Staying Proceedings, Undertakings and “Buying” a Forum

One of the points of interest in the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in v Goldhar (available here) concerns the appropriateness of the plaintiff’s undertaking to pay the travel and accommodation costs of the defendant’s witnesses, located in Israel, to come to the trial in Ontario.  The defendant had raised the issue of the residence of its witnesses as a factor pointing to Israel being the more appropriate forum.  The plaintiff, one presumes, made a strategic decision to counter this factor by giving the undertaking.

The motions judge and the Court of Appeal for Ontario both considered the undertaking as effective in reducing the difficulties for the defendant in having the litigation in Ontario.  However, the undertaking was viewed quite differently by at least some of the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.  Justice Cote, joined by Justices Brown and Rowe, stated that “consideration of such an undertaking would allow a wealthy plaintiff to sway the forum non conveniens analysis, which would be inimical to the foundational principles of fairness and efficiency underlying this doctrine” (para 66).  Justice Abella, in separate reasons, stated “I think it would be tantamount to permitting parties with greater resources to tip the scales in their favour by ‘buying’ a forum. … it is their actual circumstances, and not artificially created ones, that should be weighed” (para 140).  The other five judges (two concurring in the result reached by these four; three dissenting) did not comment on the undertaking.

Undertakings by one party in response to concerns raised by the other party on motions to stay are reasonably common.  Many of these do involve some financial commitment.  For example, in response to the concern that various documents will have to be translated into the language of the court, a party could undertake to cover the translation costs.  Similarly, a party might undertake to cover the costs of the other party flowing from more extensive pre-trial discovery procedures in the forum.  Travel and accommodation expenses are perhaps the most common subject for a financial undertaking.  Is the Supreme Court of Canada now holding that these sorts of undertakings are improper?

The more general statement from Justice Abella rejecting artificially created circumstances could have an even broader scope, addressing more than just financial issues.  Is it a criticism of even non-financial undertakings, such as an undertaking by the defendant not to raise a limitation period – otherwise available as a defence – in the foreign forum if the stay is granted?  Is that an artificially-created circumstance?

Vaughan Black has written the leading analysis of conditional stays of proceedings in Canadian law: “Conditional Forum Non Conveniens in Canadian Courts” (2013) 39 Queen’s Law Journal 41.  Undertakings are closely related to conditions.  The latter are imposed by the court as a condition of its order, while the former are offered in order to influence the decision on the motion.  But both deal with very similar content, and undertakings are sometimes incorporated into the order as conditions.  Black observes that in some cases courts have imposed financial conditions such as paying transportation costs and even living costs during litigation (pages 69-70).  Are these conditions now inappropriate, if undertakings about those expenses are?  Or it is different if imposed by the court?

My view is that the four judges who made these comments in have put the point too strongly.  Forum non conveniens is about balancing the interests of the parties.  If one party points to a particular financial hardship imposed by proceeding in a forum, it should be generally open for the other party to ameliorate this hardship by means of a financial undertaking.  Only in the most extreme cases should a court consider the undertaking inappropriate.  And perhaps, though the judges do not say so expressly, is such a case, in that there were potentially 22 witness who would need to travel from Israel to Ontario for a trial.

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.


Cross-Border Legal Issues Dialogue Seminar Series – ‘The Asian Principles for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments’ by Prof. Adeline Chong (Online)

Professor Adeline Chong will be speaking on 25 Feb at 12:30
PM – 2:00 PM 9(HKT) on the The Asian Principles for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgements.

The portability of foreign judgments across borders helps to faciliate cross-border transactions by lowering transaction costs and associated legal friction among countries. This is important for Asia given initiatives to establish greater economic integration in Asia such as the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, the Belt and Road Initiative and free-trade agreements such as the CPTPP and RCEP.

The Asian Principles for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (ABLI, 2020) is one of the publications resulting from a project conducted under the auspices of the Asian Business Law Institute (ABLI). The ABLI Foreign Judgments project considered the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgment rules in the ten ASEAN Member States and five of ASEAN’s major trade partners i.e. Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea. The Asian Principles is a statement of the laws on foreign judgments in the region. It sets out the common principles and differences in the laws and suggests ways in which harmonisation of the foreign judgment rules can occur.

This seminar discusses the Asian Principles and considers the extent to which harmonisation of the foreign judgment rules is possible in the region. Harmonisation would of course increase the portability of judgments across borders. The seminar also examines the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters and the likelihood of the Convention being adopted by the Asian countries.

About the speaker:

Adeline Chong is an Associate Professor at the Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University. She was formerly a lecturer at the School of Law, University of Nottingham. She has published in leading peer-reviewed journals such as the Law Quarterly Review, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly and the Journal of Private International Law. She is the co-author of Hill and Chong, International Commercial Disputes: Commercial Conflict of Laws in English Courts (Oxford, Hart, 4th edn, 2010). She is the Project Lead of the Asian Business Law Institute’s project on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Asia. Her work has been cited by various courts including the Singapore, Hong Kong, New South Wales and New Zealand Court of Appeals, the UK Law Commission, as well as in leading texts on conflict of laws such as Dicey, Morris and Collins on the Conflict of Laws (15th edition). She has also been invited to present papers by the British Association of Canadian Studies, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Kyushu University and the University of Sydney. She has conducted courses for the Attorney-General Chambers of Malaysia and delivered Continuing Professional Development Talks for Singapore’s Attorney-General Chamber’s Academy and the Law Society of Singapore. She has appeared as an expert on Singapore law before a Finnish court and issued a declaration on Singapore law for a US class action.

Register here by 5pm, 24 February 2022 to attend the seminar.

First Issue of Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 2022

The first issue of the Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly for 2022 was just published. It features the following case notes and articles on private international law respectively:

SYC Leung and M Suen, The Extensive Jurisdiction in the Action on an Arbitral Award (case note)

D Foxton, The Jurisdictional Gateways – some (very) modest proposals:

This article reviews the history of the gateways for service out of the jurisdiction in England and Wales, and seeks to identify the rationales which underpin them. The case for abolishing the gateways altogether, and applying only a forum conveniens test for service out purposes, is examined, the article concluding that there are reasons of principle and policy for maintaining the gateway requirement. The article identifies a number of variations or amendments to the current gateways which are consistent with their rationales, and which would better give effect to them.

The Supreme Court in Enka v Chubb clarified the choice of law rules which help determine the governing law of an arbitration agreement when the law of the contract containing it differs from the law of the arbitral seat. According to that framework, where parties have chosen the law which governs the main contract, that law is presumed also to govern the arbitration agreement. This article identifies, and seeks to provide preliminary answers to, questions surrounding the operation of, and rebuttal of, that presumption, on the basis that such questions are most likely soon to require a judicial answer.

HCCH Internship Applications Now Open!

Applications are now open for three- to six-month legal internships at the Permanent Bureau’s headquarters in The Hague, for the period from July to December 2022!

Interns work with our legal teams in the areas of Family and Child Protection Law, Transnational Litigation, Legal Cooperation, and Commercial and Financial Law. Duties may include carrying out research on particular points of private international law and/or comparative law, taking part in the preparation of HCCH meetings and contributing to the promotion of the HCCH and its work.

Due to the current global situation and the associated travel limitations and restrictions, the Permanent Bureau may consider the possibility that internships be carried out remotely. Interns may also be eligible for a monthly stipend.

Applications should be submitted by 17 March 2022. For more information, please visit the Internships Section of the HCCH website.

This post is published by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference of Private International Law (HCCH).