Update 7 May 2020 for further specifications followign disagreement between parties, see order made a good week after the first one, in  EWHC 1073 (Comm).
In  EWHC 995 (Comm) Trafigura v Clearlake, Teare J essentially has created a forum necessitatis rule in admiralty, to accomodate the slower availability of the Singapore courts due to Covid19. At 29 ff:
In normal circumstances an Admiralty Court, faced with an application to release a valuable vessel from arrest, would determine whether the security offered was such as to allow the release of the vessel from arrest without delay. In such circumstances there would usually be no need for the court upon which the owner and charterer have conferred jurisdiction to determine disputes between them to find as a fact what security would be judged adequate by the court of the place of arrest to allow the release of the vessel from arrest. For that would in practice be determined by the court of the place of arrest.
But these are not normal circumstances. There is a worldwide Covid 19 pandemic which has disrupted normal life, including the justice system. As a result I was told that the court in Singapore is not able to hear the application to determine the adequacy of the security offered until 18 May 2020. In those circumstances the question arises, or may arise, whether this court should find as a fact whether the security which has been offered to secure the release of the vessel matches that which would be required by the court of the place of arrest or not. That is what this court would have to do, and would have jurisdiction to do, if, unusually, there was no appropriate application before the court of the place of arrest. Those are not the circumstances of this case. There is an appropriate application in Singapore but the result will not be known for almost a month.
At 31 he re-emphasises that comity would ordinarily restrain any jurisdictional temptation. However at 32 he concludes that ‘on the other hand there is a dispute between the owner and charterer. The charterer owes an obligation to the owner to provide security which will secure the release of a valuable vessel from arrest. The owner wishes to enforce that obligation and so to mitigate the losses it is suffering by reason of its inability to trade the vessel. There is therefore a powerful reason for this court, in circumstances where the court of arrest, for understandable reasons, is unable to determine the application for release until 18 May 2020, to exercise the jurisdiction the parties have conferred on it to resolve disputes between owner and charterer.’
Not a jurisdicitional claim out the blue therefore; the choice of court does give England a powerful link to the case.
Many thanks to Filbert Lam for alerting me to Menon CJ’s most exquisite 2018 speech on cross-border insolvency law. His honour’s talk addresses forum shopping (including for cram down reasons), the Model Law, a most enlightening comparison between international commercial arbitration (particularly: the New York Convention’s role) and insolvency, and of course modified universalism (on which see also this recent post by Bob Wessels, with ia analysis of the EU position). A delightfully sharp observation of key elements of international insolvency practice and policy.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.
Many thanks to Filbert Lam, a former student of mine, for alerting me to another interesting case in comparative conflict of laws: the story of Li Shengwu is recalled here.
The Singapore Prime Minister’s nephew made remarks in a Facebook post, which were allegedly contemptuous of the judiciary. When he made those remarks, he was located in the US, where he intends to stay (and work). The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) wants to serve the summons on him in the US. Under what circumstances can this be done and what is the impact of a procedural law seemingly assisting the AGC in serving the summons, but which would have to be applied retroactively in the case at issue?
The Court of Appeal proceeding will be one to look out for.
I shall be posting perhaps tomorrow on yesterday’s CJEU judgment in Löber v Barclays (prospectus liability – see my review of Bobek AG’s Opinion here), but as a warming-up for comparative purposes, a note on  SGHC 123 IM Skaugen v MAN. I have not been able to locate copy of the judgment (I am hoping one of my Singaporean followers might be able to send me one) so I am relying entirely on the excellent post by Adeline Chong – indeed in general I am happy largely to refer to Adeline’s post, she has complete analysis.
The case concerns fraudulent misrepresentation of the fuel consumption of an engine model sold and installed into ships owned by claimants (Volkswagen echo alert). Defendants are German and Norwegian incorporated companies: leave to serve out of jurisdiction needs to be granted. Interesting comparative issues are in particular jurisdiction when only indirect damage (specifically: increased fuel consumption and servicing costs with downstream owners who had purchased the ships from the first owners) occurs there; and the relevance of European lis alibi pendens rules for forum non conveniens purposes.
On the former, Singaporean CPR rules would seem to be prima facie clearer on damage not having to be direct for it to establish jurisdiction; a noted difference with EU law and one which also exercised the UK Supreme Court in Brownlie. Note the consideration of locus delicti and the use of lex fori for same (a good example in my view of the kind of difficulties that will arise if when the Hague Judgments project bears fruit).
On forum non conveniens, Spiliada was the main reference. Of interest here is firstly the consideration of transfer to the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC); and the case-specific consideration of availability of forum: the Norwegian courts had been seized but not the German ones; Germany had been identified by the Singaporean High Court as locus delict: not Norway; yet under the Lugano Convention lis alibi pendens rule, the German courts are now no longer available.
 SGHCR 8 Ermgassen v Sixcap Financials to my knowledge is the first recognition and enforcement by any court under the 2005 Choice of Court Convention. Together with the 28 EU Member States (and the EU itself), Singapore, with Mexico, are the 30 States for which the Convention has entered into force.
In his decision for the High Court, Colin Seow AR recognises a High Court ex parte summary judgment, taking the process to the Hague motions: whether the issue is civil and commercial; whether choice of court was concluded in favour of the courts having issued the judgment; and pointing to the UK’s membership of the Convention and to counsel for the plaintiff having been heard at the London High Court hearing: this makes the judgment one on the merits, not just a judgment in absentia (of the defendant: a Singapore-domiciled company). Of note is Seow AR’s flexible approach to the requirement to produce certified copies of the judgment (at 23 ff).
Update 03 12 2019 for a recent example in Switserland: the Swiss SC has confirmed that under Swiss lex arbitri the fact that a party is a state-owned entity is not sufficient per se, to extend an arbitration clause to a non-signatory state: Decision 4A_636/2018 (24.09.2019)
I have reported before on the relevance of lex curia /curial law and other lex causae decisions to be made in the arbitration context. I have also reported on the qualification of ‘international‘ for conflict of law /private international law purposes. And finally of course privity of choice of court and -law is no stranger in my postings either. All these considerations apply in the arbitration context, too.
Thank you Herbert Smith for flagging CS(COMM) 447/2017 GMR Energy, in which all these issues featured in the arbitration context. The judgment would not seem to add anything new (mostly applying precedent) however it is a usual reminder of the principles. As reported by HS (and with further factual background there), GMR Energy argued
- on the plain reading of the arbitration clauses, Singapore was not the seat of arbitration but only the chosen place or venue for hearings; Not so, the High Court found: reference to SIAC rules and to Singapore points to Singapore as the curial seat;
- the parties being Indian, choice of a foreign seat for arbitration would be in contravention of Section 28 of the Indian Contract Act 1872 which provides that agreements which restrain parties’ rights to commence legal proceedings are void (save for those which do so by way of an arbitration agreement) – GMR Energy contended that an agreement between Indian parties to arbitrate offshore would fall foul of this provision. This, too, the High Court rejected: per precedent, offshore arbitration is compatible with the Act. (It is also particularly useful for Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies); and
- for two Indian parties to choose an overseas seat for their arbitration (thereby disapplying Part I of the Arbitration Act) would amount to a derogation from Indian substantive law, and therefore would not be permissible. This, the High Court ruled, is not a decision to make at the stage of jurisdictional disputes between the parties.
Further, on the issue of privity, Doosan India ‘contended that GMR Energy should be party to the SIAC Arbitration proceedings by virtue of common family ownership and governance, lack of corporate formalities between the companies, common directorships, logos and letterheads, and GMR Energy’s past conduct in making payments towards GCEL’s debts’ (I am quoting HS’s briefing here). This is referred to as the alter ego doctrine and the High Court upheld it. Liability for affiliated undertakings’ actions is to be discussed on the merits (here: by the arbitral tribunal). But a the level of jurisdiction (including reference to arbitration), Doosan India’s arguments were upheld: the common ownership between the entities; the non-observance of separate corporate formalities and co-mingling of corporate funds; and GMR Energy’s undertaking to discharge liabilities of GCEL (and the fact that it had made part payments towards the same) all conspire to the conclusion that GMR Energy is bound by the arbitration agreement.
An interesting confirmation of precedent and ditto application of the alter ego doctrine.