Supreme Court of Canada: Israel, not Ontario, is Forum Conveniens for Libel Proceedings

The decision to stay proceedings under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is discretionary, which in part means that appeal courts should be reluctant to reverse the decisions of motions judges on the issue.  It comes as some surprise, therefore, that the Supreme Court of Canada has disagreed with not only the motions judge but also the Court of Appeal for Ontario and overturned two earlier decisions denying a stay.  In v Goldhar (available here) the court held (in a 6-3 decision) that the plaintiff’s libel proceedings in Ontario should be stayed because Israel is the clearly more appropriate forum.

The decision is complex, in part because the appeal also considered the issue of jurisdiction and in part because the nine judges ended up writing five sets of reasons, four concurring in the result and a fifth in dissent.  That is very unusual for Canada’s highest court.

The case concerned defamation over the internet.  The plaintiff, a resident of Ontario, alleged that an Israeli newspaper defamed him.  Most readers of the story were in Israel but there were over 200 readers in Ontario.

On assumed jurisdiction, the court was asked by the defendant to reconsider its approach as set out in Club Resorts (available here), at least as concerned cases of internet defamation.  Eight of the nine judges refused to do so.  They confirmed that a tort committed in Ontario was a presumptive connecting factor to Ontario, such that it had jurisdiction unless that presumption was rebutted (and they held it was not).  They also confirmed the orthodoxy that the tort of defamation is committed where the statement is read by a third party, and that in internet cases this is the place where the third party downloads and reads the statement (paras 36-38 and 166-167).  Only one judge, Justice Abella, mused that the test for jurisdiction should not focus on that place but instead on “where the plaintiff suffered the most substantial harm to his or her reputation” (para 129).  This borrows heavily (see para 120) from an approach to choice of law (rather than jurisdiction) that uses not the place of the tort (lex loci delicti) but rather the place of most substantial harm to reputation to identify the applicable law.

On the stay of proceedings, six judges concluded that Israel was the most appropriate forum.  Justice Cote wrote reasons with which Justices Brown and Rowe concurred.  Justice Karakatsanis disagreed with two key points made by Justice Cote but agreed with the result.  Justices Abella and Wagner also agreed with the result but, unlike the other seven judges (see paras 91 and 198), they adopted a new choice of law rule for internet defamation.  This was a live issue on the stay motion because the applicable law is a relevant factor in determining the most appropriate forum.  They rejected the lex loci delicti rule from Tolofson (available here) and instead used as the connecting factor the place of the most substantial harm to reputation (paras 109 and 144).  Justice Wagner wrote separately because he rejected (paras 147-148) Justice Abella’s further suggestion (explained above) that the law of jurisdiction should also be changed along similar lines.

The core disagreement between Justice Cote (for the majority) and the dissent (written jointly by Chief Justice McLachlin and Justices Moldaver and Gascon) was that Justice Cote concluded that the motions judge made six errors of law (para 50) in applying the test for forum non conveniens, so that no deference was required and the court could substitute its own view.  In contrast, the dissent held that four of these errors were “merely points where our colleague would have weighed the evidence differently had she been the motions judge” (para 179) which is inappropriate for an appellate court and that the other two errors were quite minor and had no impact on the overall result (para 178).  The dissent held strongly to the orthodox idea that decisions on motions to stay are entitled to “considerable deference” (para 177) lest preliminary motions and appeals over where litigation should occur undermine stability and increase costs (para 180).

Another fundamental disagreement between Justice Cote and the dissent was their respective view of the scope of the plaintiff’s claim.  During the motion and appeals, the plaintiff made it clear that he was only seeking a remedy in respect of damage to his reputation in Ontario (as opposed to anywhere else) and that he was not going to sue elsewhere.  The dissent accepted that this undertaking to the court limited the scope of the claim (paras 162-163) and ultimately it pointed to Ontario as the most appropriate forum.  In contrast, Justice Cote held that the plaintiff’s undertaking “should not be allowed to narrow the scope of his pleadings” (para 23).  It is very hard to accept that this is correct, and indeed on this point Justice Karakatsanis broke with Justice Cote (para 101) and agreed with the dissent.  Why should the court not accept such an undertaking as akin to an amendment of the pleadings?  Justice Cote claimed that “[n]either Goldhar nor my colleagues … may now redefine Goldhar’s action so that it better responds to Haaretz’s motion to stay” (para 24).  But why should the plaintiff not be able to alter the scope of his claim in the face of objections to that scope from the defendant?

There are many other points of clash in the reasons, too many to engage with fully here.  How important, at a preliminary stage, is examination of what particular witnesses who have to travel might say?  What role does the applicable law play in the weighing of the more appropriate forum when it appears that each forum might apply its own law?  Does a subsequent proceeding to enforce a foreign judgment count toward a multiplicity of proceedings (which is to be avoided) or do only substantive proceedings (on the merits) count?  Is it acceptable for a court to rely on an undertaking from the plaintiff to pay the travel and accommodation costs for the defendant’s witnesses or is this allowing a plaintiff to “buy” a forum?

It might be tempting to treat the decision as very much a product of its specific facts, so that it does not offer much for future cases.  There could, however, be cause for concern.  As a theme, the majority lauded “a robust and careful” assessment of forum non conveniens motions (para 3).  If this robust and careful assessment is to be performed by appellate courts, is this consistent with deference to motions judges in their discretionary, fact-specific analysis?  The dissent did not think so (para 177).

Case C-191/18 and Us

Open your eyes, we may be next. Or maybe we are already there? Case C- 191/18, KN v Minister for Justice and Equality, is not about PIL. The questions referred to the CJ on March 16, actually relate to the European Arrest warrant (and Brexit). However, PIL decisions are mirroring the same concerns.

It has been reported, for instance, that a Polish district court has refused a Hague child return to England on the basis (inter alia) that Brexit makes the mother`s position too uncertain. A recent case before the Court of Appeal of England and Wales shows that English judges are also struggling with this (see “Brexit and Family Law”, published on October 2017 by Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, supplemented by mainland IAFL Fellows, Feb 2018).

And even if it was not the case: can we really afford to stay on the sidelines?

Needless to say, Brexit is just one of the ingredients in the current European Union melting pot. Last Friday’s presentation at the Comité Français de Droit International Privé, entitled « Le Droit international privé en temps de crise », by Prof. B. Hess, provided a good assessment of the main economic, political and human factors explaining European  contemporary mess – by the way, the parliamentary elections in Slovenia on Sunday did nothing but confirm his views. One may not share all that is said on the paper; it’s is legitimate not to agree with its conclusions as to the direction PIL should follow in the near future to meet the ongoing challenges; the author’s global approach, which comes as a follow up to his 2017 Hague Lecture, is nevertheless the right one. Less now than ever before can European PIL be regarded as a “watertight compartment”, an isolated self-contained field of law. Cooperation in criminal and civil matters in the AFSJ follow different patterns and maybe this is how it should be (I am eagerly waiting to read Dr. Agnieszka Frackowiak-Adamska’s opinion on the topic, which seem to disagree with the ones I expressed in Rotterdam in 2015, and published later). The fact remains that systemic deficiencies of the judiciary in a given Member State can hardly be kept restricted to the criminal domain and leave untouched the civil one; doubts hanging over one prong necessarily expand to the other. The Celmer case, C-216/18 PPU, Minister for Justice and Equality v LM, heard last Friday (a commented report of the hearing will soon be released in Verfassungsblog, to the best of my knowledge), with all its political charge, cannot be deemed to be of no interest to us; precisely because a legal system forms a consistent whole mutual trust cannot be easily, if at all, compartmentalized.

The Paris presentation was of course broader and it is not my intention to address it in all its richness, in the same way that I cannot recall the debate which followed, which will be reproduced in due time at the Travaux. Still, I would like to mention the discussion on asylum and PIL, if only to refer to what Prof. S. Courneloup very correctly pointed out to: asylum matters cannot be left to be dealt with by administrative law alone; on the contrary, PIL has a big say and we – private international lawyers- a wide legal scenario to be alert to (for the record, albeit I played to some extent the dissenting opinion on Friday, my actual stance on the need to pair up public and private law for asylum matters is clear in CDT, 2017). Last year the JURI Committee of the European Parliament commissioned two studies (here and here; they were also reported in CoL) on the relationship between asylum and PIL, thus suggesting some legislative initiative might be taken. But nothing has happened since.

Doors open for First Hearing of International Chamber at Paris Court of Appeal

Written by Duncan Fairgrieve (BIICL;Université de Paris Dauphine) and Solenn Le Tutour (avocat, Barreau de Paris)

When the French Government announced in February this year plans to launch an “English” Commercial court in Paris, eyebrows were raised and, it is fair to say, an element of skepticism expressed in the common law world as to whether such a development would really prove to be a serious competitor to the Commercial Courts on Fetter Lane in London. Read more

The Belgian Government unveils its plan for the Brussels International Business Court (BIBC)

Written by Guillaume Croisant, Université Libre de Bruxelles

In October 2017, as already reported in a previous post, the Belgian Government announced its intention to set up a specialised English-speaking court with jurisdiction over international commercial disputes, the Brussels International Business Court (“BIBC”). An update version of the text has finally been submitted to Parliament on 15 May 2018, after the Government’s initial draft faced criticisms from the High Council of Justice (relating to the BIBC’s independence and impartiality, its source of funding and its impact on the ordinary courts) and was subject to the review of the Conseil d’Etat. Read more

Proving Chinese Law: Deference to the Submissions from Chinese Government?

Written by Dr. Jie (Jeanne) Huang, Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales Faculty of Law

The recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Animal Science Products, Inc. v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, concerns what weight should be given to the Chinese government’s submission of Chinese law. On Page 58 of the trial transcript, Justices Kagan and Ginsburg asked how about other countries dealing with formal submissions from the Chinese government. There are two examples.

One is Hong Kong. In TNB Fuel Services SDN BHD v China National Coal Group Corporation ([2017] HKCFI 1016), the issue is whether the defendant, a state-owned enterprise, is protected by Chinese absolute sovereignty immunity under Chinese law. The court deferred to an official letter provided by the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Department in Mainland China. The Office answers no absolute sovereignty immunity to Chinese state-owned enterprises carrying out commercial activities. The Court adopted this opinion without second inquiry (para 14 of the judgment). After considering a bunch of other factors, the court ruled against the defendant.

The other is Singapore. In Sanum v. Laos ([2016] SGCA 57), the issue is whether the China-Laos Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) shall be applied to Macao Special Administrative Region. Chinese embassy in Laos and China Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided diplomatic announcements indicating that the BIT shall not be applied to Macao. However, the Court of Appeal of Singapore held that China’s announcements were inadmissible and, even if admitted, they did not change the applicability of the BIT to Macau. This is partly because, before the dispute with Sanum crystalized, no evidence showed that China and Laos had agreed that the BIT should not be applied to Macau. Therefore, the China’s diplomatic announcements should not be retroactively applied to a previous dispute. For a more detailed discussion, please see pages 16-20 of my article.

TNB Fuel Services and Sanum share important similarities with Animal Science Products, because the key issues are all about the proving of Chinese law. In the three cases, Chinese government all provided formal submissions to explain the meaning and the applicability of Chinese law. However, TNB Fuel Services and Sanum can also be distinguished from Animal Science Products, because comity plays no role in the former two cases. TNB Fuel Services concerns sovereign immunity, which is an issue that Hong Kong courts must follow China’s practices. This is established by Democratic Republic of the Congo v. FG Hemisphere Associates (FACV Nos. 5, 6 & 7 of 2010). Sanum is a case to set aside an investment arbitration award, so the Court of Appeal of Singapore need not consider comity between Singapore and China. In contrast, in Animal Science Products, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit elaborated the importance of comity between the U.S. and China. Therefore, Animal Science Products should not be considered as a technical case of proving foreign laws. The U.S. Supreme Court may consider deferring to the submissions of Chinese government to a certain extent but allows judges to decide whether the Chinese government’s submission is temporally consistent with its position on the relevant issue of Chinese law.

Who Owns

France is a state., by contrast, is a domain name, and it was, until recently, owned not by the French state but instead by a Californian company,, Inc. That conflict is now being litigated in a fascinating dispute  reminiscent of the early days of the internet.

In those early days, in 1994 to be precise, a French-born individual living in the United States, Jean-Noël Frydman, registered the domain name The domain name is now held by a Californian company, Inc, which Frydman set up. The website, at first dedicated to general information for Francophiles around the world, was later expanded to operate as a travel site. But, Inc, did not, it appears, own trademarks in Europe. This enabled a Dutch company, Traveland Resorts, to register French and European word and graphic marks for in 2010. In 2014,, Inc brought suit in France against Traveland for fraudulent filings of trademarks and achieved a settlement under which Traveland transferred the trademarks.

But that was a Pyrrhic victory. The French state and its own travel development agency, Atout,  intervened in the litigation, claiming the trademarks for itself instead. Atout had been running, since 2010, its own information site, French state and Atout were successful, first before the Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris , and then, partly, on  appeal before the Cour’ d’appel de Paris (English translationnote by Alison Bouakel)  As a consequence, transferred the domain in 2018. Now, immediately directs to

So far, the conflict is mostly a French affair. But Frydman is taking the litigation to the United States., Inc has brought suit in Federal Court in Virginia against the French State, Atout, and against Verisign, the authoritative domain registry of all .com addresses.  The suit alleges cybersquatting, reverse domain hijacking, expropriating, trademark infringement, and federal unfair competition. US courts and WIPO panels have so far not looked favorably at foreign government’s claims for their own .com domain name; examples include,, and Will the French State be more successful, given the French judgment in its favor?

Although neither the French courts nor the complaint in the United States address conflict of laws issues, the case is, of course, full of those. Are the French state and its travel agency protected by sovereign immunity? The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act contains an exception for commercial activities and is limited to sovereign acts: Does ownership of a domain name constitute commercial activity? Surely, many of the activities of Atout do. Or is it linked to sovereignty? After all, France is the name of the country (though not, ironically, the official name.) The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit left the question open in 2002 (Virtual Countries, Inc. v. South Africa, 300 F.3d 230).

Must the federal court recognize the French judgment? That question is  reminiscent of the Yahoo litigation. Then, a French court ordered that could not offer Nazi paraphernalia on its auction website. Yahoo brought a declaratory action in federal court against recognizability of the judgment in the United States. The affair created a lively debate on the limits of territorial reach in internet-related litigation, a debate that is still not fully resolved.

Relatedly, did the French state engage in illegal expropriation without compensation? Such acts of expropriation are in principle limited to the territory of the acting state, which could mean that the French state’s actions, if so qualified, would be without legal effect in the United States.

To what extent is US law applicable to a French trademark? By contrast, to what extent can the French trademark determine ownership of the domain? Trademarks are a perennially difficult topic in private international law, given their territorial limitations; they conflict in particular with the ubiquity of the internet.

Is the top level domain name – .com, as opposed to .fr – a relevant connecting factor in any of these matters? That was once considered a promising tool. But even if .fr could in some way link to France as owner, it is not clear that .com links to the United States, given that it has long been, effectively, a global top level domain. On the other hand, most governments do not own their own .com domain. And US courts have, in other cases (most famously concerning not doubted applicability of US law.

A timeline with links to documents can be found at Frydman’s blog site.



The Supreme Court deals the death blow to US Human Rights Litigation

Written by Bastian Brunk, research assistant and doctoral student at the Institute for Comparative and Private International Law at the University of Freiburg (Germany)

On April 24, the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision in Jesner v Arab Bank (available here; see also the pre-decision analysis by Hannah Dittmers linked here and first thoughts after the decision of Amy Howe here) and, in a 5:4 majority vote, shut the door that it had left ajar in its Kiobel decision. Both cases are concerned with the question whether private corporations may be sued under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Read more

No handshake, no citizenship – but with a second wife, everything’s fine?

Two recent judgments of European courts have highlighted the difficulty in finding the right balance between the cultural assimilation of Muslim immigrants demanded by national laws on citizenship and the necessary degree of tolerance towards foreign laws and customs. In a widely reported decision of 11 April 2018, the French Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) ruled that a naturalisation of an Algerian-born woman could be revoked because she had refused to shake hands with a male public servant during the naturalisation ceremony. Read more

Child Abduction and Habitual Residence in the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada, in Office of the Children’s Lawyer v Balev (available here), has evolved the law in Canada on the meaning of a child’s habitual residence under Article 3 of the Hague Convention.  The Convention deals with the return of children wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction of their habitual residence.

A majority of the court identifies [paras 4 and 39ff] three possible approaches to habitual residence: the parental intention approach, the child-centred approach, and the hybrid approach.  The parental intention approach determines the habitual residence of a child by the intention of the parents with the right to determine where the child lives.  This approach has been the dominant one in Canada.  In contrast, the hybrid approach, instead of focusing primarily on either parental intention or the child’s acclimatization, looks to all relevant considerations arising from the facts of the case.  A majority of the court, led by the (now retired) Chief Justice, holds that the law in Canada should be the hybrid approach [paras 5 and 48].  One of the main reasons for the change is that the hybrid approach is used in many other Hague Convention countries [paras 49-50].

The dissent (three of the nine judges) would maintain the parental intention approach [para 110].  One of its central concerns is the flexibility and ambiguity of the hybrid approach [para 111], which the judges worry will lead to less clarity and more litigation.  Wrongful removal cases will become harder to resolve in a timely manner [paras 151-153].

The majority did not apply the law to the facts of the underlying case, it having become moot during the process of the litigation [para 6].  The court rendered its decision to provide guidance going forward.  The dissent would have denied the appeal on the basis that the child’s habitual residence was in Germany (as the lower courts had held).

The court briefly addresses the exception to Article 3 in what is commonly known as “Article 13(2)” (since it is not numbered as such) – a child’s objection to return – setting out its understanding of how to apply it [paras 75-81 and 157-160].

The Supreme Court of Canada has recently adopted the practice of preparing summaries of its decisions (available here for this decision) to make them more accessible to the media and the public.  These are called “Cases in Brief”.

The CJEU settles the issue of characterising the surviving spouse’s share of the estate in the context of the Succession Regulation

It has not been yet noted on this blog that the CJEU has recently settled a classic problem of characterisation that has plagued German courts and academics for decades (CJEU, 1 March 2018 – C-558/16, Mahnkopf, ECLI:EU:C:2018:138). The German statutory regime of matrimonial property is a community of accrued gains, i.e. that each spouse keeps its own property, but gains that have been made during the marriage are equalised when the marriage ends, i.e. by a divorce or by the death of one spouse. According to § 1371(1) of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – BGB), the equalisation of the accrued gains shall be effected by increasing the surviving spouse’s share of the estate on intestacy by one quarter of the estate if the property regime is ended by the death of a spouse; it is irrelevant in this regard whether the spouses have made accrued gains in the individual case. How is this claim to be characterized? Read more