent judgment). Recognition and enforcement was sought in England.

In the Brussels system, discussion is still possible on the very notion of ‘judgment’ as I have recently reported (see my postings on Pula Parking and Zulfikarpašić). Refusal of recognition is possible on very narrow grounds. Famously, under the Brussels regime, recognition does not require res judicata of the foreign (intra-EU) judgment. (A misleadingly simple statement made in all Reports. But I’ll leave the detail for another time (see eg Gothaer for earlier analysis).

Outside the Brussels regime however (lest the Brexit negotiations yield a continuing bridge between civil procedure in the UK and EU this will also apply to judgment issued by UK courts), discussion on these two points re-emerges: when can a ruling be considered a ‘judgment’, and does it have res judicata? Defendant in Midtown argues that the New York judgment was not a “judgment” as that expression is used in English law because (i) there was no lis between the parties in New York, (ii) the New York judgment was not final and conclusive and (iii) the New York judgment was not on the merits.

Teare J rejected all three arguments on the basis of relevant precedent. The judgment merits reading for it is a good reminder of the extent of argument ensuing when one is not covered by the umbrella of EU or international harmonisation of recognition and enforcement.  Complications which are not likely to assist the London legal market in maintaining its attraction post Brexit.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.

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Conflict of laws post Brexit. The Commons’ report. And the likely deaf ears.

Update 21 April 2017 many thanks to Gordon Nardell QC for alerting me to the Bar Council’s Brexit papers which includes one on jurisdiction and enforcement.

The House of Commons’ report on ‘negotiating priorities for the justice system’ reviews more than conflict of laws, indeed it is a tour d’horizon of most (if not all) issues relevant to Justice and Home Affairs in the EU. Martha Requejo makes a number of valid points on the report and indeed plenty of these, and others, have been made by a number of conflicts commentators: I will not review all here. There is a scholarly cottage industry on post-Brexit issues and the area of private international law is no exception.

The report mentions among others that a role for the CJEU in respect of essentially procedural legislation concerning jurisdiction, applicable law, and the recognition and enforcement of judgments, is a price worth paying to maintain the effective cross-border tools of justice discussed throughout our earlier recommendations. That is a very sensible approach, not just within the overall context of UK /continent judicial co-operation: it is also an obvious lifeline for London’s legal services market. Without proper integration into the EU’s civil procedure corpus, judgments from UK courts will immediately lose a lot of their appeal. The Government however have manoeuvred itself into a cul-de-sac by rejecting a role for the European Court of Justice post Brexit. The report’s call, and many with it, therefore is likely to fall upon deaf ears. Both for the UK and for EU conflicts rules, this will be a great loss. Few continental courts live up to the same standards as their UK counterparts when it comes to applying the intricate detail of conflict of laws, whether EU based or not.

Geert.

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A new draft Hague ‘Judgments’ project. Where’s Wally?

I reported earlier on the November 2015 draft ‘Judgments project’ of the Hague Conference on private international law, otherwise known as the draft convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments relating to civil and commercial matters. The working group now has a February 2017 draft out. (The project nota bene has even increased in relevance given Brexit).

I could have titled this post ‘spot the differences’ for of course there are changes in formulation between current and previous version. However my main point of concern remains: the absence of Wally: some type of institutional redress which will assist courts in the interpretation of the Convention. Article 23 now calls for uniform interpretation, and there will, one assumes, be a report accompanying its adoption. (Judging by the size of commentaries on the EU mirror, Brussels I Recast, this could turn out to be a very sizeable report indeed). However without a court system ensuring uniformity of application, the Convention in my view will risk being a dead duck in the water.

Geert. (Not by nature pessimistic. But probably realistic).

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2.

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CJEU in Zulfikarpašić: Suggest generic criteria for ‘courts’; completes the analysis for the notarial question at issue.

The Court held  yesterday in Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15. I review Bot AG ‘s Opinion here.  At issue is the interpretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined. The CJEU in fact refers to considerations under the Brussels I Recast in its judgment yesterday. And indeed its approach in Zulfikarpašić was confirmed on the same day for the Brussels I Recast, in Pula Parking.

For the determination of a ‘court’ the AG had emphasised guarantees as to independence and impartiality; the power to decide on one’s own authority; leading to a finding which was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments and may be challenged before a judicial authority. The AG had suggested that whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

The Court itself referred to a number of classic principles for the interpretation of EU private international law: autonomous interpretation; mutual trust; legitimate expectations. It then reformulated but essentially suggests similar criteria as its AG: for a finding to be qualified as a judgment, it must have been delivered in court proceedings offering guarantees of independence and impartiality and of compliance with the principle of audi alteram partem (at 43).In the Croatian procedure at issue, the notary issues an authentic instrument which, if it is challenged as to its content, is moved up the pecking order to court proceedings. The proceedings before the notary not meeting with the Court’s generic criteria, in contrast with the AG the Court itself already holds that the notaries at issue do not act as courts and their decisions are not ‘judgments’.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Bot AG in Zulfikarpašić: Are notaries ‘courts’ and do they issue ‘judgments’?

Postscript 9 March 2017. The Court held today. Post coming up.

In Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15, Bot AG opined on 8 September. At issue is the intepretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined.

The question was submitted in the context of a dispute between Ibrica Zulfikarpašić, a lawyer established in Croatia, and Slaven Gajer, who is also domiciled in Croatia, regarding the certification as a European Enforcement Order, of a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document.  The referring court essentially inquires whether a notary who, in accordance with Croatian law, has issued a definitive and enforceable writ of execution based on an authentic document has the power to certify it as a European Enforcement Order where it has not been opposed. If the answer is no, the referring court asks whether a national court can carry out that certification where the writ of execution concerns an uncontested claim.

Article 4(1) of Regulation 805/2004 defines ‘judgment’ as ‘any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, including a decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court’. Article 2(a) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation now includes exactly the same definition. Yves Bot himself summarised the CJEU’s case-law on the notion of ‘judgment’ in the Brussels I Regulation in Gothaer. He reiterates that Opinion here and I should like to refer readers to my earlier summary of the Opinion in Gothaer.

After a tour de table of the various opinions expressed ia by the EC and by a number of Member States, the Advocate General submits that the concept of ‘court’ should be interpreted, for the purposes of Regulation No 805/2004, as covering all bodies offering guarantees of independence and impartiality, deciding on their own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority (at 108). A functional approach, therefore (at 109).

Advocate General Bot submits therefore that an enforcement title such as a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document constitutes a judgment within the meaning of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 805/2004, provided that the notary with power to issue that writ adjudicates, in the exercise of that specific function, as a court, which requires him to offer guarantees as to his independence and impartiality and to decide on his own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority. 

Whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

This Opinion and the eventual judgment by the Court will also be relevant for the application of the Succession Regulation, 650/2012. In matters covered by that Regulation, notaries throughout the EU have an important say and may quite easily qualifies as a ‘court’. Bot AG refers to the Regulation’s definition of ‘court’ at 71 ff of his current Opinion.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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