Transforming legal borders: International judicial cooperation and technology in private international law – Part I

Written by Aguada, Yasmín** [1]– Jeifetz, Laura Martina***[2]

This post will be divided into two Views. This is Part I.

Abstract: In a globalized world, International Judicial Cooperation (IJC) and advanced technologies are redefining Private International Law (PIL). The convergences between legal collaboration among countries and technological innovations have revolutionized how cross-border legal issues are approached and resolved. These tools streamline international legal processes, overcoming old obstacles and generating new challenges. This paper explores how this intersection reshapes the global legal landscape, analyzing its advantages, challenges, and future prospects.

Keywords: private international law, international judicial cooperation, new technologies, videoconferencing, Iber@, Apostille.

I. INTRODUCTION

In an increasingly interconnected context, international judicial cooperation (IJC) and the advancement of new technologies have been linked in a notable way, reshaping the landscape of private international law (PIL). The dynamic interaction between these two elements has triggered a profound change in how cross-border legal issues are treated and resolved.

Since ancient times, IJC has been essential to address disputes involving multiple jurisdictions. From the harmonization of laws to the enforcement of judgments in foreign countries, the interaction of legal systems has been a constant challenge. However, in recent times, the emergence of technologies has brought with it revolutionary tools and approaches that are transforming IJC.

As borders become more transparent in the digital world, the implications for PIL are immense. Direct judicial communications, videoconferencing, and other technological innovations are streamlining cross-border legal processes. These technological solutions are not only overcoming traditional obstacles in international judicial cooperation but are also giving way to new challenges that require careful evaluation.

This work explores the convergence between these two fields: assistance between jurisdictions and adopting technological innovations. In this way, we propose researching their intersections and how the transnational legal scenario is transformed, with some specific references to Argentine PIL. Collaboration between nations in the search for legal solutions and the potential of new technologies to accelerate these processes are intertwined in a dynamic symbiosis that redefines PIL’s scope and very nature. In this framework, it is essential to understand the joint evolution of IJC and new technologies to anticipate how this relationship will continue to shape this discipline in the future.

II. INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY ON PIL

There is no doubt that the phenomenon of globalization has impacted all branches of the law without distinction. Historically, the primary purpose of PIL was to ensure the continuity of legal relations across different jurisdictions[3]. However, we must recognize that the impact of globalization, the emergence of telecommunications, and the widespread growth of the use of the means of transportation, have led to the movement of people beyond borders. Added to these phenomena is the rise of electronic commerce and online contracting platforms. All these conditioning factors generate a multiplication of private legal relations with foreign elements.

As indicated by Calvo Caravaca and Carrascosa González,[4] the emergence of the Internet produces a shock wave in all branches of law, but more specifically in PIL, a subject that is revealed as the main protagonist in the repercussions of cyberspace in the legal field. The use of online tools globalizes international private legal situations and, therefore, increases their number and variety.

It is a fact: internationalization is not foreign to the eyes of a jurist. However, from the perspective of our subject, the virtualization of borders through the Internet has managed to put classic concepts established since the Middle Ages in crisis. Undoubtedly, the environment has been transformed, and the law – although always behind – has accompanied the new demands of an increasingly digital society at its own pace.

These trends expand with the increase in regional integration processes, by which States generate agreements to promote the circulation of goods, people, diplomatic relations, reduction of customs fees, etc. Without hesitation, these processes even check the basic foundations of the States. And with this, transnational relations achieve an ever greater increase, so their extension requires their inclusion in legislative agendas.[5]

To this complex panorama of challenges and questions, disruptive technologies are now added that are already seen as the protagonists of the new era. Artificial intelligence, smart contracts, the blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the analysis of large volumes of data (big data) are demanding an exhaustive examination of the basic paradigms of law in general and the PIL in particular.

These technologies are rapidly transforming procurement methods, the way business relationships are established, and governance systems, raising fundamental questions about applying PIL rules and protecting the rights and interests of the parties involved.

International organizations have also echoed these modern challenges. Organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO)[6], the Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT)[7] and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)[8] are taking a leading role in the development of practical guides intended to harmonize solutions to the possible legal consequences derived from the use of these tools.

III. IMPACT OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES ON INTERNATIONAL JUDICIAL COOPERATION

In recent years, a series of tools and mechanisms have been consolidated that, promoted by the benefits derived from the use of technology in the process, seek to generate a more direct connection between authorities to provide assistance. Clear examples of this are direct judicial communications, electronic requests, and the use of videoconferences. These innovations are accompanied by different cooperation networks: the central authorities, key actors in the operation of the agreements, which facilitate legal cooperation; judicial networks[9] and contact point networks.

Although the application of new technologies was not considered when most of the regulations and agreements that we have today were negotiated, there is no regulatory obstacle to their use since the operation of such instruments is substantially optimized through the application of these modern tools.

In the field of soft law, the Principles of the American Association of Private International Law (ASADIP), Chapter 4, “Interjurisdictional Cooperation”, article 4.7, provides in this regard: “As long as the security of the communications can be guaranteed, judges and other judicial officials shall promote and foster the use of new information and communication technologies, such as telephone communications, videoconferencing, electronic messaging and any other means of communication appropriate for effecting the requested cooperation”.

Most of the current regulations contain requirements incompatible with the communication technologies we have available today. In pursuit of a more favorable interpretation of the implementation of ICT, article 4.5 of the ASADIP Principles on Transnational Access to Justice (TRANSJUS Principles), approved by the Assembly of the American Association of Private International Law, in its meeting held in Buenos Aires, on November 12, 2016, points out that:

“…the requested State shall interpret and apply the rules on inter-jurisdictional cooperation in a particularly flexible manner, minimizing the relevance of formalities. The courts of the requested State may act ex officio, making normative adjustments as necessary in order to carry out the corresponding procedural measures. Where the law does not prescribe a specific form, method or means for the cooperation sought by the requesting State, the courts of the requested State shall have the authority to adopt any appropriate measures to carry out the requested assistance, always with a view to protecting the fundamental procedural safeguards.

It follows from this principle “the need to seek the delicate balance between the duty of cooperation, through available and suitable means, and respect for the guarantees of due process”.[10]

III.I. Electronic transmission of requests. Iber@.

Firstly, electronic requests are those that are transmitted within the framework of an international judicial procedure by which the court of one State requires a court of another State to provide judicial assistance or the execution of a procedural act (e.g., notification, evidence), and which is formalized through electronic means.

A vitally important tool in the context of international judicial cooperation is the Iber@ electronic communication platform. This system, characterized by its confidentiality, security, ease of use, and access, is used both by the contact points of the Ibero-American Network for International Legal Aid (IberRed) [11], and by other relevant networks, such as Eurojust, the General Secretariat of INTERPOL and the Ibero-American Network of Specialized Prosecutors Against Trafficking in Human Beings.

User access is required, as provided by the General Secretariat of IberRed, previously designated by the institutions that make up the Network. Then, each user generates a private password, which must be renewed every six months. It should be noted that Iber@ does not impose specific requirements beyond a computer and an internet connection, allowing one to log in from anywhere in the world.[12]

Once the user is authenticated in the system, he or she accesses the platform through the IberRed portal and select the institution to which to direct their query: a Contact Point, a Liaison, or a National Member of Eurojust. After submitting the query, the designated recipient receives an email notification. Subsequently, he or she is asked to enter the platform to view the request.

An important boost for this platform came with the ratification of the Treaty on the Electronic Transmission of Requests for International Legal Cooperation between Central Authorities, which took place in Medellín in July 2019, commonly known as the Medellín Treaty. For the full status, click here.

As Mercedes Albornoz and Sebastián Paredes point out[13], this instrument does not regulate the formal, procedural, or substantial requirements of the request but instead offers a renewing and perfected perspective of the existing treaties on international cooperation. The proposed innovation, in line with current times, involves eliminating the traditional transmission of requests for international assistance in paper format and instead favoring the Iber @ electronic platform as the main means (Article 1). However, its use is not mandatory (Article 4 ).

Unquestionably, cross-border cooperation demands the incorporation of new technologies to guarantee effective judicial protection, which requires collaborative efforts on the part of States. The ultimate objective is to achieve the digitalization of existing mechanisms in the field of international judicial cooperation. In this trajectory, the Iber@ platform presents a significant opportunity, considering its distinctive security characteristics, immediacy, and friendly accessibility.

III.II. e-Apostille. Digitization of evidence and documents.

Another fundamental tool in the framework of international judicial cooperation is the digitization of evidence and documents. At that level, and explicitly concerning public instruments, the electronic apostille is a simplification and streamlining mechanism for the circulation of such documents. Broadly speaking, it is a digital document that is transmitted electronically, allowing a country to expedite the authentication of public documents to produce their effects in other States[14]. This is the electronic implementation of the Hague Apostille, the single and simplified authentication process for public documents provided for by the 1961 Hague Convention[15]. It is carried out by electronic means and on an electronic public document.

Regarding the use of technological tools, the Special Commission, when evaluating the practical operation of the Apostille Convention, reiterated in several meetings that the spirit and letter of the Convention “do not constitute an obstacle to the use of modern technology”, even affirming that the use of said technology can significantly improve the application and operation of the Convention.

In 2006, the Hague Conference (HCCH), together with the National Notary Association of the United States of America (NNA), officially launched the electronic Apostille Pilot Program (e-APP), which was a pilot program until 2012, when it became a permanent program.

The e-APP allows for a much more effective performance of the Convention, considerably increasing security. It can be used with any type of technology and does not privilege the use of one technology over another, so the state parties can freely choose the one that best suits their needs and structures. The e-APP comprises two components: the issuance of e-Apostilles and the operation of e-registers.

The Hague Conference periodically organizes International Fora on the e-APP to discuss and promote its implementation. In 2021, the twelfth Forum on the e-APP was held via videoconference for the first time, and during its celebration, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the operation of the Apostille Convention were pointed out, and the e-APP. Specifically, the number of (e-)Apostilles requested and issued decreased, and public services were hampered by restrictions, prompting a transition towards online services. However, they also noted that Contracting Parties that had already implemented the e-APP, particularly the e-Apostille component, reported fewer issues.

Currently, 53 countries have implemented one or two components of the e-APP. Faced with technologies in constant innovation, the 1961 Hague Convention “remains in force and has even increased its number of ratifications by designing the electronic Apostille Program (e-APP) with the objective of guaranteeing that the Convention functions in a manner effective, safe and uninterrupted, we opted for the incorporation of technology, in this case, through the issuance of electronic apostilles (e-Apostilles) and the use of electronic records (e-Registries) [16]. The e-APP provides the Apostille Convention with renewed energy and relevance, ultimately seeking to extend the scope of the Convention to the electronic medium and strengthen its important benefits by making its operation more effective and secure. In this way, we see how the incorporation of new technologies is possible to optimize the operation of existing agreements and facilitate international judicial and administrative cooperation, and thus promote access to justice.

[1]** Lawyer and notary, Law School, National University of Córdoba, Argentina. Law School, Master in International Business Law, Complutense University of Madrid. Assistant professor in Private International Law and Public International Law at the Faculty of Law, National University of Córdoba. Email: yasmin.aguada@mi.unc.edu.ar

[2] *** Lawyer, Law School, National University of Córdoba, Argentina. PhD student, University of Cádiz. Master in International Business Law, Complutense University of Madrid. Assistant professor in Private International Law at Law School,  National University of Córdoba. Email: martina.jeifetz@unc.edu.ar

[3] DREYZIN DE KLOR, ADRIANA. El derecho internacional privado actual. Volume I. Zavalia, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, 2015.

[4] CALVO CARAVACA, ALFONSO  L. and CARRASCOSA GONZÁLEZ, JAVIER. Conflictos de leyes y conflictos de jurisdicciones en Internet, Madrid, Colex, 2001.

[5] SCOTTI, LUCIANA. Los escenarios del derecho internacional privado actual: globalización, integración y multiculturalidad. Derecho Internacional Privado y Derecho de la Integración– Book tribute to Roberto Ruíz Díaz Labrano, coord. Fernández Arroyo, D. Moreno Rodríguez, José A. CEDEP, Asunción, 2001.

[6] The World Trade Organization prepared a work directed by Emmanuelle Ganne in which the impacts of blockchains on global trade are analyzed. GANNE, Emmanuelle. Can blockchains revolutionize international trade? 2018.

Available at: https://www.wto.org/spanish/res_s/booksp_s/blockchainrev18_s.pdf. Accessed: 7 July 2024.

[7] For its part, since 2020, UNIDROIT has commissioned a specialized group, at the initiative of some European countries, to prepare a regulatory instrument that contains principles and practical guides on Digital Assets and Private Law. For more details: https://www.unidroit.org/work-in-progress/digital-assets-and-private-law/#1456405893720-a55ec26a-b30a . Accessed: 7 July 2024.

[8] Since 2022, the UNCITRAL Working Group on Electronic Commerce has been analyzing legal issues related to the digital economy. They have especially dedicated themselves to making a legislative proposal for artificial intelligence and automated contracting. More information at: https://uncitral.un.org/es/working_groups/4/electronic_commerce. Accessed: 7 July 2024.

[9] As an example, we mention the International Hague Network of Judges, a group of judges who jointly cooperate on requests for international return of children. For more details: International Network of Judges of The Hague. Available at: https://www.hcch.net/es/instruments/conventions/specialized-sections/child-abduction/ihnj. Accessed: 7 July 2024.

[10]SCOTTI, LUCIANA . op. cit., 2020, p. 428.

[11]The Ibero-American Network of International Judicial Aid (IberRed) constitutes a valuable collaboration network in areas of civil and criminal law. The Network is made up of Central Authorities and members of the Ministries of Justice, and other judicial bodies from 22 Ibero-American countries. It is also made up of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. The basic objective is to optimize the operation of the current civil and criminal assistance agreements, and to strengthen cooperation between the member countries of the Ibero-American Community of Nations. Such a structure constitutes a fundamental advance in the construction of an Ibero-American Judicial Space. In order to safeguard effective judicial protection, it aims to strengthen international legal cooperation mechanisms and, in addition, simplify the instruments and tools currently in force. Its official languages are Spanish and Portuguese IBERO-AMERICAN NETWORK OF INTERNATIONAL JUDICIAL AID. https://iberred.notariado.org/, 2014. Accessed: 7 July 2024.

[12] AGUADA, YASMÍN and JEIFETZ, LAURA MARTINA. “Nuevas oportunidades de la cooperación judicial internacional: exhorto electrónico y blockchain”. Legal and Social Research Center, Anuario XIX, 2019.

[13] ALBORNOZ, MERCEDES and PAREDES, SEBASTIAN. “Nuevo Tratado de Medellín: la tecnología de la información al servicio de la cooperación internacional” in Derecho en Acción, 2019.

[14] Private documents, in order to be apostillised, require prior certification by a notary public.

[15] It is worth remembering that the 1961 Hague Convention eliminated the requirement for legalization of foreign public documents, replacing it with the apostille. This Convention is one of the most accepted and applied international treaties globally. It is currently in force in 126 States, making it one of the most successful international instruments in the field of international legal and administrative cooperation.

[16] ALL, PAULA. “Legalización de documentos en la fuente convencional y en la fuente interna. Un paso más en el avance hacia lo tecnológico y lo digital” in, LA LEY, 04/29/2019, 1. Online Citation: AR/DOC/961/2019

This week at The Hague: A few thoughts on the Special Commission on the HCCH Service, Evidence and Access to Justice Conventions

Written by Mayela Celis, Maastricht University

The Special Commission on the practical operation of the 1965 Service, 1970 Evidence and 1980 Access to Justice Conventions will take place in The Hague from 2 to 5 July 2024. For more information (incl. all relevant documents), click here. Particularly worthy of note is that this is the first meeting in the history of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) in which Spanish is an official language  – the new language policy entered into force on 1 July 2024.

A wide range of documents has been drafted for this Special Commission, such as the usual questionnaires on the practical operation and the summary of responses of Contracting States. These documents are referred to as Preliminary Documents (Prel. Doc.). Particularly interesting is the document relating to Contractual Waiver and the Service Convention (i.e. when the parties opt out of the Convention), the conclusions of which I fully endorse (Prel. Doc. No. 12, click here, p. 10).

Country profiles have also been submitted for approval (Prel. Docs 9 and 10), a practice which is in line with what has been done with other HCCH Conventions. A document on civil and commercial matters has also been issued and while it basically restates previous Conclusions and Recommendations, it includes the suggestion made by some States to develop “a list-based approach to identify the scope of “civil or commercial matters”” and recommends not following that route but rather take a case-by-case approach (Prel. Doc. 11, click here) – a very wise approach.

Moreover, it is worth noting that revised versions of the Service and Evidence Handbooks have been submitted for approval. A track changes version of each has been made available on the website of the Hague Conference. The Handbooks are usually only available for purchase on the HCCH website so this is a unique opportunity to view them (although not in final form).

For ease of reference, I include the links below:

Service Handbook (track version, clean version)

Evidence Handbook (track version, clean version)

With regard to the Service Handbook, a few changes are worth underscoring. I will refer to changes in comparison to the 4th edition of the Handbook. While I will refer to the track changes version, please note that not all changes have been marked as changes as this version refers to changes made to an intermediate version circulated internally:

  1. P. 61 of the track changes version – Service on an agent – The clarification of the two lines of cases that have emerged regarding service on an agent (e.g. the US Secretary of State) and whether the document should be sent abroad is particularly interesting.
  2. P. 66 of the track changes version – Service by postal channels on Chinese defendants – The emphasis on China’s opposition to postal channels is particularly significant, given the litigation regarding service on Chinese defendants through postal channels.
  3. P. 69 et seq. of the track changes version – Substituted service – a welcome addition to underscore that this type of service is also used when the Convention does not apply.
  4. P. 87 et seq. of the track changes version – a practical example from Brazil on how to locate a person to be served – this is an interesting example and it enriches the Handbook by including an example from Latin America.
  5. P. 101 et seq of the track changes version and glossary EU digitalisation – a fleeting reference is made to the modernization initiative of the European Union.
  6. P. 145 et seq of the track changes version – Water Splash, Inc. v Menon decision by the US Supreme Court – The position of the US regarding article 10(a) has been updated and all the previous case law of lower and appeal courts has been deleted.

The above-mentioned changes are very welcome and will be very useful to practitioners.

On a more critical note, it should be noted that it is unfortunate that the Annex on the use of information technology featured in a previous edition of the Service Handbook has been deleted (previously Annex 8). In this Annex, there were references to the latest case law on electronic service by electronic means (approx. 26 pages), including email (incl. references to the first case and the evolution in this regard), Facebook, X previously known as Twitter, message board, etc. and an analysis whether the Service Convention applied and why (not).

Unfortunately, very few excerpts of this Annex have been included throughout the Handbook. The concept of address under Article 1(2) of the Service Convention vs email address is of great importance and it has remained in its place (p. 88 of the track changes version).

As a result, the Service Handbook contains now very few references to “service by e-mail” (1 hit), “electronic service” (3 hits), “e-service” (2 hits) or “service by electronic means” (10 hits, see in particular, p. 100) and no hits for “service by Facebook” or “service by Twitter”. It also seems to focus on e-service executed by Central Authorities of the requested State according to domestic laws (as opposed to direct service by email across States). And in this regard, see for example the comment from China (Prel. Doc. 15, click here, p. 41).

Having said that, an additional document on IT was drafted (Prel. Doc. No 13, click here), which summarises the way in which information technology can be used to enhance the above-mentioned Hague Conventions and focuses specifically on electronic transmission, electronic service and video-link.

With regard to e-service, Preliminary Document No 13 notes among other things that Contracting Parties remain divided as to whether or not service – of process or otherwise – via e-mail or other forms of e-service is within the scope of Article 10(a) postal channels (p. 9). See in this regard the comment from the European Union (Prel. Doc. 15, click here, p. 38). This casts a shadow on the ‘functional equivalence’ approach of this Convention. Moreover, this document only discusses e-service very briefly and the literature referred to in the Prel. Doc. is outdated pertaining to one or two decades ago. On the other hand, however, reference is made to the 2022 responses to the Questionnaire and two recent cases.

Another perhaps unfortunate deletion is the relationship between the Service Convention and the applicable EU regulation (No. 2020/1784). The Handbook merely dedicates a half page to this important relationship (p. 169 of the track changes version) and does not analyse the similarities and the differences between them, as was the case in previous versions. A missed opportunity.

On a positive note, the graphs and tables have been improved and made more reader-friendly and a new Annex has been included “Joining the Convention” (new States can only accede to the Convention).

With regard to Evidence Handbook, it could be noted that this Handbook has been subject to a more recent update in 2020, as well as the publication of a Guide to Good Practice on Video-Link in the same year. Therefore, in a way there are less new developments to include. In particular, it has been noted that sections of the Guide to Good Practice on Video-Link have been included into the Evidence Handbook. A question may then arise as to whether the Guide will remain a stand-alone document (but apparently, it will not – for now the free version of the GGP can be downloaded. Hopefully, the Handbook will also be translated into as many languages as the Guide was).

As with the Service Handbook, the graphs and tables have been improved and made more reader-friendly.

Of great significance is the delicate split of views with regard to the possibility of obtaining direct taking of evidence by video-link under Chapter I of the Evidence Convention. In my view, this is the Achilles’ heel of the Evidence Convention since without direct taking of evidence under Chapter I, there is a real danger that this instrument has become obsolete. Let alone the fact that the Evidence Convention has no specific safeguards for the direct taking of evidence.

In sum, the Service and Evidence Conventions work well in a paper environment. However, these Conventions are struggling to keep up with technological developments as some States are reluctant to accept the ‘functional equivalence’ approach of some of their provisions, in particular art. 10(a) of the Service Convention and art. 9(2) of the Evidence Convention (direct service by postal channels and direct taking of evidence by the requesting State). An easier implementation of IT is the electronic transmission of requests, something that is left as a long-term goal (see below), the effecting of e-service by the Central Authority of the requested State or the use of video-link in the indirect taking of evidence. A question then arises as to how fit are these Conventions for the future and that is something that only time will tell.

This aside – the updating of the Handbooks and the drafting of the preliminary documents is a huge enterprise. The drafters should be congratulated, as these documents will certainly be of great benefit to the users of both Conventions.

At the end of a meeting of the Special Commission, Conclusions and Recommendations are adopted.  In this regard, Prel. Doc. No. 13 submits a few proposals regarding information technology (see pages 15-17). In particular, it stands out [for the long-term] “the proposal for the development of an international system to facilitate the e-transmission of requests or alternatively, to propose how a decentralised system of platforms for the transmission of requests may function effectively.” In that respect, a question arises as to how to combine synergies and avoid overlapping efforts at the international and the EU level.

A link to the Conclusions & Recommendations will be added to this post once they have been made available.

First Case of Reciprocal Commitment: China Requests Azerbaijan to Enforce its Judgment Based on Reciprocity

It has been a hot topic to explore the recognition and enforcement of judgments between China and other countries. The core issue of the topic is the role of reciprocity under Chinese law and practice concerning the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in China. Reciprocity was narrowly interpreted by Chinese courts in the past, blocking the circulation of lots of foreign judgments in China. Encouragingly, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is adopting new rules to interpret reciprocity, which is now far more favorable to establishing the reciprocal relationship between China and foreign countries. Then it is up to lower Chinese courts to follow up and the new reciprocity rules established by the SPC are tested in practice.

 

This piece of comment is written by Dr. Meng Yu, lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law, and co-founder of China Justice Observer.

 

In 2019, in the Zhou et al. v. Vusal case, China’s request to Azerbaijan for judgment recognition and enforcement was accompanied by its reciprocal commitment through a diplomatic note, marking the first time China made a reciprocal commitment to a foreign country regarding recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

Key takeaways:

  • In the field of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments (REFJ), the new reciprocity criteria in China include three tests, namely, de jure reciprocity, reciprocal understanding or consensus, and reciprocal commitment.
  • In 2019, in the Zhou et al. v. Vusal case, China’s request to Azerbaijan for judgment recognition and enforcement was accompanied by its reciprocal commitment through a diplomatic note, marking the first time China made a reciprocal commitment to a foreign country regarding REFJ.
  • A reciprocal commitment is essentially a unilateral promise that takes effect upon being made.
  • Before making such a commitment, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) examines and decides on the matter. This is logically consistent with the requirement from the Conference Summary that Chinese courts need to examine, on a case-by-case basis, the existence of reciprocity, on which the SPC has the final say.

 

Reciprocity is not new but reciprocal commitment is.

Readers familiar with the topic of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments (REFJ) will undoubtedly be familiar with the concept of “reciprocity”. Although its manifestations and extent vary, the principle of reciprocity serves as the basis or precondition for REFJ in many countries, including China.

However, few countries have developed the concept of reciprocity as creatively as China, which has had at least five different standards for its determination—de facto reciprocity, presumptive reciprocity, de jure reciprocity, reciprocal understanding or consensus, and reciprocal commitment.

Among these, Reciprocal Commitment, as the most recently developed reciprocity criterion, often leaves people puzzled. What exactly is this unicorn-like criterion?

In 2019, in the case of Zhou et al. v. Vusal (hereinafter the “Vusal Case”), China requested Azerbaijan to recognize and enforce a judgment, making a commitment through diplomatic notes. This was the first reported case in which China made a reciprocal commitment to a foreign country regarding REFJ. This case will unveil to us the nature of Reciprocal Commitment.

I. What is “Reciprocal Commitment”?

Since the 2000s, reciprocity criteria have evolved significantly, reflecting China’s efforts to liberalize its REFJ rules.

Over a decade, the early, high-threshold reciprocity criterion—de facto reciprocity, was abandoned. One after another, more pragmatic and flexible criteria such as presumptive reciprocity and de jure reciprocity have emerged in the form of judicial policies, declarations, and memoranda. Following the release of the “Conference Summary of the Symposium on Foreign-related Commercial and Maritime Trials of Courts Nationwide” (hereinafter the “Conference Summary”) of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), a new generation of more open reciprocity criteria[1] has been established.

The new reciprocity criteria include three tests, namely, de jure reciprocity, reciprocal understanding or consensus, and reciprocal commitment, which also coincide with possible outreaches of legislative, judicial, and administrative branches.

Related Posts:

  • How Chinese Courts Determine Reciprocity in Foreign Judgment Enforcement – Breakthrough for Collecting Judgments in China Series (III)[2]
  • China’s 2022 Landmark Judicial Policy Clears Final Hurdle for Enforcement of Foreign Judgments[3]

It then begs the question, what exactly is reciprocal commitment?

According to the Conference Summary, the test of reciprocal commitment means that when trying a case applying for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment or ruling, the people’s court may recognize the existence of reciprocity, if “the country where the judgment-making court is located has made reciprocal commitments to China through diplomatic channels or China has made reciprocal commitments to the country where the judgment-making court is located through diplomatic channels, and there is no evidence that the country where the judgment-making court is located has refused to recognize and enforce a Chinese judgment or ruling on the ground of lack of reciprocity”.

For a while, reciprocal commitment was like a mysterious unicorn—because there were almost no cases or reports mentioning it. In contrast, the other two reciprocity tests have well-known instances, including the SPAR case, which involved the de jure reciprocity, where an English judgment was recognized and enforced in China for the first time[4]; the China-Singapore MOG, which demonstrated reciprocal understanding[5]; and the Nanning Statement, which involved reciprocal consensus[6].

One year after the Conference Summary, the first public document on reciprocal commitment finally appeared. This is the Vusal case, which was introduced as a typical case of reciprocal commitment in “Understanding and Application of the Conference Summary” authored by the SPC’s Fourth Civil Division, published in June 2023.

II. The Case of Vusal: First Case of Reciprocal Commitment

In July 2018, Yiwu Primary People’s Court, Zhejiang (the “Yiwu Court”), issued a first-instance civil judgment (2018) Zhe 0782 Min Chu No. 8836, in the case of a sales contract dispute between Zhou et al. and the defendant Vusal (a national of Azerbaijan). The judgment ordered the defendant Vusal to pay the plaintiffs Zhou et al. for the goods. The defendant Vusal failed to appear in the court after being duly summoned, and did not appeal during the appeal period. The judgment became effective in August of the same year.

After the judgment took effect, Vusal refused to satisfy the judgment, and the plaintiff applied to the court for enforcement of the judgment. The Yiwu Court filed the case for enforcement but did not find any of Vusal’s enforceable asset in China.

In October 2019, the Yiwu Court reported to the SPC to request the competent court of the Republic of Azerbaijan to recognize and enforce the judgment.

Upon review, SPC decided to submit the judicial assistance request to Azerbaijan, and to make a reciprocal commitment.

Finally, when making a judicial assistance request, the Chinese Embassy in Azerbaijan made a commitment to Azerbaijan in a diplomatic note that “it will provide equal assistance to Azerbaijan under similar circumstances in accordance with the law”.

III. Comments

This case marks the first time that China has proactively made a reciprocal commitment to a foreign country regarding REFJ. It is still unclear whether Azerbaijan has acted on China’s judicial assistance request for REFJ. There is also no available report or discussion on how Azerbaijan views the reciprocal commitment made by China through diplomatic notes.

One thing is certain: combined with the Vusal case, the meaning and application of reciprocal commitment have become clearer.

First, a reciprocal commitment is essentially a unilateral promise that takes effect upon being made. This “unilateral” commitment can be made by a foreign country (the future country where the judgment-making court is located) to China (the future requested country), or by China to the foreign country, as exemplified by China’s commitment to Azerbaijan in the Vusal case.

Second, a reciprocal commitment can be regarded as a presumption of the existence of reciprocity. Since the commitment is unilateral and differs from the bilateral reciprocity understanding or consensus, the making of such a commitment does not automatically prove the existence of reciprocity. Instead, reciprocity is presumed unless there is evidence to the contrary (i.e., the other country has previously refused to recognize and enforce a Chinese judgment on the grounds that a reciprocal relationship does not exist).

Third, reciprocal commitments are made through diplomatic channels, as in the Vusal case where the Chinese Embassy in Azerbaijan made the commitment through a diplomatic note. Before making such a commitment, the SPC examines and decides on the matter. This is logically consistent with the requirement from the Conference Summary that Chinese courts need to examine, on a case-by-case basis, the existence of reciprocity, on which the SPC has the final say.

[1] https://conflictoflaws.net/2022/chinas-2022-landmark-judicial-policy-clears-final-hurdle-for-enforcement-of-foreign-judgments/

[2] https://www.chinajusticeobserver.com/a/breakthrough-for-collecting-judgments-in-china-series-3

[3] https://conflictoflaws.net/2022/chinas-2022-landmark-judicial-policy-clears-final-hurdle-for-enforcement-of-foreign-judgments/

[4] https://www.chinajusticeobserver.com/a/chinese-court-recognizes-english-commercial-judgment-for-the-first-time

[5] https://www.chinajusticeobserver.com/p/memorandum-of-guidance-between-china-supremecourt-and-singapore-supremecourt-on-recognition-and-enforcement-of-money-judgments

[6]  https://www.chinajusticeobserver.com/p/nanning-statement-of-the-2nd-china-asean-justice-forum

 

The Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court on the Law on Civil Marriage – Applicability to Foreign Muslims and the Complex Issue of International Jurisdiction

The Indian Satellite Saga and Retaliation: Recognizing the Supreme Court of India’s Judgment Abroad?

Introduction

As one of the most complex and fiercely contested recent investment disputes, the Indian Satellite Saga originated from India’s annulment of an agreement for leasing S-band electromagnetic spectrum on two satellites (Satellite Agreement) to Devas Multimedia Private Ltd. (Devas). The Saga involved multiple international arbitrations and domestic litigations. In 2022, the Supreme Court of India made a judgment (SCI Judgment) to wind up Devas. Devas and its foreign investors allege the SCI Judgment is a retaliatory measure against them for enforcing arbitration awards.

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A Californian Judgment fails the Provisional Sentence test in South African Courts

Solomon Okorley Ph.D, University of Johannesburg, and affiliated with the Research Centre for Private International Law in Emerging Countries at the University of Johannesburg.

Introduction

South Africa is one of the most developed countries on the African continent and a key country in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) economic bloc. Its status in private international law on the African continent is evinced as the country on the African continent where two vital instruments of private international law were adopted: the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Cape Town Convention) and the Mining, Agricultural and Construction Protocol (MAC Protocol). It is also a member of the Hague Conference of Private International Law. Thus, development in its private international is likely to significantly impact the neighboring countries in the SADC region and the continent.

 

In the recent case of Lindsey and Others v Conteh (774/2022) 2024 (3) SA 68 (SCA), the South African Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal for the recognition and enforcement of a Californian judgment. The South African Supreme Court of Appeal held that “The California Court Orders do not constitute a liquid document evidencing an unconditional acknowledgment of indebtedness, in a fixed sum of money. The appeal must accordingly fail” (para 35).

This case is significant because the case addresses the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment in South Africa and matters concerning provisional sentence. It is, therefore, a case that other SADC countries and common law jurisdictions would find helpful when recognizing and enforcing foreign judgments, especially under the common law regime.

 

Facts

The case outlined below concerns the recognition and enforcement of a Californian foreign judgment in South Africa. The brief facts of the case is as follows: The sixth appellant, African Wireless Incorporated (AWI), is a corporation registered in terms of the laws of the State of Delaware in the United States of America; and the first to fifth appellants are the shareholders of AWI. The respondent is a businessman and citizen of the United States of America and now resides in South Africa. The appellants filed a suit against Mr Conteh, the respondent. The basis of the suit was that the respondent had transferred some shares of AWI to companies belonging to him without the requisite permission of AWI.

Consequently, the appellants obtained a judgment by default. Further, the Californian Superior Court ordered the respondent to turn over the shares to the appellants. The court also placed a value upon the shares ‘for bond purposes only’. The appellants then brought an ex parte application, which inter alia sought to convert the earlier court order to a monetary judgment. However, the application was dismissed.

 

The case before the High Court

The appellants argued that the foreign default judgment and the post-judgment enforcement orders collectively constituted a final and binding money judgment. They further argued that, by operation of law, the judgment was enforceable in the same manner as a “money judgment for the value of the shares”. This is because it had been converted into a liquid and executable money judgment under California law. Therefore, its nonpayment entitled them to seek a provisional sentence. However, the respondent contended that the foreign judgment was not a money judgment; hence, it was not a liquid document. He averred that what was before the courts was merely a judgment for the delivery of shares.

 

The ruling of the High Court

According to the High Court, ‘the judgment does not constitute prima facie proof of a debt enforceable by provisional sentence’, as it did not comprise a liquid document. The court determined that extrinsic evidence on Californian law was necessary to prove that the order to turn over the shares had been converted into a debt in monetary terms, thus constituting a money judgment. The court concluded that the need to resort to such extrinsic evidence was inconsistent with South African courts’ usual strict adherence to the requirements for granting a provisional sentence. Dissatisfied with this ruling, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

 

Summary of the Judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal extolled the importance of recognizing and enforcing foreign judgment ‘in a world of ever greater international commerce’ (para 26). It reechoed its previous statement in Richman v Ben-Tovim 2007 (2) SA 283 (SCA), where it stated that “it is now well established that the exigencies of international trade and commerce require ‘. . . that final foreign judgments be recognised as far as is reasonably possible in our courts, and that effect be given thereto’” (para 25). The court stated that a court judgment serves as prima facie evidence of a debt owed and constitutes an acknowledgment of the indebtedness for the amount specified in the judgment.

The central issue in this case was whether a series of orders and two writs, granted by the Superior Court of California in the State of California, United States of America, cumulatively constituted a liquid document that can be enforced through provisional sentence in South Africa. Thus, the Supreme Court of Appeal was invited to determine the true nature of the Californian court orders in relation to the granting of a provisional sentence.

The appellants argued that the foreign judgment, when read cumulatively, constitutes a liquid document despite the initial judgment being for the turnover of shares. According to them, because a monetary value was ascribed to the shares and a writ of execution for the monetary value of the shares was issued, it is sufficient to enable them to secure a provisional sentence.

The court referred to the seminal case of Jones v Krok 1995 (1) SA 677 (A) to set out the conditions to be met for the recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment, namely: ‘(i) that the court which pronounced the judgment had jurisdiction to entertain the case according to the principles recognised by our law with reference to the jurisdiction of foreign courts (sometimes referred to as “international jurisdiction or competence”)? (ii) that the judgment is final and conclusive in its effect and has not become superannuated? (iii) that the recognition and enforcement of the judgment by our courts would not be contrary to public policy? (iv) that the judgment was not obtained by fraudulent means? (v) that the judgment does not involve the enforcement of a penal or revenue law of the foreign state? and (vi) that enforcement of the judgment is not precluded by the provisions of the Protection of Businesses Act 99 of 1978, as amended…’. In this case, the parties did not seek to qualify these requirements (para 27).

According to the court, a provisional sentence is a “summary remedy” that allows a judgment creditor with a liquid document to obtain relief quickly without initiating a trial action (para 19). The liquid document relied upon by the judgment creditor “must be a written instrument signed by the defendant acknowledging indebtedness unconditionally for a fixed amount of money,” and the judgment debt  “must be fixed, definitive, sounding in money,” which is “evident on the face of the document” (para 21). Thus, the judgment creditor must satisfy the court that the foreign judgment satisfies these conditions in order to succeed under the proceedings for a provisional sentence. Under the proceedings for provisional sentence, the need for extrinsic evidence nullifies the liquidity requirement. However, over time, there has been a shift away from the strict application of the principle of “the document must speak for itself” towards the need for “greater flexibility as to what evidence extrinsic to the foreign judgment itself may be permissible” (para 22).

The Supreme Court of Appeal stated that the judgment debt contained in the California Court Orders was for the possession of property. That is, the respondent should turn over the shares to AWI. Although the California court determined the value of those shares, it did not order Mr Conteh to pay an amount; it only required the respondent to deliver up specified shares. On this issue, the Court of Appeal of the State of California had already held that the appellants ‘were not entitled to an actual money judgment in the default judgment proceedings’ (para 11).

The SCA further made two observations on the relevant provisions of California law. First, court orders for the possession of property cannot be immediately enforced as a money judgment upon issuance. Some steps need to be followed: “The levying officer must have failed to take custody of the property; made demand of the judgment debtor, if the debtor can be located; the levying officer must then make a return that the property cannot be obtained” (para 31). It is only when these steps have been followed that the judgment for the possession of property will be enforced ‘in the same manner’ (para 31) as a money judgment. Secondly, the Supreme Court of Appeal emphasized that although the relevant provisions of Californian law allow for the enforcement of the Californian Court Orders ‘in the same manner’ as a money judgment, it does not render the court orders to be a money judgment (para 31).

On why a court order that can be enforced as a money judgment under Californian laws should not be recognised and enforced by a South African court, the Supreme Court of Appeal stated that it “is a matter of sovereignty” (para 33). South African courts are not simply instruments for enforcing California court orders. In addition, the summons by the appellants was for a provisional sentence and did not request a South African court to implement the enforcement procedures of Californian law (para 34).

Most crucially, the court stated that because the cause of action set out in the summons was based on a foreign judgment that is not a money judgment, the provisional sentence cannot be granted (para 35). Also, the California courts did not constitute a liquid document for a fixed sum of money. Thus, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the case, but on a ground different from that of the high court. The Supreme Court of Appeal reasoned that it was not the recourse of the appellants to extrinsic evidence that rendered provisional sentence unavailable to them. Instead, the foreign judgment they relied upon is not a money judgment, hence not a liquid document (para 36). Consequently, the appeal was dismissed.

 

Comment

This is a case where the judgment creditors sought the assistance of the South African courts to recognize and enforce the California court orders. It was a typical case of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. However, the foreign judgment fell short of the requirements to be satisfied when recognizing and enforcing judgment sounding in money. One of the recognized procedures for recognizing and enforcing foreign judgment in South Africa is by way of provisional sentence. When making this application for a provisional sentence, the judgment creditor should be armed with a liquid document. As a requirement, the judgment in question needs to be a money judgment. However, in this instant case, according to the Supreme Court of Appeal, the California Court Orders do not constitute a liquid document: the judgment obtained in the Californian courts was not a money judgment. Consequently, according to both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, because this ‘necessary’ requirement has not been met, the foreign judgment cannot be enforced by way of a provisional sentence.

In most common law legal systems, when recognizing and enforcing a foreign judgment, one of the requirements is that the judgment should be a fixed sum of money. Although it is not stated clearly in SADC countries, it is implicit in the procedure for enforcing foreign judgments through provisional sentence summons, which are summons on liquid documents (para 21). In this case, the South African court upheld this requirement and did not recognize the Californian court orders, which did not constitute a liquid document. Although a monetary value had been placed on the shares the respondent had to transfer, it was not deemed a money judgment. Thus, the fact that a foreign court order can be converted into a monetary value does not change the nature of the judgment into a monetary value. For a judgment to qualify as a fixed sum of money, it needs to be shown clearly in the foreign judgment that the judgment debtor is required to pay a specific sum of money. In the words of the court, the debt must be “fixed, definitive, sounding in money and evident on the face of the document relied upon” (para 21). Without that, it does not qualify as a monetary judgment and cannot be recognized and enforced. The California judgment was not a money judgment. Thus, it was not recognized and enforced by way of provisional sentence. It is submitted that the Supreme Court of Appeal was right to dismiss the appeal on this ground. This decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal will be of great importance to Southern African courts, which are influenced by the jurisprudence of South African courts (Standic BV v Petroholland Holding (Pty) Ltd (A 289-2012) [2020] NAHCMD 197).

 

This judgment also shows the clinging of South Africa’s court to the common law theory of obligation (para 18). Per the theory of obligation, a foreign judgment can be recognized and enforced by initiating a new action for the judgment debt. The rationale is that the foreign judgment imposes an obligation on the individual against whom the judgment was rendered to pay the judgment debt. The claim to pay the judgment debt is separate from the original cause of action that led to the judgment in the foreign jurisdiction. The judgment obtained in this new suit, not the original foreign court judgment, is enforceable as a judgment in the domestic courts. However, one should not be quick to pin this theoretical basis on South Africa’s legal regime. This is because, in other cases of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment that have come before the South African courts, such as Richman v Ben-Tovim (para 4) and the Government of Zimbabwe v Fick 2013 (5) SA 325 (CC) (para 56-57), other bases such as comity and reciprocity have been mentioned to be the basis for enforcing a foreign judgment. One should thus be guided by the counsel of Booysen J in Laconian Maritime Enterprises Ltd v Agromar Lineas1986 (3) SA 509 (D), where she observed rightly that trying to search for a theoretical basis was “a most interesting and somewhat frustrating exercise to attempt to pin it down” (Laconian Maritime Enterprises Ltd v Agromar Lineas 1986 (3) SA 509 (D) 513). The court thus observed that the concern should be on the applicable legal regime (that is, whether common law regime or the statutory regime) and the stipulated conditions for the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment (Laconian Maritime Enterprises Ltd v Agromar Lineas 1986 (3) 509 (D) 516).

 

Another aspect of this case concerns recognizing and enforcing non-monetary foreign judgments. It is submitted that the practice where only judgments sounding in money are recognized and enforced is problematic and does not reflect recent developments in the field of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment. A foreign judgment, beyond the requirement for the payment of a specific sum of money, might also require that the judgment debtor perform an act that includes the transfer of shares (like in this instant case) or delivery of property. There is a need for development in South Africa’s legal regime to enable it to recognize and enforce non-monetary foreign judgments.

Current legislative developments in the arena of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments allow for the recognition and enforcement of non-monetary judgments. For instance, the 2019 Hague Judgments Convention allows for recognizing and enforcing non-monetary judgments. According to the Garcimartín-Saumier Report, recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment “includes money and non-money judgments, judgments given by default.. and judgments in collective actions” (para 95). Further, the Report adds that “Judgments that order the debtor to perform or refrain from performing a specific act, such as an injunction or an order for specific performance of a contract (final non-monetary or non-money judgments) fall within the scope of the Convention”. Also, the Commonwealth Model Law on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgment of 2018 allows for the recognition and enforcement of non-monetary judgments (Art 2). Even before these legislative innovations, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of Pro Swing Inc v Elta Golf Inc ((2007) 273 DLR (4th) 663), had already held that the traditional common law rule that limits enforcement to fixed sum judgments should be revised to allow for the enforcement on non-monetary judgments. Also, common law countries such as Australia and New Zealand have all, by legislation, done away with the fixed sum of money restriction (Australia: Section 5(6) of Foreign Judgments Act 1991; New Zealand: Section 3B of Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1934).

These represent current developments in the law, and thus, the courts in South Africa, as part of their responsibility to develop the common law (section 8(3) of South Africa’s 1996 constitution), should incorporate this innovation in order to develop the common law in this regard the next time they are seised with a case which requires them to recognize and enforce a non-monetary foreign judgment.

Suppose South Africa’s legal regime recognizes and enforces non-monetary foreign judgments; the court might have reached a different conclusion rather than outright dismissing the case and the appeal. In that situation, the California court order, which required the respondent to transfer shares to AWI, would have been capable of being recognized and enforced by the South African court. After the recognition and possible enforcement of the order to transfer the shares, the court would subsequently be invited to determine how to handle the monetary value placed on the shares to be transferred. However, such an opportunity was missed because South African courts do not recognize and enforce non-monetary judgments.

 

A Rejoinder to Dr Cosmas Emeziem’s “Conflict of Laws and Diversity of Opinions—A View of The Nigerian Jurisdiction”

In this blog post, I respond to a recent critique by Dr. Cosmas Emeziem of a blog post co-authored by Dr. Abubakri Yekini and myself. Our post celebrated the elevation of Justice H.A.O. Abiru to the Nigerian Supreme Court and highlighted its significance for the development of Nigerian conflict of laws.

Dr. Emeziem argues that institutional expertise should be prioritised over individual expertise. He states, “[I]t is essential to stay focused on institutional capacities, expertise and competence and how to enhance them—instead of individualized expertise, which, though important, are weak foundations for enduring legal evolution and a reliable PIL regime.” He concludes that: “Thus, the idea that “an expert in conflict of laws is now at the Supreme Court after a long time”  is potentially misleading—especially for persons, businesses, and investors who may not know the inner workings of complex legal systems such as Nigeria.”

Yekini and I in our blog post , clearly stated: “Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that Justice Abiru’s expertise is limited to conflict of laws, nor that other Nigerian judges do not possess expertise in conflict of laws. The point being made is that his Lordship’s prominence as a judicial expert in conflict of laws in Nigeria is noteworthy.” [emphasis added]. The work of a judge is challenging, and academics should recognize and celebrate their expertise.

Celebrating judicial expertise is beneficial. For instance, Dr. Mayela Celis on 24 November 2021 in one blog post praised the appointment of Justice Loretta Ortiz Ahlf – a private international law expert – to the Mexican Supreme Court. Celis concluded in her blog post that: “This appointment will certainly further the knowledge of Private International Law and Human Rights at the Mexican Supreme Court.”

It is common for judges to specialize in certain legal fields, especially at the appellate level. This specialization enables them to provide leading judgments in relevant cases. This is particularly true in common law jurisdictions, where judges are known for their individual attributes and often provide separate decisions, which can result in a diverse range of opinions even within the same case. For example, in the English case of Boys v Chaplin, the House of Lords was unable to provide a coherent ratio decidendi due to differing opinions regarding the law applicable to torts when applying English law to heads of damages.

In Sonnar (Nig) Ltd v Partenreedri MS Norwind (1987) 4 NWLR 520 at 544 Oputa JSC of the Nigerian Supreme Court, although concurring, expressed a separate view that as a matter of public policy, Nigerian courts “should not be too eager to divest themselves of jurisdiction conferred on them by the Constitution and by other laws simply because parties in their private contracts chose a foreign forum.” Many other Nigerian judges have since followed this individual approach taken by Oputa JSC, despite the majority of the Nigerian Supreme Court in Sonnar unanimously, and repeatedly in Nika Fishing Company Ltd v Lavina Corporation (2008) 16 NWLR 509, and Conoil Plc v Vitol SA (2018) 9 NWLR 463, expressing preference for the enforcement of a foreign jurisdiction clause, except where strong cause is advanced to the contrary. In this context, the influence of an individual judge in decision-making in conflict of laws cannot be undermined.

In England, former United Kingdom Supreme Court Judges like Lord Collins and Lord Mance are renowned for their expertise in conflict of laws. Indeed, Lord Collins’ academic prowess in conflict of laws is internationally renowned, as he is one of the chief editors of the leading common law text on the subject. Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that judges who are not specialists in conflict of laws cannot make significant contributions to the subject. For instance, Lord Goff, known for his expertise in unjust enrichment, significantly contributed to the principle of forum non conveniens, delivering the leading judgment in the seminal case of Spiliada Maritime Corp v. Cansulex Ltd. The point being made is that judges’ specialization in a subject significantly enhances the quality of judicial decisions, a fact that scholars should celebrate.

The rise of international commercial courts in Asia and the Middle East, which resemble arbitral tribunals, underscores the importance of individual judicial expertise. These courts, including those in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Abu Dhabi attract top foreign judicial experts to preside over and decide cases, thereby instilling confidence in international commercial parties (Bookman 2021; Antonopoulou, 2023). For instance, Lord Collins a former non-permanent Member of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, delivered the leading judgment in the significant cross-border matter of Ryder Industries Ltd v Chan Shui Woo, with the agreement of all other judges on the panel.

Yekini and I stated in our blog post, that Justice Abiru’s “dissenting opinion in Niger Aluminium Manufacturing Co. Ltd v Union Bank (2015) LPELR-26010(CA) 32-36 highlights his commitment to addressing conflict of laws situations even when the majority view falls short.” If the bench in the conflict of laws case where Justice Abiru dissented had been conversant with private international principles in Nigeria, a different outcome might have been reached. This is crucial in the context of the numerous per incuriam decisions by Nigerian appellate courts, which hold that in inter-state matters, a State High Court can only assume jurisdiction over a cause of action that arose within its territory, regardless of whether the defendant is present and/or willing to submit to the court’s jurisdiction (Okoli and Oppong, Yekini, and Bamodu) . The key point is that having more specialists in conflict of laws in Nigerian courts will significantly enhance the quality of justice delivery in cross-border issues.

In conclusion, while Justice H.A.O. Abiru is not the entire Nigerian Supreme Court for conflict of laws, there is nothing wrong with emphasizing and celebrating his specialization in this field. Therefore, I stand by my co-authored blog post and will continue to highlight such expertise.

 

The Dubai Supreme Court — Again — on the Enforcement of Canadian (Ontario) Enforcement Judgment

I. Introduction

The decision presented in this post was rendered in the context of a case previously reported here. All of the comments I made there, particularly regarding the possibility of enforcing a foreign enforcement judgment and other related issues, remain particularly relevant. However, as I have learned more about the procedural history preceding the decisions of the Dubai Supreme Court (“DSC”), which was not available to me when I posted my previous comment, greater emphasis will be placed on the general factual background of the case. The decision presented here raises a number of fundamental questions related to the proper understanding of foreign legal concepts and procedures and how they should be integrated within the framework of domestic law. Therefore, it deserves special attention.

I would like to thank Ed Morgan (Toronto, ON Canada) who, at the time when my previous comment was posted, brought to my attention the text of the Ontario judgment whose enforcement was sought in Dubai in the present case.

 

II. Facts:

 1. Background (based on the outline provided by the DSC’s decisions)

 X (appellant) obtained a judgment in the United States against Y (appellee), which then sought to enforce it in Canada (Ontario) via a motion for summary judgment. After the Ontario court ordered enforcement of the American judgment, X sought enforcement of the Canadian judgment in Dubai by filing an application with the Execution Court of the Dubai Court of First Instance.

 

2. First Appeal: DSC, Appeal No. 1556 of 16 January 2024

The lower courts in Dubai admitted the enforceability of the Canadian judgment. Unsatisfied, Y appealed to the DSC. The DSC admitted the appeal and overturned the appealed decision, remanding the case for further review.

According to the DSC, the arguments raised by Y to resist the enforcement of the Canadian judgment – i.e. that the Court of Appeal erred in not addressing his argument that the foreign judgment was a “summary judgment [hukm musta’jil][i] declaring enforceable a rehabilitation order (hukm rad i’tibar)[ii] and an obligation to pay a sum of money rendered in the United States of America that cannot be enforced in the country [Dubai]” – was a sound argument that, if true, might change the outcome of the case.

 

3. Second Appeal: DSC, Appeal No. 392/2024 of 4 June 2024

The case was sent back before the court of remand, which, in light of the decision of the DSC, decided to overturn the order declaring enforceable the Ontario judgment. Subsequently, X appealed to the DSC.

Before the DSC, X challenged the remand court’s decision arguing that (i) the rules governing the enforcement of foreign judgments do not differentiate by types or nature of foreign judgments; (ii) that under Canadian law, “summary judgment” means a “substantive judgment on the merits”; and that (iii) Y actively participated in the proceedings and the lack of a full trial did not violate Y’s rights of defense.

 

III. The Ruling

The DSC admitted the appeal and confirmed the order declaring enforceable the Canadian judgment.

After stating the general principles governing the enforcement of foreign judgments in the UAE and recalling some general principles of legal interpretation (such as the prohibition of personal interpretation in the presence of an absolutely unambiguous text, and the principle that legal provisions expressed in broad terms should not be interpreted restrictively), the DSC ruled as follows (all quotations inside the text below are added by the author):

“[it appears from the wording of the applicable legal provision[iii] that] exequatur decrees are not limited to “judgments” (ahkam) rendered in foreign countries but extends to foreign “orders” (awamir) provided that they meet the requirements for their enforcement. Furthermore, the [applicable legal provision][iv] has been put in broad terms (‘aman wa mutlaqan), encompassing all “judgments” (ahkam) and “orders” (awamir) rendered in a foreign country without specifying their type (naw’) or nature (wasf) as long as the other requirements for their enforcement are satisfied. Moreover, there is no evidence that any other legal text pertaining to the same subject specifies limitations on the aforementioned [the applicable legal provision]. To the contrary, and unlike the situation [under the previously applicable rules],[v] the Legislator has expanded the concept of enforceable titles (al-sanadat al-tanfidhiyya),[vi] which now includes criminal judgments involving restitution (radd), compensations (ta’widhat), fines (gharamat) and other civil rights (huquq madaniyyah). […]

Given this, and considering that the appealed decision overturned the exequatur decree of the judgment in question on the ground that the [Canadian] judgment, which recognized a judgment from the United States, was a “summary judgment” (hukm musta’jil) enforceable only in the rendering State, despite the broad wording of [the applicable provisions],[vii] which covers all judgments (kul al-ahkam) rendered in a foreign State without specifying their type (naw’) or nature (wasf) provided that the other requirements are met. In the absence of any other specification by any other legal text pertaining to the same subject, the interpretation made by the appealed decision restricts the generality of [the applicable rules] and limits its scope [thereby] introducing a different rule not stipulated therein.

Moreover, the appealed decision did not clarify the basis for its conclusion that the [foreign] judgment was a “summary judgment” (hukm musta’jil) enforceable only in the rendering State. [This is more so], especially since the submitted documents on the Canadian civil procedure law and the Regulation No. 194 on [the Rules of Civil Procedure] show that Canadian law recognizes the system of “Summary judgment[viii] for issuing judgments through expedited procedures, and that the [foreign] judgment was indeed rendered following expedited procedures after Y’s participation by submitting rebuttal memoranda and hearing of the witnesses.[…]

Considering the foregoing, and upon reviewing the [Canadian] judgment… rendered in favor of the appellant as officially authenticated, it is established that the parties (X and Y) appeared before the [Canadian] court, [where] Y presented his arguments … and the witnesses were heard. Based on these proceedings [before the Canadian court], the court decided to issue the aforementioned “summary judgment” (al-hukm al-musta’jil) whose enforcement is sought in [this] country. [In addition, the appellant presented] an officially authenticated certificate attesting the legal authority (hujjiyat) [and the finality][ix] of the [Canadian] judgment. Therefore, the requirements stipulated [in the applicable provisions][x] for its enforcement have been satisfied. In addition, it has not been established that the courts [of the UAE] have exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute subject of the foreign judgment, nor that the [foreign] judgment is [rendered] in violation of the law of the State of origin or the public policy [in the UAE], or that it is inconsistent with a judgment issued by the UAE courts. Therefore, the [Canadian] judgment is valid as a an “enforceable title” (sanad tanfidhi) based on which execution can be pursued.

 

IV Comments

 The decision presented here has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, the DSC provides a welcome clarification regarding the meaning of “foreign judgment” for the purposes of recognition and enforcement. In this respect, the DSC aligns itself with the general principle that “foreign judgments” are entitled to enforcement regardless of their designation, as long as they qualify as a “substantive judgment on the merits”. This principle has numerous explicit endorsements in international conventions dealing with the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments[xi] and is widely recognized in national laws and practices.[xii]

However, the DSC’s understanding of the Canadian proceedings and the nature of the summary judgment granted by the Canadian court, as well as its attempt to align common law concepts with those of UAE law are rather questionable. In this respect, the DSC’s decision shows a degree of remarkable confusion in the using the appropriate legal terminology and understanding fundamental legal concepts. These include (i) the treatment of foreign summary enforcement judgments as ordinary “enforceable titles” (sanadat tanfidhiyya – titres exécutoires) under domestic law including domestic judgments rendered in criminal matters; (ii) the assimilation between summary judgment in common law jurisdictions and hukm musta’jil (“summary interlocutory proceedings order” jugement en référé”); and (iii) the confusion between summary judgment based on substantive legal issues and summary judgment to enforce foreign judgments.

For the sake of brevity, only the third point will be addressed here for its relevant importance. However, before doing so, some light should be shed on the proceedings before the Canadian court.

 

1. The proceedings before the Canadian Court and the nature of the Canadian Judgment

The unfamiliarity with DSC with the proceedings in Canada and underlying facts is rather surprising for two reasons: i) the proceedings were initiated by the American government in the context of a bilateral cooperation in criminal matters; and ii) the Canadian proceedings was a proceeding to enforce a foreign judgment rendered in criminal matters and was not simply a proceeding dealing with substantive legal issues. Therefore, a detailed review of the proceedings before the Ontario is necessary to better understand the peculiarities of the case commented here.

i) Proceedings in the context of mutual cooperation in criminal matters. The case originated in Ontario-Canada as a motion brought by the United States of America represented by the Department of Justice as plaintiff for summary judgment to recognize and enforce a “Restitution Order”[xiii] made against Y (defendant). The Restitution Order was part of Y’s sentence in the USA for securities fraud and money laundering. It “included terms as to payment and listed the victims and amounts to which they were entitled under the order” [para. 16].

The general procedural context of the Canadian judgment is of utmost relevance. Indeed, the USA sought the enforcement of the Restitution Order on the basis of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. The Act, as it describes itself, aims “to provide for the implementation of treaties for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters”. According to the Ontario Court, The Act is a “Canadian domestic legislation enacted to meet Canada’s treaty obligations for reciprocal enforcement in criminal matters” [para. 6]. These treaty obligations are based on the Canada-USA Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of 1990 [para. 6].

This is why, before the Canadian Court, one of the main questions [para. 25] was whether the “Restitution Order” could be regarded as “fine” within the meaning of the Act [para. 26]. If this is the case, then the Restitution Order could be enforced as a “pecuniary penalty determined by a court of criminal jurisdiction” in the meaning of article 9 of the Act.

On the basis of a “broad, purposive interpretation of “fine” … aligned with Canada’s” international obligation under the Treaty, the Ontario court considered that “proceeds of crimes, restitution to the victims of crime and the collection of fines imposed as a sentence in a criminal prosecution” can be regarded as “fine” for the purpose of the case [para. 30]. In addition, the court characterized the restitution order as “a pecuniary penalty determined by a court of criminal jurisdiction” [para. 35], and also described it as an “order made to repay the individual members of the public who were encouraged to purchase stock at an inflated price by virtue the criminal activity” [para. 39]. The court ultimately, concluded that “the Restitution Order made against [Y] is a “fine” within the meaning of… the Act” [para. 41].

From a conflicts of laws perspective, the question of whether the “Restitution Order” is of a penal nature is crucial. Indeed, it is generally accepted that penal judgments are not eligible to recognition and enforcement. However, nothing prevents derogating from this principle by concluding international conventions or enforcing the civil law component of foreign judgments rendered by criminal courts in criminal proceedings, which orders the payment of civil compensation.[xiv]

Interestingly, before the Canadian court, Y argued that the “Restitution Order” made against him was not a “fine” because it was a “compensatory-type” order [para. 27]. However, it is clear that it was an attempt to exclude the enforcement of Restitution Order from the scope of application of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. In any event, despite the crucial theoretical and practical importance of the issue, this is not the place to discuss whether the “Restitution Order” was penal or civil in nature. What matters here is the nature of the proceeding brought before the Canadian court which is a summary proceeding to recognize and enforce a foreign judgment. This leads us to the next point.

ii) Nature of the Canadian judgment. It is clear from the very beginning of the case that the USA did not bring an action on the merits but sought “an order for summary judgment recognizing and enforcing a judgment a Restitution Order made against [Y] as part of his sentence in [the USA] for securities fraud and money laundering” [para. 1]. Therefore, the case was about a motion for a summary judgment to enforce a foreign judgment. In this respect, one of the interesting aspects of the case is that Y also relied on the enforcement of foreign judgments framework and raised, inter alia, “a defence of public policy” at common law [para. 79] citing Beals v, Saldanha (2003), a leading Canadian Supreme Court judgment on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters.[xv] The court however dismissed the argument considering that there was “no genuine issue for trial on the question of a public policy defence against the enforcement in Canada of the Restitution Order” [para. 82].

Accordingly, if one puts aside the question of enforceability of foreign penal judgments, it is clear that the Canadian judgment was a judgment declaring enforceable a foreign judgment. The very conclusion of the Canadian court makes it even clearer when the court granted USA’s motion for summary judgment by ordering the enforcement in Canada of the Restitution Order [para. 84]. Accordingly, as discussed in my previous comment on this case, and taking into account the nature of the Canadian judgment, it can be safely said that the Canadian enforcement judgment cannot be eligible to recognition and enforcement elsewhere based on the adage “exequatur sur exequatur ne vaut”.

 

2. No… a summary judgment to enforce a foreign judgment is not a summary judgment based on substantive legal issues!

It is widely known that the procedural aspects of the enforcement of foreign judgments largely differ across the globe. However, it is fair to say that there are, at least, two main models (although other enforcement modalities do also exist). Generally speaking, civil law jurisdictions adopt the so-called “exequatur” proceeding the main purpose of which is to confer executory power to the foreign judgment and transforms it into a local “enforceable title”. On the other hand, in common law jurisdictions, and in the absence of applicable special regimes, the enforcement of foreign judgments is carried out by initiating a new and original action brought before local court on the foreign judgment.[xvi] The purpose of this action is to obtain an enforceable local judgment that, while recognizing and enforcing the foreign judgment, is rendered as if it were a judgment originally issued by the local court.[xvii] Both procedures result in similar outcome:[xviii] what has been decided by the foreign court will be granted effect in the form. However, technically, in civil law jurisdiction it is the foreign judgment itself that is permitted to be enforced in the forum,[xix] while in common law jurisdictions, it is the local judgement alone which is enforceable in the forum.[xx]

Such an enforcement in common law jurisdictions is usually carried out by way of summary judgment procedure.[xxi] However, this procedure should not be confused with the standard summary judgment procedure used to resolve disputes on the merits within an ongoing case. In fact, it is a distinct process aimed specifically at recognizing and enforcing foreign judgments,[xxii] which is the functionally equivalent counterpart in common law jurisdictions to the exequatur procedure.

This is precisely the confusion that the DSC encountered. The Court regarded the Canadian summary judgment as “a civil substantive judgment on the merits”, although it was not. Therefore, – and as already explained – the summary judgment rendered in result of this proceeding cannot be regarded as “foreign judgment” eligible for recognition and enforcement abroad in application of  the principle “exequatur sur exequatur ne vaut”.

 

 

——————————————————-

[i] In my previous post, I translated the term “hukm musta’jil” as “summary judgment to highlight the nature of the Canadian procedure. However, from the purpose of UAE law, I think it is better that this word be translated as “summary interlocutory judgment – jugement en référé”. This being said, for the purpose of this post the terms “summary judgment” will be used to highlight the terminological confusion committed by the DSC.

[ii] In my previous post, I was misled by the inappropriate terminology used in the DSC’s decision which referred to this American order as “Rehabilitation order” (hukm rad i’tibar). The term “rehabilitation order” is maintained here as this is the term used by the DSC.

[iii] The DSC made reference to article 85 of Cabinet Resolution No. 57/2018 on the Executive Regulations of Law No. 11/1992 on Civil Procedure Act (hereafter “2018 Executive Regulation”), which was subsequently replaced by article 222 of New Federal Act on Civil Procedure (Legislative Decree No. 42/2022 of 3 October 2022) (hereafter “New 2022 FACP”).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] The DSC referred the former Federal Act on Civil Procedure of 1992 (Federal Act No. 11/1992 of 24 February 1992)

[vi] The DSC referred to article 75(2) of the 2018 Executive Regulation as subsequently supplanted by article 212(2) of the New 2022 FACP.

[vii] Supra n (3).

[viii] In the original. Italic added.

[ix] In the words of the DSC, the foreign judgment “was not subject to appeal”.

[x] Supra n (3).

[xi] See Article 3(1)(b) of the HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention; article 4(1) of the HCCH 2005 Choice of Court Convention; article 25(a) of the 1983 Riyadh Convention.

[xii] See eg. the Japanese Supreme Court Judgment of 28 April 1998 defining foreign judgment as “a final judgment rendered by a foreign court on private law relations… regardless of the name, procedure, or form of judgment” “[e]ven if the judgment is called a decision or order”.

[xiii] Supra n (2).

[xiv] On UAE law on this issue, see my previous post here and the authorities cited therein.

[xv] On this case see, Janet Walker, “Beals v. Saldanha: Striking the Comity Balance Anew” 5 Canadian International Lawyer (2002) 28; idem, “The Great Canadian Comity Experiment Continues” 120 LQR (2004) 365; Stephen G.A. Pitel, “Enforcement of Foreign Judgments: Where Morguard Stand After Beals” 40 Canadian Business Law Journal (2004) 189.

[xvi] Trevor C. Hartley, International Commercial Litigation (3rd ed. 2020) 435.

[xvii] Adrian Briggs, “Recognition of Foreign Judgments: A Matter of Obligation” 129 LQR (2013) 89.

[xviii] Briggs, ibid.

[xix] Peter Hay, Advance Introduction to Private International Law and Procedure (2018) 110.

[xx] Briggs, supra n (17).

[xxi] Adeline Chong, Asian Principles for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (2021)13.

[xxii] Cf. Hartley, supra n (16) 435 pointing out that “Procedurally, therefore, a new action is brought; in substance, however, the foreign judgment in recognized and enforced” (italic in the original).

Conflict of Laws and Diversity of Opinions—A View of The Nigerian Jurisdiction

 

 

Cosmas Emeziem, JSD Cornell University, Drinan Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, Boston College Law School, Newton, MA. ©Author 2024.

Introduction

 

At the core of Conflict of Laws or Private International Law (hereinafter PIL) is reconciling rules across jurisdictions for dispute settlement and the broader concerns of justice and public policy. PIL rules are used as a toolbox to assist litigants in resolving these problems that arise from complex litigations. This has immense significance regarding the security of contracts, enforcement of obligations, and overall predictability of solutions on these issues. Recent debates and academic discourse about the Nigerian Judiciary, its decisions, and opinions on PIL have inspired even more contemplation on the institution’s place, expertise, and contribution to the evolution of PIL rules and practices in the region.[1] In this intervention, I situate these discussions in the larger structure of the judicature in Nigeria, the institution and system rather than individual opinions and expertise, and draw some lessons that should mediate academic, judicial, and legislative deliberations on this topic. I conclude that a scholarly engagement with the issues should be more robust than looking for limited answers that conform with precedents elsewhere—especially where these precedents do not help to address the contextual challenges. Equally, one should be mindful of the danger of incoherent transplants of norms and potential poor transplant effects. It is essential to stay focused on institutional capacities, expertise and competence and how to enhance them—instead of individualized expertise, which, though important, are weak foundations for enduring legal evolution and a reliable PIL regime.

I.The Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Judicature

 

The Nigerian Supreme Court is necessary for the legal system’s stability, coherence, and sustainable evolution.[2] On the other hand, the Court of Appeal and the High Courts (High Courts of States and the Federal Capital Territory, and the Federal High Courts) have a vertical relationship with the Supreme Court. Except where matters can commence directly at the Supreme Court, these lower courts serve as clearing houses for disputes on most commercial subjects within the country. This means that the Court of Appeal intervenes in many respects, and often, these matters do not go beyond the Court of Appeal. These courts also have several divisions across the country, and their jurisdictions and general adjudicatory competencies are recognized in the Constitution or as stipulated in their establishment laws. For instance, the Court of Appeal established by section 237 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has 20 Judicial Divisions spread across the six geopolitical zones of the country.[3]

Therefore, with 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria has a complex judicature with subsystems designed to serve the needs of communities and regions, which are often peculiar to the regions. Indeed, there are many jurisdictions within Nigeria, although the country is also a jurisdiction. The complexity is also illustrated by the embeddedness of Sharia law, and customary law, in private law in different parts of the country. For example, a court may be called upon to interpret contracts and commercial transactions on religious and customary interests. These must be situated in the broader contexts of the legal systems and the specific dispute.[4] In that regard, although the Supreme Court is one institution, cases are heard and determined by different judges and judicial panels that are usually constituted to hear appeals and original disputes before the court.[5] Foreign investors who may not have a sense of the complex system may become excited by the  so-called “expertise in conflict of laws,” which has recently formed part of the debate about PIL in Nigeria and the African region.

The case-by-case (ad-hoc) constitution of judicial panels to hear and determine causes before the Supreme Court has significant ramifications for appreciating the different workings of the institution and how to render justice to parties, even in problematic PIL circumstances. The rotation, in terms of panel constitution, increases the individual and collective mastery of all matters that come before the court for adjudication—including commercial transactions, which have broad ramifications for PIL. It also eliminates the possibility of predicting which justices may sit on a matter before each panel is constituted. This can potentially insulate the court as an institution from compromise by targeting specific justices ahead of time. The fundamental nature of this approach—rotation of judges and constituting different panels for different cases—is even more perceptive when situated within the larger problem of corruption within the Nigerian judiciary.[6] The daily debate about corruption in the Nigerian judiciary makes it imperative that the public should not predict which judges would sit on a matter because of their “expertise” as this would serve the institution better and contribute to the ongoing efforts to curb corruption within the judiciary.[7] Individual efforts can then augment this institutional capacity and competence.

The above structure and approaches to judicial deliberations mean that there is a strong institutional capacity and competence regarding subjects upon which the Supreme Court is seized by law, practice, and tradition to adjudicate. This capacity pervades the entire judicature through such capillaries as precedents, rules of courts, practice directions, law reports, and memories accumulated over time that provide valuable guidance for judicial deliberations and determination of questions before the court, albeit PIL questions. Justices are also trained across different (sub)areas of law and often have significant statutorily required practice experience in various contexts within the jurisdiction before assuming judicial offices. In essence, the weight of the expertise lies more on the experience accumulated both as individuals and, more importantly, as custodians of the institutional capacity of the Supreme Court.

Sometimes, for example as in the case of the Court of Appeal, the different judicial divisions may reach different opinions on subjects ranging from marriage to child custody, service of processes, and enforcement of awards and judgments. This aligns with the general notion that courts of equal standing (coordinate jurisdiction) may depart from the opinion of their peers. Equally, state court systems have their respective rules of procedure, which have ramifications for the outcomes of dispute settlements in the states. The differences in the rules of courts further consolidate the necessity for a diverse knowledge base, a broad experience portfolio, and a flexible approach because of the complexity of the Nigerian legal system, the complicated court structure, and the breadth of judicial constitution. These factors also advance the argument that case-by-case issues that may need to be resolved by the courts are best dealt with not only by an independent knowledge base, but also drawing from the collective knowledge reservoir and diversity that the justices of the Supreme Court bring to the court to address issues as may be appropriate.[8]  Thus, the differences, approaches, plurality of views, conflicts of opinions, and diversity of questions are not unusual, considering the vastness of the jurisdiction and the interaction of different aspects of law and society.

The horizontal relationship between the courts of a particular subsystem, such as the Appeal Court divisions, does not mean there is chaos in the system or that they must depend on individual expertise to reconcile the PIL questions. Instead, it is an invitation to look to the institutional frameworks fashioned over time to manage disputes and achieve justice in cases. The wisdom of these institutional designs is more enduring because individual judges and their brilliance cannot sustain the long-term needs of any legal system. Thus, bright stars that stud the Nigerian Supreme Court’s history (such as Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Eso, Muhammed Bello, Ignatius Pats-Acholonu, Akinola Aguda, Udo Udoma, and many others), while invaluable for the growth and evolution of the system, must be seen as part of the overall institutional structure for sustainable dispute resolution—especially on PIL—in the Nigerian legal system.

Arguably, it is potentially counterproductive to focus solely on individual judicial PIL expertise in trying to resolve PIL questions in Nigeria. This is so because it would be considerably difficult to find evidence of a fundamental miscarriage of justice merely because a preponderance of individual expertise is lacking. Furthermore, the U.S.—a bit similar to Nigeria in terms of federalism—does not do that either. In J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd. v. Nicastro, although there is no evidence of individualized PIL expertise of the judges, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue regarding the rules and standards for determining jurisdiction over an absent party in a fair, just and reasonable manner.[9] The court came to a reasonable and just answer despite arriving at the majority judgment from a plurality of views. It is, therefore, the collective quality of judicial deliberations and opinions that is the distinctive standard for measuring the capacity and competence of a court on matters of PIL. There are other examples of this display of institutional capacity and competence in the U.S. Supreme Court in cases such as The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co.,[10] where Petitioner Unterweser agreed to tow respondent’s drilling rig from Louisiana to Italy, with a forum-selection clause stipulating that any disputes would be litigated in the High Court of Justice in London. When the rig was damaged, the respondent instructed Unterweser to tow the rig to Tampa. Subsequently, the respondent filed a lawsuit in admiralty against petitioners in Tampa. Unterweser invoked the forum clause and initiated a lawsuit in the English court, which asserted its jurisdiction under the contractual forum provision. It was held that forum selection in the contract was binding unless the respondent could discharge the heavy burden of showing that its enforcement is unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.[11]

In Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co., LLC, Raiders, a Pennsylvania company insured a yacht for up to $550,000 with Great Lakes, a UK-based company.[12] In 2019, the yacht ran aground in Florida. Raiders submitted a claim to Great Lakes for the loss of the vessel, but Great Lakes rejected it, citing Raiders’ failure to recertify or inspect the yacht’s fire-extinguishing equipment on time. Great Lakes sought a declaratory judgment to void the policy. The district court dismissed Raiders’ counterclaims, applying New York law per the policy’s choice-of-law provision. Raiders argued that this provision was unenforceable under The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co.[13] The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, holding that choice of law provisions are enforceable unless under some narrow exception that is not applicable in the circumstance. There is therefore great wisdom in attributing competence, expertise and capacity to the institution instead of individuals.

Thus, quality judicial deliberations and decisions reflect institutional competence. In the next section, I further the discussion on the issue of diversity, looking at subject matter diversity, diversity of views, and the place of stare decisis and precedents in light of the current debates about PIL and expertise in the Nigerian Supreme Court and its resonance for the legal system.

II. Judex, Expertise, and Diversity of Opinions

 

Quot homines tot sententiae—as there are peo, so are their opinions. A combination of factors including training, age, experience, temperament, and general background of judges affect their overarching nature and contributions to the making of legal institutions such as courts. These combinations of factors also influence the diversity of voices and views, opinions, individual competencies, and expertise. The ramification of these factors is even more vigorous and visible in PIL issues where there is a confluence of complex questions that could inspire diverse judicial decisions and plurality of opinions on controversies affecting commerce or other transnational/cross-border activities. Sometimes, this diversity can come as dissenting opinions. At other times, they may be reckoned with in the general obiter of superior courts such as the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Regarding subject matter diversity, courts are usually confronted with different types of cases. These cross-cutting cases often mean that PIL rules must guide the courts in reaching a fair and reasonable dispute settlement. Equally, the rules to be applied may be implicated by background agreements or indemnities in bilateral and multilateral treaties, such as investment agreements, conventions, and soft law policies relevant to the dispute. Besides the subject matter diversity, which necessarily implicates PIL and opinion of courts, there is also procedural diversity, which affects the decisions of a court. In such situations, methods of service of processes, certification, and recognition of awards and judgments create a sort of complicated interaction between legislation and rules of court regarding how best to resolve disputes between litigants and in line with established precedents. In Nigeria’s legal tradition, the rules of court support the rules of justice. Thus, the use of these tools can lead to different outcomes regarding diversity of procedure and diversity of opinion, and these have important implications for dispute settlement in PIL. For instance, a rule of court on limitation of time can influence the speed of hearing pretrial motions one way or another.

Yet, the dispute resolution system in Nigeria is not a rudderless ship. It has anchorage on doctrines such as stare decisis and precedents. The primacy of precedents established by the Supreme Court provides the guardrails for making sense of the respective diversities within the legal system as it concerns PIL. Stare decisis and precedents ensure that the law remains strong, stable, reliable, and predictable without standing still. Overall, the stability, security, and predictability that come from this means that the broader answers to PIL questions lie in institutional and systemic resilience and capacities rather than individual efforts, expertise, or resilience. In light of all these, the doctrine of stare decisis and precedents further reinforce institutional competence and expertise. Individualized expertise can quickly become a weak point in the judicial institutional amour—especially if given undue prominence. For instance, judicial empaneling cannot wait for individualized expertise and competence.[14]

Equally, courts do not generally operate like that. Rather, courts must function with available human resources. Justice does not recline on individual expertise but on the entire institutional outlook of the courts. When citizens seek justice, they look up to the courts and not individual judges who may come and go at different intervals in the history of the court. Thus, even where divisions such as commercial divisions are established, the wisdom of such divisions is functional—to facilitate access to justice and enhance institutional competencies and efficiency for all manner of persons that appear before the court including corporate and other associated interests. Expertise in empaneling a tribunal is often a luxury preserved for arbitration tribunals or other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. In those instances, parties can appoint their arbitrators or mediators based on their expertise. On the other hand, courts often have a set of judges already appointed by the appropriate authorities in the respective jurisdictions as at the time of commencement of actions.

Even then, expertise or expert views and opinions—whether in law or other spheres—are often subjects of evidence, and courts have procedural and institutional capacities to gain or leverage such expertise for fair and just settlement of disputes. When courts face certain difficulties, they can invite counsel to address the subject of controversy—usually through briefs. They can also invite amicus briefs or expert witnesses, such as professors of PIL, to testify on a matter in controversy with a view to answering critical questions for dispute resolution. These procedural safeguards reinforce the institutional competence and capacity and anticipate the limits of individual expertise. For example, amici curiae (friends of the court) have since become an established tradition available to courts to assist them in understanding and applying rules, principles, doctrines, and laws that may have PIL significance.

The individual expertise of judges will not provide answers to several PIL issues that arise in complex cross-jurisdictional disputes. Moreover, the expertise of individual judges from Nigeria is attested to in several jurisdictions as such judges have, at different times, dispensed justice in  Gambian, Ugandan, and Namibian courts.[15] Therefore, the current fad of trying to prop up individual judges as PIL experts  is mistaken—that expertise is better attributed to the institution, else scholars unwittingly set the judges up to fail and, in the process, diminish the established tradition of competence and expertise which the Nigerian judicature has managed to curate over time.

Conclusion

The judicature in Nigeria has often been a subject of intense scholarly deliberations. What has never been doubted is the expertise and competence of the courts in all matters within their assigned jurisdiction—both institutionally and in terms of the individuals who occupy the high judicial offices of the country. Individually, Nigerian judges serve with distinction and occupy high judicial offices even in countries such as the Gambia, Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, and Uganda. These positions often require critical competence in the cross-border application of the law on matters relating to PIL. Therefore, there is no evidence to show that the expertise and capacities attributable to the judicature and its judex have been suspended at any time. Thus, the idea that “an expert in conflict of laws is now at the Supreme Court after a long time”[16] is potentially misleading—especially for persons, businesses, and investors who may not know the inner workings of complex legal systems such as Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

[1] Some of the interesting debates and discourse on the courts and PIL in Nigeria include, Folabi Kuti, SAN, Critiquing the Critique: X-raying Dr. Okoli’s restatement of the Court of Appeal’s decision in TOF Energy Co. Ltd & Ors. v. Worldpay LLC & Another (2022) LPELR -57462(CA) August 14, 2023, https://lawpavilion.com/blog/critiquing-the-critique-x-raying-dr-okolis-restatement-of-the-court-of-appeals-decision-in-tof-energy-co-ltd-ors-v-worldpay-llc-anor-2022-lpelr-574/>. Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli, A Critique of the Nigerian Court of Appeal’s Recent Restatement of the Principles and Decisions on the Enforcement of Foreign Jurisdiction Clause in Nigeria, November 8, 2022< https://lawpavilion.com/blog/a-critique-of-the-nigerian-court-of-appeals-recent-restatement-of-the-principles-and-decisions-on-the-enforcement-of-foreign-jurisdiction-clause-in-nigeria/>  ; The Nigerian Court of Appeal declines to enforce a Commonwealth of Virginia (in USA) Choice of Court Agreement, March 10, 2021https://conflictoflaws.net/2021/the-nigerian-court-of-appeal-declines-to-enforce-a-commonwealth-of-virginia-in-usa-choice-of-court-agreement/. Anthony Kennedy, The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgements at Common Law in Nigeria, December 15, 2020 (on why the common law action should be revived) https://www.afronomicslaw.org/2020/12/15/the-recognition-and-enforcement-of-foreign-judgments-at-common-law-in-nigeria ;Richard Mike Mlambe, Presence as a basis for International Jurisdiction of a Foreign Court Under Nigerian Private International Law, December 16, 2020 https://conflictoflaws.net/2020/presence-as-a-basis-for-international-jurisdiction-of-a-foreign-court-under-nigerian-private-international-law/.

[2] Section 230 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) establishes the Supreme Court as the apex judicial institution in the country.

[3] Divisions of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria < https://www.courtofappeal.gov.ng/divisions> (last visited May 29, 2024).  The Federal High Court of Nigeria has 35 Judicial Divisions < https://www.nextfhc.fhc.gov.ng/court/divisions>. (last visited May 29, 2024).

[4] Pontian Okoli, Former British Colonies: The Constructive Role of African Courts in the Development of Private International Law, 7 University of Bologna Law Review, 2, 126 (2022). https://bolognalawreview.unibo.it/article/view/15830

[5] Original disputes before the Supreme Court are often questions of controversy between the states as among themselves or between the states and the Federal Government of Nigeria. See Section 232 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

[6] Ameh Ejekwonyilo, Corruption in Nigerian Judiciary is extensive—UNODC, Premium Times March 1, 2024.

[7] Joseph Onyekwere, ICPC Corruption Verdict Unsettles Judiciary, The Guardian January 26, 2021; Punch: Editorial, Uprooting Corrosive Corruption in the Judiciary, August 24, 2023.

[8] Computation of time can be used to show some of the differences. For example, Order 48 rule (5) of the Rivers’ State High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2019 provides that time will not run when the courts are under lock and key. This unique provision arises from the difficult Chief Judge succession experience in that state in the 2015/2016 legal year. In comparison, Lagos State High Court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have no similar provision regarding when the court is under lock and key.  See Order 49 of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, 2018; Cf Order 48 of the Lagos State High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2019. But to show flexibility of approaches, in responding to such a situation of courts being under “lock and key” as seen in the case of Rivers State, the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, adopted a different approach by issuing a practice direction regarding computation of time to cover the period of industrial action by judicial workers. [S]ee High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT Computation of Time and Exemption from payment of Default fees) Practice Direction No 1, 2021 (for the period April 6th, 2021 – June 14, 2021) < https://www.fcthighcourt.gov.ng/download/PRACTICE-AND-PROCEDURE/COMPUTATION-OF-TIME-AND-EXEMPTION-FROM-PAYMENT-OF-DEFAULT-FEES-PRACTICE-DIRECTION-NO.-1-2021-FOR-THE-PERIOD-APRIL-6TH-14TH-JUNE.pdf>. See also High Court of Delta State (Exemption of Payment of Default fees for filing of processes) Practice Direction (No 2) of 2021 for the Period of JUSUN Strike from April 6, 2021, to June 14, 2021. < https://thenigerialawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Practice-Direction_JUSUN-strike_cover-001-converted-delta.pdf>.

[9] 564 U.S. 873 (2011). Adam N. Steinman, The Lay of the Land: Examining the Three Opinions in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. V. Nicastro, 63 S. C. L. Rev. 481 (2011) https://scholarship.law.ua.edu/fac_articles/291/ ; Elisabeth A. Beal, J. McIntyre Machinery Ltd v. Nicastro: The Stream of Commerce Theory of Personal Jurisdiction in A Globalized Economy, 66 University of Miami Law Rev. 233 (2011). https://repository.law.miami.edu/umlr/vol66/iss1/9/

[10] 407 U.S. 1 (1972). Ronald A. Brand, M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Company: US Common Law Affirmation of Party Autonomy, The Common Law Jurisprudence of Conflict of Laws (2023) https://scholarship.law.pitt.edu/fac_book-chapters/50/ ; Harold G. Maier, The Three Faces of Zapata: Maritime Law, Federal Common Law, Federal Courts Law, 6 Vand. J. of Transnational Law 387 (1972-1973). https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2618&context=vjtl ; K. M. Edwards, Unterweser: Choice Not Chance in Forum Clauses, 3 California Western International Law Journal 397 (1973).

[11] See also Carnival Cruise Lines Incorporated v. Shute, 499 US 585, 593-594 where the Court noted that the enforcement of forum selection clauses has the salutary effect of removing confusions and reducing the time and expense of pre-trial motions.

[12] Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co., 601 U.S. (2024).

[13] Supra note 10.

[14] Sonnar (Nig.) Ltd. & Anor. V. Partenreedri M. S. Nordwind Owners of the Ship M.V. Nordwind & Anor. (1987) LLJR –SC. (courts can elicit expertise through evidence as in this case where the opinion of German lawyers as to the law in Germany was relevant in reaching a fair, just and reasonable decision. The courts also decide on what probative value to give the expert evidence considering the interest of justice).

[15] For instance, Hon. Justice Emmanuel Agim served in the Gambia and Swaziland (Eswatini) at the highest judicial levels in those countries < https://triplenet.com.ng/lawparliament/law_body.php?myId=2699&myView=259> .  Justice Akinola Aguda was also the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Botswana. < https://www.news24.com/news24/renowned-african-jurist-dies-20010908>.

[16] See Chukwuma Okoli and Abubakri Yekini, The Nigerian Supreme Court now has a Specialist in Conflict of Laws, Conflict of Law.Net. January 7, 2024. https://conflictoflaws.net/2024/the-nigerian-supreme-court-now-has-a-specialist-in-conflict-of-laws/

The Conflict-of-Laws Provision in the French Influencer Legislation

by Ennio Piovesani

Certain EU Member States have enacted special rules governing the activities of content creators and influencers. In this context, the French legislature passed Law No. 2023-451 on June 9, 2023, aimed at regulating influencer marketing and addressing potential misconduct by influencers on social media platforms (1). Article 8, I, of Law No. 2023-451 requires that contracts between influencers and (influencer marketing) agents or advertisers, or their representatives, must be made in writing and include a specified set of clauses; failure to comply results in the contract being null.

One such clause mandates ‘[t]he submission of the contract to French law, notably to the Consumer Code, the Intellectual Property Code, and the present Law, when said contract has as its object or effect the implementation of influencer marketing activities through electronic means targeting notably an audience established on French territory’ (Article 8, I, 5°, Law No. 2023-451). Scholars have highlighted the ‘innovative’ nature of the mechanism set forth in Article 8, I, 5°, Law No. 2023-451 and its resemblance to the (more established) concept of overriding mandatory provisions (2).

(1) LOI n° 2023-451 du 9 juin 2023 visant à encadrer l’influence commerciale et à lutter contre les dérives des influenceurs sur les réseaux sociaux

(2) See Sandrine Clavel, Fabienne Jault-Seseke, Droit international privé, Recueil Dalloz 2024, 987, accessed online at Dalloz.fr; see also Ermanno Calzolaio, L’attività pubblicitaria dell’influencer nel diritto francese (Loi n. 451 del 9 giugno 2023), Il Diritto dell’Informazione e dell’Informatica, 2023, no. 6, p. 909, accessed online at Dejure.it).