EU Member States urged to ratify/accede to 2010 HNS Convention by 6 May 2021.

 

COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2017/769 of 25.4.2017 authorises Member States to ratify or accede to the 2010 Protocol of the HNS Convention with the exception of the aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters. The decision also provides that they “shall endeavour to take the necessary steps to deposit the instruments of ratification of, or accession to, the Protocol of 2010 within a reasonable time and, if possible, by 6 May 2021”.

 

A parallel COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2017/770 contains a similar authorization in relation to those aspects related to judicial cooperation in civil matters, subject to depositing the standard declaration preserving the effect of the Brussels I (Recast) Regulation, the Lugano Convention, and the 2005 agreement between the EU and Denmark in respect of judgments covered by the 2010 HNS Protocol.

New York judgment against you? England expects you to pay up, in pretty short order.

A refreshing no-nonsense approach from Teare J today in Midtown Acquisitions LP v Essar Global Fund Ltd [2017] EWHC 519 (Comm) to a guarantor desperately trying to avoid enforcement in London of a judgment given against it in Manhattan. EGF had guaranteed a facility given to Essar Steel Minnesota LLC, a now-very-bankrupt former subsidiary of monster Indian conglomerate Essar Global. When Essar Minnesota defaulted, EGF  confessed liability ; a New York judge duly signed judgment against it in the modest sum of about $172 million. EGF applied to vacate the judgment: meanwhile the creditor, Midtown, wasted no time and applied to enforce it in England.

Teare J in quick succession demolished four arguments hopefully raised against enforcement.

(a) The New York order was based on a confession of liability, with no action technically brought. Irrelevant, he said: it was still a judgment.

(b) The outstanding application to vacate meant that the judgment wasn’t final. Nonsense: it was immediately binding as res judicata in New York unless and until set aside, and that sufficed to make it enforceable in England.

(c) The judgment was on admissions, with neither party arguing on the law or the facts. So what? It was still a judgment on the merits — i.e. whether EGF had to pay $172 million.

(d) To a half-hearted pleading of fraud, Teare J answered shortly that only a showing of conscious and deliberate dishonesty would do to establish this, and none had been pleaded or shown.

In addition he was prepared to enforce the judgment on the basis of a clause under which “The Guarantor agrees that a judgment in any such action, suit or proceeding may be enforced in any other jurisdiction by suit upon such judgment … The Guarantor hereby waives any objection it may now or hereafter have to the laying of the venue of any such action, suit or proceeding, and … further waives any claim that any such action, suit or proceeding brought in any of the aforesaid courts has been brought in any inconvenient forum.”

The only indulgence he allowed was a short stay of execution until one week after the result of the application to vacate: unless the application was successful, execution would then follow automatically.

In our view this judgment is to be welcomed and should be widely publicised. If a creditor has a clear claim, the fact that it got judgment on it quickly, with no argument, ought to be a factor in favour of, rather than against, its being immediately able to enforce that judgment here. Furthermore, delaying tactics such as applications to vacate should generally not be allowed to derail the process. The message is simple: even outside the EU context, bring your judgments to London, and we’ll enforce them unless the other side produces a pretty convincing reason why we shouldn’t.

 

Shipping Law and ‘that referendum’. Part Two. Regulations.

With the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, EU Regulations will cease to be part of UK law. There are three important Regulations of concern to shipping practitioners.

  1. The Brussels Recast Judgment Regulation 1215/2012
  2. The Rome I Regulation on choice of law for contracts
  3. The Rome II Regulation on choice of law i in non contractual matters.

If these are not re-implemented into domestic law, then this we are back to the common law as regards jurisdiction.  When suing a defendant domiciled in the UK it would once again become possible to seek to stay proceedings on grounds of forum non conveniens.

As regards choice of law, we would be back  to the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990 whose provisions are quite similar to those in Rome I. For tort it would be back to the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) 1995 whose provisions contain significant differences from Rome II.

If losing the three Regulations is regarded as non conveniens then Parliament needs to re-enact them into domestic law. Rome I and Rome II could be re-enacted without the need for any action from the remaining 27 EU Member States, although Parliament may choose to amend parts of the Regulations. Possible candidates for amendment of Rome II would be:(a) clarification that it does not apply to torts on the High Seas and; (b)  providing that the applicable  law  where limitation proceedings are brought before the courts of the UK is that of the UK.  Some thought would have to be given as to whether the ECJ should be treated as having any authority as regards interpretation of the domestic legislation which re-enacts the two Regulations.

With the Brussels Recast Judgment Regulation the position is more complex if it is thought to be desirable to maintain a common jurisdiction framework with the remaining EU  Member States. They would need to amend the Regulation to include the UK, perhaps with a simple definition clause ‘Member state includes the United Kingdom’ and similar amendment, mutatis mutandis, with references to a ‘non-Member State’. The UK would also  have to agree to  the authority of the ECJ as regards the domestic legislation reimplementing the Regulation.

An alternative would be for the UK to ratify the 2007 Lugano Convention which tracks the provisions of the 2001 Brussels Regulation  (the ‘unrecast’ version). However, this would require the UK first to become a member of the European Free Trade Associaton, or to obtain the agreement of all the Contracting Parties, the European Community and Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The UK could also ratify the  Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005 (Hague Convention), which came into force as between the Member States and Mexico on 1 October 2015 ( for intra EU matters the Recast Regulation prevails).  The Convention deals with exclusive jurisdiction clauses in favour of a Contracting State and for recognising and enforcing judgments within Contracting States in respect of contracts with such clauses.

In our next blog I shall address some of the shipping related Directives that will cease to have effect following repeal of the European Communities Act 1972.

The problem of foreign judicial determinations

A charterparty case today, Shagang Shipping Co Ltd v HNA Group Co Ltd [2016] EWHC 1103 (Comm) looked like a simple case of owners claiming charter hire and damages from time charterers (or rather their parent company guarantors). Unfortunately it turned into something like a nightmare for the owners’ lawyers.

The difficulty was that, while the figures were fairly straightforward, the charterers’ group (HNA) sought to escape scot-free by alleging that the charterers had only signed the charter because the owners had bribed one of the charterers’ employees to approve it. HNA was a leading and influential company in Hainan Province in China. It duly produced confessions of, and convictions in Hainan for, the relevant bribery by an officer of the owners and their own employee. Unfortunately there were distinct indications that these confessions had been obtained by some interesting police practices not unconnected with rubber truncheons, cigarette burns and  near-drowning, which were testified to in the case and which Knowles J specifically stated could not be ruled out. Happily Knowles J was able to rule against HNA  on the basis of external evidence that there had been no bribery.

A correct result, therefore. But the difficulties cases like this raise are of a high order. External evidence will not always be present; and where it is not the difficulties of obtaining evidence of malpractice of the kind alleged in Shagang are obvious. The only cure would seem to be a term in the relevant contract excluding a priori the use of at least some court decisions as evidence in subsequent proceedings arising out of a dispute. But that cure might well be worse than the disease.

Latest instalment of the Prestige saga — over to Madrid

Nearly 14 years ago the tanker Prestige sank, grievously sullying the coasts of France and Spain. The vessel’s P & I club (London SS) was understandably concerned. But it had taken care in granting cover to make sure that the contract was governed by English law; that its exposure was clearly restricted to CLC limits; that any dispute as to cover was to be arbitrated in London; and that there was a “pay to be paid” provision. There were good reasons for this. Many civil law courts take an impatient view of the English attitude that insurers’ liability is an aspect of the contract to indemnify, preferring the view that the liability is a direct one to the victim. The club rightly wanted to avoid the prospect of a court in an affected country giving large judgments against it on the basis of this civil law doctrine (accompanied, no doubt, by a disdain for such niceties as arbitration clauses and the small print in the P & I cover, not to mention in certain cases a large degree of national amour propre). The point was, of course, that if these were EEA courts, then however cavalier or misguided those judgments were, they would be enforceable under Brussels I or Lugano.

The club were right, in spades. Criminal Spanish proceedings, carrying with them under Spanish law the possibility of civil-law-style partie civile liability, were started. To forestall the giving of an enforceable judgment against it, the club demanded arbitration, got an arbitration award saying that the Spanish and French governments could only enforce the cover subject to the terms of the contract — including the arbitration clause, of course — and then successfully got that award translated into an English judgment (see London SS Mutual v Kingdom of Spain, etc [2015] EWCA Civ 333; [2015] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 33). In fact the original criminal proceedings failed. But a few days ago the Spanish supreme court (Tribunal Supremo) reversed that decision and gave judgment against the master of the Prestige (he got two years in clink) and, more importantly, directly against the club as a matter of civil liability. The news report is here; the judgment text (unfortunately only in Spanish) here.

With conflicting judgments from London and Madrid we now have the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. One suspects we haven’t heard the last of this saga.

AT