WWWRT v Tyshchenko. Interesting if contestable engagement with Brussels IA’s Article 34’s forum non-light regime.

In WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko & Anor [2021] EWHC 939 (Ch) and following an earlier Worldwide Freezing Order, Bacon J engages with Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens ‘light’ regime.

The proceedings are brought by WWRT ltd against Mr Serhiy Tyshchenko and his ex-wife, Mrs Olena Tyshchenko. The claim is founded on an allegation that the Defendants carried out an extensive fraud on the Ukrainian bank, JSC Fortuna Bank during which time the bank was (it is claimed) ultimately owned by Mr Tyshchenko. The bank was subsequently declared insolvent and was liquidated, in the course of which a package of its assets, including the disputed loans, was sold to Ukrainian company Star Investment One LLC.  Star in turn sold those rights and assets to WWRT in March 2020. WWRT’s case is that following those two assignments it has now acquired the rights to bring the claim relied upon in the present proceedings, which is one in tort under Article 1166 of the Ukrainian Civil Code.

In current proceedings, defendants contest jurisdiction, on the basis of 3 alternative grounds:

Firstly, the principle of ‘modified universalism’ (which I have discussed ia here) which should ground a stay under common law so as to prevent WWRT from bypassing the Ukrainian insolvency proceedings. The suggestion is that CJEU Owusu did not deal with a potential stay to allow the judge in one EU Member State to stay proceedings so as to support insolvency proceedings in another Member State. Bacon J held [57], in my view justifiably, that even if indeed the CJEU in Owusu did not specifically deal with this issue, its reasoning (particularly the insistence on predictability and legal certainty) extends to the current scenario. Insolvency proceedings may well (and indeed clearly) fall outside BIa’s scope, however the claim at issue is one in tort, which falls squarely within it. At 62 ff he discusses obiter that even if such stay would have been theoretically possible, he would not have exercised his discretion to grant it.

Secondly, at 89 ff, a stay by analogy with A34 BIa. It is seemingly common ground between the parties and the judge that the bankruptcy exclusion in A1 BIa precludes the express application of A34 if the pending action in the third State is in the nature of bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Support is found in Baker J’s views in BB Energy. This is not a settled issue. Neither is much discussion, pro or contra, of the in my view unjustifiable finding of reflexive application of A28 Lugano in JSC Commercial Bank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1708. The more sound rejection of an A34 stay in the case at issue  in my view lies in the judge’s obiter finding at 95 that the proceedings in E&W are not ‘related’ to those in the Ukraine.

Thirdly, a more straightforward argument of lack of domicile of one of the defendants in the UK, hence room for a forum non conveniens stay. This argument was in fact dealt with first, at 38 ff, with Bacon J  holding on the basis of a pattern of settled residence that domicile was in fact established. At 98 ff he holds obiter that even if A4 hence BIa had not been engaged, he would not have allowed a stay on forum non grounds.

In conclusion, the freezing orders were continued.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 2.539 ff

Ness Global Services: A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens-light applied to the Scarlet Pimpernel of BIa: non-exclusive choice of court.

Ness Global Services Ltd v Perform Content Services Ltd [2020] EWHC 3394 (Comm)  engages Articles 33-34 of the Brussels Ia Regulation, its so-called forum non conveniens light regime. I reported on it before of course, most recently re Municipio de Mariana in which the judge arguably failed to engage with BIa properly (making A33-34 a carbon copy of abuse and /or forum non arguments in my view is noli sequi).

Perform and Ness are UK-registered companies with offices in London.  Perform are defendants in the UK action. Ness Global Services and its parent Ness Technologies Inc are defendants in parallel proceedings in New Jersey. Both sets of proceedings are based on the same facts and matters. These are said to constitute the basis for termination by both sides of a written agreement.

Ness argue application of A33-34 must be dismissed for there is non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England which, it argues, makes the A33-34 threshold very high. (The clause reads ‘”Governing Law and Jurisdiction. The Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and the parties hereby irrevocably submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of England and Wales as regards any claim, dispute or matter arising under or in connection with this Agreement.”)

Houseman J introduces BIa’s scheme clearly and concisely, using the excellent Adrian Briggs’ suggestion of there being a hidden hierarchy in the Regulation – which in my Handbook I have also adopted (clearly with reference to prof Briggs) as the ‘jurisdictional matrix’. Houseman J at 39 notes that non-exclusive jurisdiction is hardly discussed in the Regulation. and concludes on that issue ‘If the internal hierarchy is “hidden” then is fair to say that the concept of non-exclusive prorogated jurisdiction is enigmatic and elusive. It is The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Regulation.’ Later non-EJA is used as shorthand for non-exclusive jurisdiction agreement.

At 62 after consideration of the reflexive application of exclusive jurisdictional rules, including choice of court, the text of A33-34, and recital 24, the judge considers that the recital

focusses upon connections with the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, rather than the ‘second seised’ Member State which is applying Article 33 or Article 34. This is conspicuous notwithstanding the fact that the jurisdictional gateway language presupposes some connection between either the defendant (domicile) or the circumstances of the case (special jurisdiction) and the ‘second seised’ forum. Further, there is no obvious room in this wording for accommodating or giving effect to a Non-EJA in favour of the courts of the latter forum, and no warrant for affording it the significance that it would receive under English private international law principles, as noted below. In contrast, the second paragraph of the recital appears to contemplate the conferral of exclusive prorogated jurisdiction (albeit reflexively) in favour of the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, as noted above.

At 80, Houseman J emphasises that in his view the internal hierarchy of the Regulation (the matrix) has no direct role to play in interpreting or applying the gateway language in A33-34. Those articles are themselves part of such hierarchy and are themselves a derogation from the basic rule of domiciliary jurisdiction. He then refers in some support to UCP v Nectrus (reference could also have been made to Citicorp) to hold at 95 that

where Article 25 operates to confer prorogated jurisdiction upon the courts of the ‘second seised’ Member State, whether exclusive or non-exclusive, Articles 33 and 34 are not applicable. In such a case it cannot be said that the court’s jurisdiction is “based upon” Article 4.

A suggestion at 96 that in such case A33-34 can apply reflexively is justifiably rejected.

At 109 application of A33-34 had they been engaged is declined obiter as being not in the interest of proper administration of justice. At 107 mere reference, neither approving nor disapproving was made ia to Municipio de Mariana which effectively places the Articles on a forum non footing.  At 112 it is held obiter

Without engaging in a full granular balancing exercise, given that this is a hypothetical inquiry in the present case, I am not persuaded that it is or would have been necessary for the proper administration of justice to stay these proceedings in favour of the NJ Proceedings. The parties bargained for or at any rate accepted the risk of jurisdictional fragmentation and multiplicity of proceedings by agreeing clause 20(f). That risk has manifested, largely through the tactical choice made by Perform to commence proceedings pre-emptively in New Jersey. The continuation of these proceedings, notwithstanding the existence of the NJ Proceedings, is a foreseeable consequence of the parties’ free bargain and a risk that Perform courted by suing first elsewhere.

An interesting addition to the scant A33-34 case-law, in an area this time of purely commercial litigation.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

Central Santa Lucia L.C. v. Meliá Hotels International S.A.: Spanish court obiter applying Article 24 Brussels Ia reflexively ex-EU (Cuba).

Thank you Antonio Pastor for signalling Central Santa Lucia L.C. v. Meliá Hotels International S.A., litigation on which also more background here. The Spanish courts at MAllorca (appeal expected)  have declined jurisdiction concerning confiscated property in Cuba after the end of suspension of Title III of the Libertad Act (the “Helms-Burton Act”, well known to trade and international lawyers alike) on the basis of sovereign immunity, as Antonio explains.

However as I understand Antonio’s summary (I fear I do not have Spanish to consult the judgment myself), the Court obiter also applied Article 24(1) Brussels Ia reflexively: if Brussels Ia grants exclusive jurisdiction to the courts of the Member State in which the property is situated in proceedings which have as their object rights in rem in immovable property or tenancies of immovable property, then EU Courts should decline jurisdiction if that real estate happens to be located ex-EU. Readers will remember the discussions on this issue in one or two earlier postings on this blog.

Interesting, to say the least.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.

 

Sabbagh v Khoury. The jurisdictional gift that keeps on giving. In today’s instalment: the possibility for qualified acknowledgment of service (prorogation) following claimant’s alleged concessions, and amended claim.

Sabbagh v Khoury [2019] EWHC 3004 (Comm) evidently builds upon the High Court and Court of Appeal previous judgments. Pro memoria: claimant established jurisdiction against all the defendants she wished to sue in relation to each element of her claim. Following judgment by the Court of Appeal and the refusal of permission to appeal further by the Supreme Court, the defendants had to decide whether to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts or to refuse to acknowledge service.

That jurisdiction should be debated at all was the result of claimant wanting to amend her claim, and having earlier been partially granted such permission. At 13: each defendant decided to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts but in each case they purported to qualify the terms on which they acknowledged service, hinging particularly on CPR Part 14: Admissions, and suggesting that a “concession” made on claimant’s behalf that certain Share Sale Agreements relied on by the defendants were “existent, valid and effective“, should have an impact on jurisdiction.

It is interesting to see the qualifications verbatim: at 13: ‘Thus in its letter of 26 March 2018, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP on behalf of the Sabbagh defendants qualified their Acknowledgement of Service as being “… confined to the existing claims set out in the Claim Form, to the limited extent that the Court of Appeal accepted the English court’s jurisdiction over such claims, but subject to the numerous concessions your client has made including but not limited to her explicit abandonment of any claim to be presently entitled to or for delivery up of shares …”. Jones Day, the solicitors then acting for the first defendant similarly qualified his Acknowledgement of Service – see their letter of 26 March 2018. Baker McKenzie qualified the other Khoury defendants’ Acknowledgement of Service as being “… only in respect of the two claims as set out in the Claimant’s Claim Form … and is subject to the numerous concessions the Claimant has made to date …” and added that: “We understand that the Claimant intends to seek to amend her Particulars of Claim and our clients’ position as to whether any such amendment(s), if allowed, impact on the jurisdiction of the court over our clients as regards any claims other than those to which this Acknowledgement of Service is filed is fully reserved, including as to jurisdiction and/or the arbitrability of any such amended claims”. In the circumstances, it is probable that the amendment Baker McKenzie had in mind was one substantially in terms of the draft re-amended Particulars of Claim that had been placed before the Court of Appeal.’

At 21 ff Pelling J discusses the relationship between the amended claim, the earlier findings on jurisdiction, and the ‘concession’, leading at length eventually to hold that there was no impact of the concession on the extent of jurisdiction,

As Pelling J notes at 1 in fine: ‘Even allowing for the value at risk in this litigation all this is obviously disproportionate.’ One assumes the role of various counsel in the alleged concessions made earlier, must have had an impact on the energy with which the issue was advocated.

The case will now proceed to trial, lest there be any other jurisdictional challenges.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

Dutch Supreme Court advisors suggest Court of Appeal judgment upholding State duty of care in Urgenda climate litigation should stand.

The Dutch Court of Appeal‘s confirmation of the Court of First Instance at The Hague judgment in the climate litigation case, should stand. So advised two senior court advisors to the Supreme Court last week (they also announced a full English translation to be posted to the site today, Friday. Again quite a service from the Dutch judiciary!) As in the European Court of Justice, their opinion is not binding, but it is highly authoritative.

Others for whom this issue is their daily bread and butter no doubt will analyse the Opinion in great detail, discussing as it does issues of trias politica, direct effect of international law etc. Of particular note are their concluding remarks, where they emphasise the importance of the ECHR in the action, and (in trias politica context) the fact that the courts cannot and must not directly instruct the political class to legislate. All it can do is point out what is needed and where the Government fell short. That will leave the claimants with the task of pondering how to operationalise the judgment should the Supreme Court follow.

Geert.

 

Huawei v Conversant wireless. Reflexive application of patent validity jurisdiction confirmed in principle – but rejected in casu.

In [2019] EWCA Civ 38 Huawei v Conversant Wireless (on appeal from [2018] EWHC 808 (Pat) the Court of Appeal considered whether in the event of 2 defendants being UK based (the others domiciled in China) the UK courts may relinquish jurisdiction reflexively to honour Article 24(4) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for the validity of patents.

Neither Article 33’s lis alibi pendens or Article 34’s ‘forum non conveniens’ rule were discussed.

Huawei China and ZTE China have commenced proceedings in China against Conversant, seeking to establish invalidity and (in the case of Huawei China only) non-infringement of Conversant’s Chinese patents. Conversant have inter alia sued Huawei China and ZTE China in Germany for infringement of its German patents.

Following Owusu, jurisdiction for infringement of UK patents against UK incorporated companies must lie and remain with the English courts per Article 4 B1a. As readers will remember from my review of Ferrexpo, the English courts for some time however have noticed with relish that the CJEU in Owusu did not entertain the part of the referral which asked it whether exclusive jurisdictional rules may apply reflexively – holding thereafter in the CJEU’s stead that they might so do (in a discretionary: not a slavish fashion: Floyd J here at 115).

At 95 ff Floyd J discusses the issues after having summarised the various representations made (see a summary of the summary by John de Rohan-Truba here), with much of the discussion turning on English CPR and jurisdictional rules, and reflexive application of Article 24(4) confirmed in principle, but not applied here. Requests to refer to the CJEU were summarily dismissed.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.

Sabbagh v Khoury. The Court of Appeal struggles on merits review for anchor defendants.

Update 24 July 2019 the injunction was partially upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Update 7 June 2018 on 31 May the High Court [2018] EWHC 1330 (Comm)] backed up the CA’s finding with an interim anti-suit (in arbitration) injunction.

Sabbagh v Khoury at the High Court was the subject of a lengthy review in an earlier post. The Court of Appeal has now considered the issues at stake, in no lesser detail.

In line with my previous post (readers unfamiliar with it may want to refer to it; and to very good Hill Dickinson summary of the case), of particular consideration here is the jurisdictional test under (old) Article 6(1) Brussels I, now Article 8(1) in the Recast, in particular the extent of merits review; and whether the subject matter of the claim comes within the succession exception of Article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation.

As for the latter, the Court, after reviewing relevant precedent and counsel argument (but not, surprisingly, the very language on this issue in the Jenard report, as I mention in my previous post) holds in my view justifiably that ‘(t)he source of the ownership is irrelevant to the nature of the claim. ..The subject matter of the dispute is not whether Sana is an heir, but whether the defendants have misappropriated her property.‘ (at 161).

With respect to the application of Article 6(1) – now 8(1), the majority held in favour of a far-reaching merits review. Lady Justice Gloster (at 166 ff) has a minority opinion on the issue and I am minded to agree with her. As she notes (at 178) the operation of a merits test within Article 6(1) does give rise to risk of irreconcilable judgments, which can be demonstrated by reference to the present facts. She successfully, in my view, distinguishes the CJEU’s findings in Kolassa and in CDC, and the discussion at any rate one would have thought, deserves CJEU review.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

Chugai v UCB: When does one litigate not just the scope but also the validity of a patent?

Update 31 August 2018 the merits of the case were subsequently held in August 2018,  [2018] EWHC 2264 (Pat).

End of exam season (sadly not yet of marking marathon). In the next few weeks I shall be posting on judgments issued a little or longer while ago, which I was pondering to use in exams. (I did for some of them).

In [2017] EWHC 1216 (Pat) Chugai Pharmaceutical v UCB the issue at stake was to what degree a suit seeking to establish absence of liability under a patent license, in reality provokes argument on the validity of the patent. Carr J has excellent review of precedent, much of which has passed in one way or another on this blog. Please do refer to judgment for proper reading.

Claimant (“Chugai”) seeks a declaration against the Defendants (collectively “UCB”) that it is not obliged to continue to pay royalties under a patent licence (“the Licence”) granted by the First Defendant (“UCB Pharma”).  UCB Pharma is a Belgian company with an English branch which entered into the Licence with Chugai in respect of a portfolio of patents. Chugai claims that its products, which are, in part, manufactured and sold in the USA, fall outside the scope of the claims of the Patent concerned. Accordingly, Chugai seeks a declaration that it owes no royalties for the manufacture and sale of these drugs manufactured after a certain date.

UCB alleges that, although framed as a claim for a declaration relating to a contract, a part of these proceedings, in substance, concerns not only the scope but also the validity of the Patent. UCB submits that the validity of a US patent is non-justiciable, since the English court has no power to determine the validity of a foreign patent. Accordingly, it submits that those parts of Chugai’s pleading which are said to raise issues of invalidity fall outside the subject matter jurisdiction of the English court.

European private international law as readers will know lays greats emphasis on exclusive jurisdiction in the case of validity of patents. The CJEU’s holding in C-4/03 Gat v Luk that nullity actions against a national part of a certain European patent can only be conducted in the jurisdiction for which that patent was registered, regardless of whether the nullity argument is raised in the suit or by way of defence, is now included verbatim in Article 24(4) Brussels I Recast. The EU’s take is rooted in the idea that the grant of a national patent is “an exercise of national sovereignty” (Jenard Report on the Brussels Convention (OJ 1979 C59, pp 1, 36)). The rule therefore engages the Act of State doctrine, and suggests that comity requires the courts of States other than the State of issue, to keep their hands off the case.

Particularly in cases where defendant is accused of having infringed a patent, this rule gives it a great possibility to stall proceedings. Where the action is ‘passive’, with plaintiff aiming to establish no infringement, the argument that the suit really involves validity of patent is less easily made.

The possibility of ‘torpedo’ abuse, coupled with less deference to the jurisdictional consequences of the Act of State doctrine [particularly its contested extension to intellectual property rights], means the English courts in particular are becoming less impressed with the exclusivity. (Albeit Carr J on balance decides per curiam (at 73-74) that direct challenges to the validity of foreign patents should not be justiciable in the English courts). Where the EU Regulation applies, they do not have much choice. Carr J refers to [2016] EWHC 1722 (Pat) Anan where claimant sought to carve out issues of validity by seeking a declaration that the defendant’s acts infringed a German patent “if the German designation is invalid (which is to be determined by the German courts)“.  EU law meant this attempt could not be honoured. Carr J however suggests that EU rules have no direct application in the present case because the Patent at stake is a United States patent. That is spot on, on the facts of the case: choice of court having been made in favour of the English courts, the case does not fall under the amended lis alibi pendens rule of the Brussels I Recast. In Article 33 juncto recital 24, reflexive effect is suggested for the Regulation’s exclusive jurisdictional rules, leaving a Member State court in a position (not: under an obligation) to give way to pending litigation in third countries, if its own jurisdiction is based on a non-exlusive jurisdictional rule (Articles 4, 7, 8 or 9) and not within the context of the protected categories.

Allow me to lean on 20 Essex Street’s conclusion in their review of the case: Carr J held that the case before him was not a direct challenge to validity. He accepted Chugai’s submissions that its claim was contractual. Disputed parts of the patent were incidental to the essential nature of its claim, which was a claim for determination of its royalty obligations. In his view, this claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in favour of the English courts, which parties had agreed.

Essential reading for IP litigators.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7.

 

Lots of pennies make a pound. Dutch court upholds State duty of care in climate litigation.

Update 29 December 2017. In Milieudefensie et al v The Netherlands the Rechtbank Den Haag was less accommodating to plaintiff in similar public interest litigation involving air pollution. Arguments included Directive 2008/50, WHO health standards, and Articles 2-8 ECHR. It is clear that cases like these will continue to be brought, and will not always side with environmental action groups. Yet there is no doubt that they are an essential part in making Governments sit up and take proper action rather than relying on the separation of powers principle effectively to do nothing. (Greenberg Traurig have good review here).

nUpdate 12 November 2015: the Belgian case has been held up due to the language regime in Belgium’s civil procedure rules.

I have reported previously on this action, when it was launched. The Court at The Hague held late June. For good (and impressive) measure, it immediately released an English translation of the judgment. Jolene Lin has excellent overview here, I will simply add the one or two things which I thought were particularly striking.

Firstly, this judgment was not written by a bunch of maverick ‘environmental’ judges. It is the commercial court at The Hague which issued it (see the reference to ‘team handel’, ‘handel’ meaning commerce, or trade).

The judgment hinges on the State’s duty of care which the court established. Urgenda, applicant, had suggested that regardless of the individual behaviour of Dutch citisens and corporations, the Government carries overall or ‘systemic’ responsibility (‘systeemverantwoordelijkheid’), as the representative of the sovereign Dutch nation, to ensure that it controls emissions emanating from The Netherlands. Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution and the international no harm (sic utere tuo) principle featured heavily in the court’s acceptance of the State duty of care. That the Dutch action might only be a drop in the ocean, did not impress the judge: plenty of pennies make a pound, and at any rate, The Netherlands, as a developed nation, were found to have increased responsibility.

At 4.42 and 4.43, the Court then applies what in EU law is known as the Marleasing principle.

‘From an international-law perspective, the State is bound to UN Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol (with the associated Doha Amendment as soon as it enters into force) and the “no harm” principle. However, this international-law binding force only involves obligations towards other states. When the State fails one of its obligations towards one or more other states, it does not imply that the State is acting unlawfully towards Urgenda. It is different when the written or unwritten rule of international law concerns a decree that “connects one and all”. After all, Article 93 of the Dutch Constitution determines that citizens can derive a right from it if its contents can connect one and all. The court – and the Parties – states first and foremost that the stipulations included in the convention, the protocol and the “no harm” principle do not have a binding force towards citizens (private individuals and legal persons). Urgenda therefore cannot directly rely on this principle, the convention and the protocol. (….) 

This does not affect the fact that a state can be supposed to want to meet its international-law obligations. From this it follows that an international-law standard – a statutory provision or an unwritten legal standard – may not be explained or applied in a manner which would mean that the state in question has violated an international-law obligation, unless no other interpretation or application is possible. This is a generally acknowledged rule in the legal system. This means that when applying and interpreting national-law open standards and concepts, including social proprietary, reasonableness and propriety, the general interest or certain legal principles, the court takes account of such international-law obligations. This way, these obligations have a “reflex effect” in national law.

In this respect the court also referred extensively to the European Court of Human Rights’ case-law on the duty of a State to put into place a legislative and administrative framework to address the challenges posed by dangerous activities.

The Court also, with reference to international scientific consensus, concluded that climate mitigation, rather than adaptation, is the more effective, efficient and least expensive way to address climate change.

Eventually it settles for a finding of duty of care and ensuing responsibility to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by at least 25% viz 1990 levels, by 2020. This 25% is the floor of what the international scientific community suggests is needed properly to address the dangers of climate change. (The court, in deference to trias politica, therefore did not want to go higher than that floor).

Next up (other than appeal, one might imagine): the Belgian courts, which have been seised of a similar action.

Geert.

Declaration of interest: I advice the Belgian litigation pro bono.

Plaza v The Law Debenture Trust. The Owusu hall of mirrors is ever more reflexive.

Update 9 July 2020 further litigation concerning a settlement on the issues reveals that an appeal was launched against the judgment however that it is presently stayed: [2020] EWHC 1774 (Ch) The Law Debenture Trust Corporation Plc, Re.

 

There is an obvious downside to the European Court of Justice’s judicial economy. The Court often leaves unanswered many questions asked by national courts without an answer to them being strictly necessary for the case at hand. Evidently quite a few of those resurface in later practice. Owusu is a case in point. Many postings on this blog have entertained the unanswered questions left by the ECJ’s seminal rejection of Forum Non Conveniens. UK courts in particular have leapt on the opportunity to distinguish Owusu, effectively now leading to a fairly narrow context in which Owusu is applied. As recently as Jong v HSBC on which I reported last week, the High Court professed sympathy for vacating a case pending in the UK and having it joined to proceedings in Monaco, on ‘case management’ grounds.

In Plaza v The Law Debenture Trust [2015] EWHC 43 (Ch) Proudman J dealt with a UK fallout of longstanding litigation inter alia in Australia, following the insolvency of the Australian Bell group in the 1990s. Curacao is COMI. Secondary or ancillary proceedings were opened in Australia. A variety of litigation mostly concerning priority of claims and timely (or not) execution of securities, led among others to a 2013 Deed of Settlement between parties to the current litigation. The Law Debenture trust (LDTC) is trustee for a number of bonds issued by Bell, some of which are held by Plaza (these bonds contain a non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England). Others are held inter alia by the Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA).

The 2013 Deed contains an exclusive choice of court clause in favour of Western Australia. Plaza, incorporated in Curacao, sues LDTC, domiciled in the UK, in England, basically questioning its suitability as a trustee for the bonds, citing alleged conflicts of interest (LDTC may or may not be acting under instruction of ICWA).

Proudman J essentially had to decide whether Article 23 (now Article 25) of the Jurisdiction Regulation in its original version (the recast does not apply) ought to be applied reflexively (protecting choice of court in favour of non-EU courts); alternatively, whether Article 28 of the same Regulation (the lis alibi pendens rule) may be so applied; and what the impact of the ECJ’s rejection of forum non conveniens is on this all.

Ferrexpo in particular assisted her in holding that reflexive application of Article 23 (now 25) of the Brussels I Regulation is not barred by Owusu. The main argument for this approach lies in the judicial economy which I cite above: the ECJ was asked but did not entertain the question. Moreover Article 23 is a more dominant rule in the Regulation than Article 2 (now 4)’s rule referring to domicile of the defendant: a mandatory exception to the rule of Article 2 rather than, in the words of Proudman J, a discretionary exception such as forum non conveniens.

Subsidiarily, the High Court also suggests Article 28’s lis alibi pendens rule ought to apply reflexively, although it expressly suggests more discussion of that point is needed and the Article need not be laboured in the case at issue, given its finding on Article 23.

To heap further pressure on the Owusu pile, a further potential for undermining finding in Owusu is suggested in the shape of ‘case management powers’, also suggested in Jong and hinted at as potentially introducing forum non conveniens through the back door.

With Plaza v Debenture, application of Owusu by the English courts now is so distinguished, arguably little is left of the ECJ’s original intentions. One assumes: for as I noted above, judicial economy allowed national courts to be creative in their application of the rule. The issue is bound to end up again at the ECJ at some point.

Geert.