Conference Report: Scientific Association of International Procedural Law, University of Vienna, 16 to 17 March 2017

On 16 and 17 March 2017 the Wissenschaftliche Vereinigung für Internationales Verfahrensrecht (Scientific Association of International Procedural Law) held its biennial conference, this time hosted by the Law Faculty of the University of Vienna at the Ceremony Hall of the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice (Oberster Gerichtshof).

After opening and welcoming remarks by the Chairman of the Association, Prof. Burkhard Hess, Luxemburg, the Vice President of the Supreme Court Dr. Elisabeth Lovrek, and Prof. Paul Oberhammer, speaking both as Dean of the Law Faculty of the University of Vienna and chair of the first day, the first session of the conference dealt with international insolvency law:

Prof. Reinhard Bork, Hamburg, compared the European Insolvency Recast Regulation 2015/848 and the 1997 UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency Law in respect to key issues such as the scope of application, international jurisdiction and the coordination of main and secondary proceedings. Bork made clear that both instruments, albeit one is binding, one soft law, have far-reaching commonalities on the level of guiding principles (e.g. universality, mutual trust, cooperation, efficiency, transparency, legal certainty etc.) as well as many similar rules whereas in certain other points differences occur, such as e.g. the lack of rules on international jurisdiction and applicable law as well as on groups of companies and data protection in the Model Law. In particular in respect to the rules on the concept of COMI Bork suggested updating the Model Law given a widespread reception of this concept and its interpretation by the European Court of Justice far beyond the territorial reach of the European Insolvency Regulation.

Prof. Christian Koller, Vienna, then focused on communication and protocols between insolvency representatives and courts in group insolvencies. Koller explained the difficulties in regulating these forms of cooperation that mainly depend of course on the good-will of those involved but nevertheless should be and indeed are put under obligation to cooperate. In this context, Koller, inter alia, posed the question if choice of court-agreements or arbitration agreements in protocols are possible but remained skeptical with a view to Article 6 of the Regulation and objective arbitrability. In principle, however, Koller suggested using and, as the case may be, broadening the exercise of party autonomy in cross-border group insolvencies.

In contrast to the harmonizing efforts of the EU and UNCITRAL Prof. Franco Lorandi, St. Gallen, described the Swiss legal system as a rather isolationist “island” in cross-border insolvency matters, yet an island “in motion” since certain steps for reform of Chapter 11 on cross-border insolvency within the Federal Law on Private International Law of 1987 (Bundesgesetz über das Internationale Privatrecht, IPRGare being currently undertaken (see the Federal Governments Proposal; see the Explanatory Report).

In the following Pál Szirányi, DG Justice and Consumers, Unit A1 – Civil Justice, reported on accompanying implementation steps under e.g. Article 87 (establishment of the interconnection of registers) and Article 88 (establishment and subsequent amendment of standard forms) of the European Insolvency Recast Regulation to be undertaken by the European Commission as well as on the envisaged harmonization of certain aspects of national insolvency laws within the EU (see Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventive restructuring frameworks, second chance and measures to increase the efficiency of restructuring, insolvency and discharge procedures and amending Directive 2012/30/EU, see also post by Lukas Schmidt on conflictoflaws.net) and finally on the EU’s participation in the UNCITRAL Working Group V on cross-border insolvency. Szirány further explained that it is of interest to the EU to align and coordinate the insolvency exception in the future Hague Judgments Convention with EU legislation, see Article 2 No. 1 lit. e covering “insolvency, composition and analogous matters” of the 2016 Preliminary Draft Convention.

Prof. Christiane Wendehorst, Vienna, reported on the latest works of the European Law Institute, in particular on the ELI Unidroit Project on Transnational Principles of Civil Procedure, but also on the project on “Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law”, that is drawing to its close, potentially by the ELI conference in Vienna on 27 and 28 April 2017 as well as on the project on “The Principled Relationship of Formal and Informal Justice through the Courts and Alternative Dispute Resolution”.

Finally, Dr Thomas Laut, German Federal Ministry of Justice (Bundesministerium der Justiz) reported on current legislative developments in Germany including works in connection with the Brussels IIbis Recast Regulation, human rights litigation in Germany and the Government Proposal for legislative amendments in the area of conflict of laws and international procedural law (Referentenentwurf des Bundesministeriums der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Änderung von Vorschriften im Bereich des Internationalen Privat- und Zivilverfahrensrechts). This Proposal aims at, inter alia, codifying choice of law rules on agency by inserting a new Article 8 into the Introductory Law of the German Civil Code (Einführungsgesetz zum Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch, EGBGB) and enhancing judicial cooperation with non-EU states, in particular in respect to service of process.

On the second day, Prof. Hess, Luxemburg, introduced the audience to the second session’s focus on methodology in comparative procedural law and drew attention to the growing demand and relevance – reminding the audience, inter alia, of the influence of the Austrian law of appeal on the civil procedure reforms in Germany – but also to certain unique factors of the comparison of procedural law.

Prof. Stefan Huber, Hannover, took up the ball and presented on current developments of comparative legal research and methodology in general as well as possible particularities of comparing procedural law such as e.g. a strong lex fori-principle, the supplementing character of procedural law supporting the realization of private rights, a typically compact character of a procedural legal system, areas of discretion for the judge and the central role of the state – features which might make necessary a more “contextual” approach and a stronger focus on “legal concepts” as a layer between macro and micro perspectives. Huber also argued for a more substantive approach in regard to the latest efforts of the EU to compare the quality of justice systems of the Member States by its annual Justice Scoreboards since 2013. Indeed, the mere collection of economic and financial figures and other “juridical” data leaves unanswered questions of legal backgrounds and concepts in the various legal orders that might very well explain certain particularities in the data. Yet, it must be welcomed that the EU has started to embark on the delicate and methodically demanding but inevitable task of comparing the justice systems linked together under a principle of mutual trust.

Prof. Fernando Gascón Inchausti, Complutense de Madrid, continued the deep reflections on comparative procedural law with a view to the EU and illustrated the relevance in case law both of the European Court of Justice as well as the European Court of Human Rights and in the EU’s law-making and evaluations of existing instruments, see recently e.g. Max-Planck-Institute Luxemburg, “An evaluation study of national procedural laws and practices in terms of their impact on the free circulation of judgments and on the equivalence and effectiveness of the procedural protection of consumer law, JUST/2014/RCON/PR/CIVI/0082, to be published soon.

Prof. Margaret Woo, Northeastern University Boston, closed the session with a global perspective on comparative procedural law from a US and Chinese perspective and particularly drew attention to portectionist tendencies in the US such as e.g. the recent (not entirely new) “foreign law bans” (for a general report from 2013 see here) to be observed in more and more state legislations that put the application of foreign law under the condition that the foreign law in its entirety, i.e. its “system”, does not conflict in any point of law with US guarantees and state fundamental rights. Obviously, this overly broad type of public policy clause is directed against Sharia laws and the like but goes far beyond in that it compares the entire legal system rather than the result of the point of law relevant to the case at hand. In the EU, Article 10 Rome III Regulation might have introduced a “mini” foreign law ban in case of abstract discrimination: “Where the law applicable pursuant to Article 5 or Article 8 makes no provision for divorce or does not grant one of the spouses equal access to divorce or legal separation on grounds of their sex, the law of the forum shall apply”. It remains of course to be seen whether the ECJ interprets this provision in the sense of an ordinary public policy clause requiring a concrete discrimination with effect on the result in the particular case at hand.

In the closing discussion, the audience strongly confirmed the need and benefits of comparative research and studies in particular in times of doubts and counter-tendencies against further cooperation and integration amongst states, their economies and judicial systems. The event ended with warm words of thanks and respect to the organizers and speakers for another splendid conference. If everything goes well, interested readers will be able to study the contributions in the forthcoming conference publication before the international procedural community will meet again in two year’s time – the last conference’s volume has just been published, see Burkhard Hess (ed.), Band 22: Der europäische Gerichtsverbund – Gegenwartsfragen der internationalen Schiedsgerichtsbarkeit – Die internationale Dimension des europäischen Zivilverfahrensrechts, € 68,00, ISBN: 978-3-7694-1172-0, 2017/03, pp. 236.

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