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.

Spanish Supreme Court eases exequatur requirement under (2001) Brussels I.

A short post and thank you Laura Ruiz for flagging a ruling by the Spanish Supreme Court  in which it essentially seems to have pre-applied the Brussels Ia Regulation (1215/2012) to proceedings governed by its predecessor, Brussels I (44/2001). In particular, the Supreme Court would seem to have waived the requirement for exequatur in a proceeding governed by Brussels I. I have limited Spanish and no access to the ruling so I am relying on Laura’s post for reporting purposes.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter I, Heading 2.2.16.

 

Puigdemont v Spain before the Belgian (civil) courts. Some thoughts.

In this post I, unusually, offer questions rather than tentative answers. I hope you’ll enjoy the pondering and of course I have ideas of my own on all of these issues. Thank you Michiel Poesen for alerting me to Carles Puigdemont et al’s case in the Belgian civil courts.

The case is not about trying to employ the Belgian courts to have a Spanish Supreme Court judge removed from the case. (Contrary to what De Standaard report in their title – in an otherwise informative piece). Pablo Llarena had commented on the case (specifically: rejecting an argument raised by the defence) at an academic  conference. Rather, as I understand the case (public detail is scant), applicants suggest the alleged violation of impartiality infringes their right to such impartiality which in Belgium at least, is a civil right, constitutionally guaranteed.

The case therefore is one in tort. The exact request to the court is as yet unknown: provisional measures? damages? One assumes the very finding by a Belgian court of a finding of partiality and hence infringement of fundamental rights, will be employed in any future trials in Spain.

So far a little context. Here are the questions:

  • What kind of law is engaged here?: is this private international law? Is it public international law? (see prof Hess’ contribution to the Recueil, on the private /public divide).
  • Are the proceedings ‘international’ enough to trigger the application of private international law; are they simply ‘Spanish’ and what impact does that have on the jurisdiction  of the Belgian courts;
  • Are such proceedings ‘civil and commercial’ within the meaning of the Brussels regime; specifically, what is the impact of a Supreme Court judge spending much of their time engaging in what has to be considered a ‘public’ function, now speaking at an academic conference. (Think Kuhn, Fahnenbrock etc.).
  • If the Brussels I regime is triggered, what type of provisional measures is possible?
  • If the Brussels I regime is triggered, how does Article 7(2) apply; where is the locus delicti commissi and where the locus damni; how does e-Date apply if at all;
  • Along similar lines: how does applicable law apply given that defamation is exempt from Rome II; (see Belgium’s regime in Articles 99-100 WIPR in particular); and
  • What is the impact, if any, of chances of enforcement of the judgment in Spain.

These are the issues I suspect will be of some relevance in the conflicts field. Happy pondering.

Geert.

 

The lady is not for turning. CJEU in Komu v Komu sticks to classic application of exclusive jurisdictional rule for rights in rem in immovable property.

Update 17 December 2016 application of Komu v Komu was made in [2016] EWCA Civ 1292 Magiera v Magiera.

In Case C-605/14, Komu v Komu, the CJEU stuck to its classic applicatio n of the rule of Article 22(1) Brussels I (now Article 24(1) Brussels Recast). This Article prescribes exclusive jurisdiction for (among others) proceedings which have as their object rights in rem in immovable property. Article 25 (now 27) adds that where a court of a Member State is seised of a claim which is principally concerned with a matter over which the courts of another Member State have exclusive jurisdiction by virtue of Article 22, it shall declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction. (emphasis added).

Mr Pekka Komu, Ms Jelena Komu, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen are domiciled in Finland and are co-owners of a house situated in Torrevieja (Spain), the first three each with a 25% share and the other two each with a 12.5% share. In addition, Ms Ritva Komu has a right of use, registered in the Spanish Land Register, over the shares held by Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen.Wishing to realise the interests that they hold in both properties, and in the absence of agreement on the termination of the relationship of co-ownership, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Ruotsalainen brought an action before the District Court, South Savo, Finland for an order appointing a lawyer to sell the properties and fixing a minimum price for each of the properties. The courts obliged in first instance and queried the extent of Article 22’s rule in appeal.

Co-ownership and rights of use, one assumes, result from an inheritance.

The CJEU calls upon classic case-law, including most recently Weber. At 30 ff it recalls the ‘considerations of sound administration of justice which underlie the first paragraph of Article 22(1) …’ and ‘also support such exclusive jurisdiction in the case of an action intended to terminate the co-ownership of immovable property, as that in the main proceedings.’:

The transfer of the right of ownership in the properties at issue in the main proceedings will entail the taking into account of situations of fact and law relating to the linking factor as laid down in the first paragraph of Article 22(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, namely the place where those properties are situated. The same applies, in particular, to the fact that the rights of ownership in the properties and the rights of use encumbering those rights are the subject of entries in the Spanish Land Register in accordance with Spanish law, the fact that rules governing the sale, by auction where appropriate, of those properties are those of the Member State in which they are situated, and the fact that, in the case of disagreement, the obtaining of evidence will be facilitated by proximity to the locus rei sitae. The Court has already held that disputes concerning rights in rem in immovable property, in particular, must generally be decided by applying the rules of the State in which the property is situated, and the disputes which frequently arise require checks, inquiries and expert assessments which have to be carried out there.

A sound finding given precedent. However I continue to think it questionable whether these reasons, solid as they may have been in 1968, make much sense in current society. It may be more comfortable to have the case heard in Spain for the reasons set out by the Court. But essential? Humankind can perform transcontinental robot-assisted remote telesurgery. But it cannot, it seems, consult the Spanish land registry from a court in Finland. I would suggest it is time to adapt Article 24 in a future amendment of the Regulation.

Geert.