An international high-net-worth employment case decided last week, Ecobank Transnational Inc v Tanoh  EWCA Civ 1309 (accessible on the excellent BAILII website), has a good deal of meat for international transaction lawyers too. The CEO of a Togolese bank had a contract of employment governed by English law and with a provision for arbitration of differences in London under the UNCITRAL Rules. In early 2014, following a textbook exercise in corporate character assassination, he was fired. He immediately sued in Togo for wrongful dismissal, and shortly afterwards in the Ivory Coast for defamation, recovering a cool $11 million-odd in the former, and in the latter about $15 million. Both courts held that under their respective laws the arbitration provision could not deprive them of jurisdiction. The employer claimed arbitration, and in April 2015 sought an anti-enforcement injunction in respect of the Togolese and Ivorian proceedings (i.e. an anti-suit injunction for the time after judgment has been obtained). The CA held an anti-enforcement injunction available on principle, but upheld its refusal on the grounds of delay.
Essentially this judgment makes clear a number of points of very general application. First, s.32 of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, dealing with the question of the recognition in England of foreign proceedings brought in breach of jurisdiction or arbitration agreements, is likely to precluded recognition of the relevant proceedings. Despite the exception to non-recognition where the jurisdiction / arbitration agreement is “illegal, void or unenforceable or was incapable of being performed”, it is irrelevant that an arbitration agreement is ineffective under the law of the place where the proceedings are brought or the law of the place where the contract was made. What matters is its enforceability under English law. Secondly, if people agree under a contract governed by English law to arbitrate disputes, the English courts will have little compunction where appropriate in granting anti-suit or anti-enforcement relief. Such relief is not as such a breach of the rules of comity: as Christopher Clarke LJ pertinently pointed out, the preservation of overseas judicial amour propre is not a particularly important aim these days. Thirdly, however, delay in seeking relief continues highly relevant, both on general equitable grounds and also because it is undesirable to render fruitless the expenditure of large amounts of curial time and litigants’ cash on ultimately unproductive proceedings abroad. In short, while anti-enforcement injunctions remain possible, in practice they are likely to be rare, as litigants will normally be expected to act earlier in the judicial process.