I thought we were exclusive? Some issues with the Hague Convention on Choice of Court, Brussels Ia and Brexit

This blog post is by Dr Mukarrum Ahmed (Lancaster University) and Professor Paul Beaumont (University of Aberdeen). It presents a condensed version of their article in the August 2017 issue of the Journal of Private International Law. The blog post includes specific references to the actual journal article to enable the reader to branch off into the detailed discussion where relevant. It also takes account of recent developments in the Brexit negotiation that took place after the Journal article was completed.

On 1 October 2015, the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005 (‘Hague Convention’) entered into force in 28 Contracting States, including Mexico and all the Member States of the European Union, except Denmark. The Convention has applied between Singapore and the other Contracting States since 1 October 2016. China, Ukraine and the USA have signed the Convention indicating that they hope to ratify it in the future (see the official status table for the Convention on the Hague Conference on Private International Law’s website). The Brussels Ia Regulation, which is the European Union’s device for jurisdictional and enforcement matters, applies as of 10 January 2015 to legal proceedings instituted and to judgments rendered on or after that date. In addition to legal issues that may arise independently under the Hague Convention, some issues may manifest themselves at the interface between the Hague Convention and the Brussels Ia Regulation. Both sets of issues are likely to garner the attention of cross-border commercial litigators, transactional lawyers and private international law academics. The article examines anti-suit injunctions, concurrent proceedings and the implications of Brexit in the context of the Hague Convention and its relationship with the Brussels Ia Regulation. (See pages 387-389 of the article)

It is argued that the Hague Convention’s system of ‘qualified’ or ‘partial’ mutual trust may permit anti-suit injunctions, actions for damages for breach of exclusive jurisdiction agreements and anti-enforcement injunctions where such remedies further the objective of the Convention. (See pages 394-402 of the article) The text of the Hague Convention and the Explanatory Report by Professors Trevor Hartley and Masato Dogauchi are not explicit on this issue. However, the procès-verbal of the Diplomatic Session of the Hague Convention reveal widespread support for the proposition that the formal ‘process’ should be differentiated from the desired ‘outcome’ when considering whether anti-suit injunctions are permitted under the Convention. Where anti-suit injunctions uphold choice of court agreements and thus help achieve the intended ‘outcome’ of the Convention, there was a consensus among the official delegates at the Diplomatic Session that the Convention did not limit or constrain national courts of Contracting States from granting the remedy. (See Minutes No 9 of the Second Commission Meeting of Monday 20 June 2005 (morning) in Proceedings of the Twentieth Session of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (Permanent Bureau of the Conference, Intersentia 2010) 622, 623–24) Conversely, where the remedy impedes the sound operation of the Convention by effectively derailing proceedings in the chosen court, there was also a consensus of the official delegates at the meeting that the Convention will not permit national courts of the Contracting States to grant anti-suit injunctions.

However, intra-EU Hague Convention cases may arguably not permit remedies for breach of exclusive choice of court agreements as they may be deemed to be an infringement of the principle of mutual trust and the principle of effectiveness of EU law (effet utile) which animate the multilateral jurisdiction and judgments order of the Brussels Ia Regulation (see pages 403-405 of the article; C-159/02 Turner v Grovit [2004] ECR I-3565). If an aggrieved party does not commence proceedings in the chosen forum or commences such proceedings after the non-chosen court has rendered a decision on the validity of the choice of court agreement, the recognition and enforcement of that ruling highlights an interesting contrast between the Brussels Ia Regulation and the Hague Convention. It appears that the non-chosen court’s decision on the validity of the choice of court agreement is entitled to recognition and enforcement under the Brussels Ia Regulation. (See C-456/11 Gothaer Allgemeine Versicherung AG v Samskip GmbH EU:C:2012:719, [2013] QB 548) The Hague Convention does not similarly protect the ruling of a non-chosen court. In fact, only a judgment given by a court of a Contracting State designated in an exclusive choice of court agreement shall be recognised and enforced in other Contracting States. (See Article 8(1) of the Hague Convention) Therefore, the ruling of a non-chosen court is not entitled to recognition and enforcement under the Hague Convention’s system of ‘qualified’ or ‘partial’ mutual trust. This provides a ready explanation for the compatibility of anti-suit injunctions with the Hague Convention but does not proceed any further to transpose the same conclusion into the very different context of the Brussels Ia Regulation which prioritizes the principle of mutual trust.

The dynamics of the relationship between Article 31(2) of the Brussels Ia Regulation and Articles 5 and 6 of the Hague Convention is mapped in the article (at pages 405-408). In a case where the Hague Convention should apply rather than the Brussels Ia Regulation because one of the parties is resident in a non-EU Contracting State to the Convention even though the chosen court is in a Member State of the EU (See Article 26(6)(a) of the Hague Convention) one would expect Article 6 of the Convention to be applied by any non-chosen court in the EU. However, the fundamental nature of the Article 31(2) lis pendens mechanism under the Brussels Ia Regulation may warrant the pursuance of a different line of analysis. (See Case C-452/12 Nipponkoa Insurance Co (Europe) Ltd v Interzuid Transport BV EU:C:2013:858, [2014] I.L.Pr. 10, [36]; See also to similar effect, Case C-533/08 TNT Express Nederland BV v AXA Versicherung AG EU:C:2010:243, [2010] I.L.Pr. 35, [49]) It is argued that the Hartley–Dogauchi Report’s interpretative approach has much to commend it as it follows the path of least resistance by narrowly construing the right to sue in a non-chosen forum as an exception rather than the norm. The exceptional nature of the right to sue in the non-chosen forum under the Hague Convention can be effectively reconciled with Article 31(2) of the Brussels Ia Regulation. This will usually result in the stay of the proceedings in the non-chosen court as soon as the chosen court is seised. As a consequence, the incidence of parallel proceedings and irreconcilable judgments are curbed, which are significant objectives in their own right under the Brussels Ia Regulation. It is hoped that the yet to develop jurisprudence of the CJEU on the emergent Hague Convention and the Brussels Ia Regulation will offer definitive and authoritative answers to the issues discussed in the article.

The implications of Brexit on this topic are not yet fully clear. (See pages 409-410 of the article) The UK is a party to the Hague Choice of Court Agreements Convention as a Member State of the EU, the latter having approved the Convention for all its Member States apart from Denmark. The UK will do what is necessary to remain a party to the Convention after Brexit.  In its recently published negotiating paper – only available after the article in the Journal of Private International Law was completed – the UK Government has explicitly stated that:

“It is our intention to continue to be a leading member in the Hague Conference and to participate in those Hague Conventions to which we are already a party and those which we currently participate in by virtue of our membership of the EU.” (See Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework (PDF) at para 22)

The UK will no doubt avoid any break in the Convention’s application. Brexit will almost certainly see the end of the application of the Brussels Ia Regulation in the UK. The reason being that its uniform interpretation is secured by the CJEU through the preliminary ruling system under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).  The UK is not willing to accept that jurisdiction post-Brexit (“Leaving the EU will therefore bring an end to the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK, because the CJEU derives its jurisdiction and authority from the EU Treaties.” (See Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework at para 20) So although the UK negotiators are asking for a bespoke deal with the EU to continue something like Brussels Ia (“The UK will therefore seek an agreement with the EU that allows for close and comprehensive cross-border civil judicial cooperation on a reciprocal basis, which reflects closely the substantive principles of cooperation under the current EU framework”: see Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework at para 19) it seems improbable that the EU will agree to such a bespoke deal just with the UK when the UK does not accept the CJEU preliminary ruling system.  The EU may well say that the option for close partners of the EU in this field is the Lugano Convention. The UK Government has indicated that it would like to remain part of the Lugano Convention (see Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework at para 22). In doing so it would continue to mandate the UK courts to take account of the jurisprudence of the CJEU -when that court is interpreting Brussels Ia or the Lugano Convention – when UK courts are interpreting the Lugano Convention (see the opaque statement by the UK Government that “the UK and the EU will need to ensure future civil judicial cooperation takes into account regional legal arrangements, including the fact that the CJEU will remain the ultimate arbiter of EU law within the EU.” see Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework at para 20). However, unless the Lugano Convention is renegotiated it does not contain a good solution in relation to conflicts of jurisdiction for exclusive choice of court agreements because it has not been amended to reflect Article 31(2) of Brussels Ia and therefore still gives priority to the non-chosen court when it is seised first and the exclusively chosen court is seised second in accordance with the Gasser decision of the CJEU (see Case C-116/02 [2003] ECR I-14693).  Renegotiation of the Lugano Convention is not even on the agenda at the moment although the Gasser problem may be discussed at the Experts’ Meeting pursuant to Article 5 Protocol 2 of the Lugano Convention on 16 and 17 October 2017 in Basel, Switzerland (Professor Beaumont is attending that meeting as an invited expert).  Revision of the Lugano Convention would be a good thing, as would Norway and Switzerland becoming parties to the Hague Convention.  It seems that at least until the Lugano Convention is revised and a means is found for the UK to be a party to it (difficult if the UK does not stay in EFTA), the likely outcome post-Brexit is that the regime applicable between the UK and the EU (apart from Denmark) in relation to exclusive choice of court agreements within the scope of the Hague Convention will be the Hague Convention. The UK will be able to grant anti-suit injunctions to uphold exclusive choice of court agreements in favour of the courts in the UK even when one of the parties has brought an action contrary to that agreement in an EU Member State. The EU Member States will apply Article 6 of the Hague Convention rather than Article 31(2) of the Brussels Ia Regulation when deciding whether to decline jurisdiction in favour of the chosen court(s) in the UK.

Whilst the Hague Convention only offers a comprehensive jurisdictional regime for cases involving exclusive choice of court agreements, it does give substantial protection to the jurisdiction of UK courts designated in such an agreement which will be respected in the rest of the EU regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Post-Brexit the recognition and enforcement regime for judgments not falling within the scope of the Hague Choice of Court Agreements Convention could be the new Hague Judgments Convention currently being negotiated in The Hague (see Working Paper No. 2016/3- Respecting Reverse Subsidiarity as an excellent strategy for the European Union at The Hague Conference on Private International Law – reflections in the context of the Judgments Project? by Paul Beaumont). Professor Beaumont will continue to be a part of the EU Negotiating team for that Convention at the Special Commission in the Hague from 13-17 November 2017. It is to be welcomed that the UK Government has affirmed its commitment to an internationalist and not just a regional approach to civil judicial co-operation:

“The UK is committed to increasing international civil judicial cooperation with third parties through our active participation in the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law… We will continue to be an active and supportive member of these bodies, as we are clear on the value of international and intergovernmental cooperation in this area.” See Providing a cross-border civil judicial cooperation framework at para 21.

One good thing that could come from Brexit is the powerful combination of the EU and the UK both adopting a truly internationalist perspective in the Hague Conference on Private International Law in order to genuinely enhance civil judicial co-operation throughout the world. The UK can be one of the leaders of the common law world while using its decades of experience of European co-operation to help build bridges to the civil law countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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Tales of the Unexpected

This blog post by Jayne Hollidaydiscusses findings from the recently completed research project on the ‘Conflicts of EU Courts on Child Abduction’ conducted by the Centre for Private International Law in collaboration with the University of Sussex and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

‘Children should be seen and not heard’ is not the most enlightened proverb and is one that really ought not to be prevalent in modern judicial proceedings within the European Union in cases that affect children. Yet ‘children not being heard’ is precisely what is happening at the moment in intra-EU parental child abduction cases.

What do I mean by parental child abduction cases? When people hear the phrase child abduction they often confuse it with trafficking or kidnapping but in these cases it is where a parent takes their child to another country to live without the permission of the other parent who also has custody rights. Many parents are unaware that to travel out of the country with their child they need the (usually written) consent of the other parent.

Child abduction of this type is by no means a small problem. In 2014, Reunite, a charity that provides support for people involved in these cases, stated that there were over 500 cases involving the UK alone, with the most frequent destinations being France, India, Ireland, Poland, Pakistan, Spain and the USA.

So what can a parent do if their child is abducted in this way? When a parent believes that their child has been abducted by the other parent to another country to live they are able to apply to the court to ask for the child to be returned under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Under the Convention, the parents can also expect help with the process of solving the child abduction from the Central Authorities in the relevant countries.

So far 94 countries or Contracting States have signed up to this Convention and as it only operates between these Contracting States it is necessary to check to see if the relevant countries are party to the Convention and whether it applies between them. For further information click here.

If the 1980 Hague Convention applies (as it does in all cases between EU Member States) and the application for the return of the child is successful then the courts in the country where the child has been abducted to will decide whether or not to return the child. The process is supposed to happen quickly. Usually this works fairly well. The child and parent come back to the child’s habitual residence before the abduction and issues surrounding custody are dealt with there, working on the principle that those courts are best placed to deal with it.

Sometimes the courts in the country where the child has been abducted to decide not to return the child under Article 13 of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Article 13 contains the exceptions to returning the child: the left behind parent consented or acquiesced to it, the child would be at grave risk of harm or otherwise placed in an intolerable situation if they were made to return or the child themselves objects to being returned and is old and mature enough for those views to prevail.

In the EU where a court in a Member State has said no to returning the child under Article 13 of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, the left behind parent uniquely has one more chance to ask for the return of the child. The Brussels IIa Regulation, which deals with parental responsibility and matrimonial matters, contains what on paper looks like a trump card.

Article 11(8) of that Regulation allows the courts in the country of the habitual residence of the child before the abduction to consider what is in the child’s best interests and if they disagree with the non-return order they themselves can issue an order to return the child. For that return order to be enforceable it needs to be accompanied by an Article 42 Brussels IIa Regulation certificate. This is to certify that the child has been given an opportunity to be heard in order to see whether they object to being returned, that both parents have been given an opportunity to be heard, that the court has taken account of the reasons for the non-return, and where applicable, measures to ensure the protection of the child on their return have been put in place.

Professor Paul Beaumont and I (from the Centre for Private International Law at the University of Aberdeen) and Dr Lara Walker (from the University of Sussex), as part of a research project, gathered case law from every Member State within the EU where a left behind parent had initiated these Article 11(6)-(8) Brussels IIa Regulation proceedings. The aim of our research was to assess whether the courts were following the requirements needed to issue the Article 42 Brussels IIa certificate; one of those factors being whether the child had been given an opportunity to be heard, with their views being given due weight in accordance to their age and maturity.

This proved to be easier said than done, as many of these cases are unreported. After eighteen months of research – working with Central Authorities and volunteer researchers in every Member State, NGOs, judges and practitioners – a total of 66 intra-EU cases were collected and then analysed. All of these cases involved Article 11(8) Brussels IIa proceedings but not all the proceedings led to the decision to order the child’s return. However, out of these 66 cases, involving a total of 70 children, it turned out that only 14 children were heard by the courts usually through the Taking of Evidence Regulation.  

The question we then considered was why were these children not being heard? Could it be that the age of the children was a justifying reason?

The data proved to be concerning. We found that children as old as 15 had not been heard by the court even where the reason for not returning the child in the first place under the Hague proceedings had been due to their objection to being returned. Also, children under 12 were routinely not being heard in certain Member States. The national laws of some Member States require that all children are to be given the opportunity to be heard from the age of 12 even when it is commonly understood that children as young as 6 are routinely heard in some Member States in Hague cases, or even from 3 years of age as is the case in Germany. The original reason for the child being 12 years of age is that certain Member States held the view that they needed to protect the child from conflict and they could do this by keeping them away from the courts. However, this approach does not fit easily with the right of the child to be heard. The right of the child to be heard during civil proceedings that affect them is a requirement under international law within Article 12(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and at EU level within Article 24(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and is theoretically protected within these cases by it being a requirement of the Article 42 certificate before a return order can be enforced. But with only 20% of the children in these cases being heard, it is clear that the courts are failing to protect this right .

Additional reasons for the courts not hearing these children were also identified. In addition to the abducting parent in some cases obstructing the child’s opportunity to be heard, a lack of technology was put forward as a reason in many Member States. Not every Member State has arranged for video conferencing facilities to be available to the courts or if they have there is inadequate access. In an age where everyone with a mobile phone is used to having the ability to communicate easily and inexpensively with someone in another country it seems incredible that Member States have not yet put the infrastructure or the manpower in place to support the Taking of Evidence Regulation. But as with all things in life it comes down to a lack of money or in some cases a lack of prioritising the protection of the most vulnerable parties.

Not everything turned out to be doom and gloom. The sheer number of children not heard in these cases was indeed unexpected but it was also encouraging to see that some Member States were working hard to implement change. Judges told us that they now receive training on how to hear the child, and/or they are able to bring experts in. Rooms are being set aside in court buildings that are considered to be a less imposing environment than the court room for a child to be heard in. It is clear that some Member States in the European Union are slowly making the changes needed to protect the rights of the child.

With the revision of the Brussels IIa Regulation imminent we were able to send our interim findings and recommendations to the EU Commission. We await the outcome of the review with interest.

A brief summary of our findings and all the EU country reports can be found on the Centre for Private International Law’s webpage.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more, our overall findings from the research will be published in “Conflicts of EU courts on child abduction: the reality of Article 11(6)-(8) Brussels IIa proceedings across the EU” (2016) 12 Journal of Private International Law (forthcoming).