Piggy back jurisdiction under CMR? The Supreme Court answers ‘No’

Where jurisdiction is established over the first road carrier under the CMR, can proceedings against successive carriers be brought in that forum? In British American Tobacco Switzerland S.A. and Others v Exel Europe Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 1319, [2014] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 503, the Court of Appeal said ‘yes’. The Supreme Court has now reversed the decision, [2015] UKSC 65.

The cargo owner entered into a CMR contract of carriage with a carrier, based in England, and agreed exclusive English jurisdiction for disputes arising out of the contract of carriage. The claims arose out of thefts of cigarettes from two cargo containers while in the custody of Dutch sub-contractors, the first in Belgium, the second near Copenhagen. The cargo sued the first carrier and the two Dutch sub-carriers. An advantage of suing in England would be that recovery of customs duty is allowed in full under art. 23(4) CMR by the English courts.

Although it was entitled to bring proceedings in England against the first carrier, this was not the case as regards the successive carriers who did not fall within any of the grounds of jurisdiction in art. 31 of CMR. What about art. 34 which has the effect of joining a successive carrier to the contract of carriage on the terms of the consignment note? The jurisdiction clause did not appear in the consignment note and it would be contrary to principle to hold a party to a choice of court clause of which he had no express notice. Then there is art. 36, under which joint and several liability is imposed on the first, the last, and the guilty carrier. However, this was not to be interpreted to include an additional head of jurisdiction allowing for a defendant domiciled in one member state to be sued in the courts of the place where a co-defendant was domiciled. The 2001 Brussels Judgments Regulation did not provide any other basis for jurisdiction over the two sub-contractors or otherwise act as an aid to the interpretation of the CMR.

Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption both considered that the commercial logic of articles 34 and 36 points towards the recognition of a jurisdiction to receive claims against all three carriers in one set of proceedings. However, they agreed with Lord Mance that the language of the CMR clearly provides otherwise. The only way for a cargo owner to ensure that its claims against all the carriers that are potentially liable under art. 34 is to ensure that the jurisdiction clause in the head contract is expressly referred to in the consignment note.

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