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Court of Appeal allows in England claims against English-based multinational for overseas human rights violations

Written by Ekaterina AristovaPhD in Law Candidate, University of Cambridge

On 14 October 2017, the London’s Court of Appeal passed its long awaited decision in Lungowe v Vedanta confirming that foreign citizens can pursue in England legal claims against English-based multinationals for their overseas activities.

In 2015, Zambian villagers commenced proceedings against Vedanta, an English-based mining corporation, and its indirect Zambian subsidiary, KCM, alleging responsibility of both companies for the environmental pollution arising out of the operation in Zambia of the Nchanga Copper Mine by KCM. In 2016, the High Court allowed claims against both companies to be heard in England. The overall analysis of the judgement (see the author’s earlier post on this blog) suggested that (1) claims against the parent company on the breach of duty of care in relation to the overseas operations of the foreign subsidiary can be heard in the English courts and (2) the existence of an arguable claim against the English-domiciled parent company also establishes jurisdiction of the English courts over the subsidiary even if the factual basis of the case occurs almost exclusively in the foreign state. The Court of Appeal has entirely upheld a High Court ruling.

Vedanta has focused their argument on the fact that Article 4 of the Brussels I Regulation Recast does not automatically allow an English-domiciled parent company to be sued in England and, despite the CJEU’s ruling in Owusu v Jackson, there is always discretion as to whether the English court should allow the claims to be tried in England. In response, the three appeal judges were very clear in confirming the univocal effect of Owusu decision which precludes English courts from declining a mandatory jurisdiction to try claims against the English-domiciled defendant. Logically, analysis further moved to KCM’s applications. KCM as a foreign defendant was brought into proceedings on the basis of a ‘necessary or proper party’ gateway under the English traditional rules of jurisdictions. It allows service out of the jurisdiction subject to two additional conditions: (1) there is between the claimant and English-domiciled defendant a real issue which it is reasonable for the court to try; and (2) England is the proper forum for trying the claims. Unsurprisingly, an initial question of whether uncustomary claims alleging liability of the local parent company for overseas damages are viable in England was a major stumbling block for the corporate defendants.

First of all, Lord Justice Simon, who delivered a leading judgement, confirmed that absence of the reported cases on the breach of duty of care by the parent company owed to the persons affected by its subsidiary’s operations does not automatically render such a claim unarguable. He then relied on several well-known English cases to derive basic principles for the imposition of such duty of care on the parent company: (1) The three-part test of foreseeability, proximity and reasonableness set out in Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman constitutes a starting point of the analysis; 2) A duty of care may be owed, in appropriate circumstances, to the employees of the parent company and those directly affected by the subsidiary’s operations; 3) Such a duty of care arises when the parent company has taken direct responsibility for devising a material health and safety policy the adequacy of which is the subject of the claim, or controls the operations which give rise to the claim; 4) Some of the circumstances in which the existence of the duty of care may, or may not, be established can be traced in Chandler v Cape and Thompson v The Renwick Group; 5) It is necessary to determine whether the parent company was well placed, because of its knowledge and expertise to protect the claimants; proving that parent company and the subsidiary run the same business is not sufficient; (6) The evidence sufficient to establish the duty may not be available at the early stages of the case. Following these principles, it was concluded that, irrespective of the strength or the weakness of the claim against the parent company (as opposed to the claim against the subsidiary as an operator of the mine) and in light of the supporting evidence already presented by the claimants, the claim against Vedanta cannot be dismissed as not properly arguable.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is particularly interesting for two reasons. The first issue relates to how its conclusions should be approached in the context of similar environmental litigation against English-based multinational in Okpabi v Shell. Earlier this year, Fraser J, sitting as a judge in the Technology and Construction Court, ruled that a claim against English-based parent company and the Nigerian subsidiary of the Shell group for oil pollution in Nigeria will not proceed in the English courts. The judge himself did not make any conclusions which would question the ultimate decision reached by the two instances in Lungowe v Vedanta. More importantly, his analysis fairly suggests that determination of the parent company liability should be approached on a case-by-case basis weighing the particular characteristics of the corporate organisation of the group and the nexus between the parent company and its subsidiaries (see the author’s earlier post on this blog). Nevertheless, the reasoning of Fraser J could be criticised for the scrupulousness of identifying whether sufficient evidence on each factor of the duty of care test was presented by the claimants at such an early stage of the proceedings. The jurisdictional inquiry into existence of an arguable claim against the parent company should not substitute the determination of the substantive argument and the trial itself. This approach was rightly emphasised by the Court of Appeal in Vedanta. By contrast, thorough analysis of the liability argument carried by Fraser J in Okpabi v Shell is arguably very close to the resolution of the case on the merits. The decision was appealed by the claimants, the Nigerian citizens, on these very grounds.

The second set of issues arises from the Court of Appeal’s reluctance to engage in the discussion of the regulatory significance of the litigation against major transnational corporations for their overseas operations in the English courts. In the course of appeal’s hearing Vedanta argued that allowing cases against English multinationals in their home state was not in the public interest. The judgement itself refrained to consider whether public interest factors have any impact on the jurisdictional inquiry in the disputes concerned with the private interests of the litigants. Therefore, foreign direct liability claims against powerful corporate groups were placed in the context of conventional theoretical public/private divide of the rules of private international law. The Parliament and the Government have at least twice engaged into discussion of the UK role in promoting responsibility and ensuring accountability of its companies in the course of 2009 and 2017 human rights and business inquiries. Further increase in the number of legal claims against English-based transnational corporations brought by the foreign citizens in the English courts may revive interest in the role of the discipline of private international law to take part in the global governance debate.

Dutch collective redress dangerous? A call for a more nuanced approach

Prepared by Alexandre Biard, Xandra Kramer and Ilja Tillema, Erasmus University Rotterdam

The Netherlands has become dangerously involved in the treatment of mass claims, Lisa Rickard from the US Chamber of Commerce recently said to the Dutch financial daily (Het Financieele Dagblad, 28 September 2017) and the Dutch BNR newsradio (broadcast of 28 September 2017). This statement follows the conclusions of two reports published in March and September 2017 by the US Institute for Legal Reforms (ILR), an entity affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce. Within a few hours, the news spread like wildfire in online Dutch newspapers, see for instance here.

Worryingly enough, the March 2017 report, which assessed collective redress mechanisms in ten Member States, predicted that ‘there are a number of very powerful indicators that all of the same incentives and forces that have led to mass abuse in other jurisdictions are also gathering force in the EU’. Among the jurisdictions surveyed, the Netherlands appeared as a place particularly prone to such abuse. The September 2017 report focuses on consumer attitudes towards collective redress safeguards, and ultimately concludes that 85% of respondents tend to support the introduction of safeguards for the resolution of mass claims.

The publication of the aforementioned reports is timely as the European Commission’s evaluation report on the 2013 Recommendation on Collective Redress is expected this autumn, following the recent call for evidence.  Some of the statements in these reports call for a more nuanced view. Indeed, the Dutch approach to the resolution of mass claims might have its drawbacks. It is certainly not exempt from criticisms. However, in a matter of such expedient nature, it is of the utmost importance that both sides are thoroughly addressed and assessed.

For the information of readers that are not familiar with the Dutch system: the Netherlands currently has two mechanisms that have been designed for collective redress specifically. The first one is the collective action for injunctive or declaratory relief. A verdict in such action can provide the basis for an amicable settlement or for individual proceedings to seek monetary compensation. The second mechanism is the much-discussed WCAM settlement (based on the Dutch Collective Settlements Act, see also a previous post linking to papers and a report on the WCAM procedure). In addition, there is a proposal to introduce a collective action for damages (see a previous post on this blog).

Bad apples and the bigger picture

In the past years, few incidents have occurred in Dutch collective redress that may indeed come close to ‘American situations’ that are generally feared in Europe. Unfortunately, some commentators have chosen to mainly highlight such incidents. Notably, the ILR report of March 2017 refers to the notorious case of Stichting Loterijverlies, in which a foundation initiated a collective action on behalf of aggrieved lottery ticket holders against the Dutch State Lottery. The report rightfully mentions that the foundation’s director has been accused of funnelling elsewhere, for personal gain, part of the consumers’ financial contribution to the foundation. However, the report neglects to mention that the foundation had also been litigating for quite some years and that, ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in its favour: the Dutch State Lottery had misled consumers for years. Furthermore, the report fails to mention that some of the foundation’s participants successfully filed a request to replace the foundation’s board. Moreover, despite (or on account of) the complexity of establishing causation and damages, the case has now been amicably settled. As part of the settlement, participants of the foundation have been reimbursed their financial contribution thereto, and all class members were free to participate in the settlement: an extraordinary, one-off lottery draw. Reportedly, 2.5 million individuals have done so.

Obviously, incidents such as the aforementioned case are of no avail to civil justice, and justify concerns about claim vehicles’ activities and motives. However, we should also consider the many positive effects of collective redress mechanisms. Generally, Dutch collective actions and WCAM settlements provide for much-needed effective and efficient dispute resolution in mass harm situations.

Safeguards work: learning from experience

The March report by the ILR warns against the gradual decline of safeguards in the Netherlands, and in the EU more generally. Yet, various safeguards already exist, continue to do so, and generally function well in practice. For instance, the admissibility rules regarding representative organizations (that bring collective actions or are involved in a WCAM settlement) have become more stringent and are applied increasingly strict by courts. As to the current Dutch collective actions, there is proof that its numbers have slowly risen since 1994, but no proof exists that this is necessarily attributable to entrepreneurial parties, let alone that they have increased the number of frivolous claims (Tillema 2017). The proposed collective action for damages further raises the current threshold for representative organizations to obtain standing. The requirements concern the organizations’ governance, financial means, representativeness, experience and expertise, and individuals’ participation in the decision-making process. Indeed, a judgment will have binding effect upon all aggrieved parties who have not opted out, but all actions will be publicly registered, there is a strict scope rule, and individuals can raise objections.

So far, eight WCAM settlement have been declared binding. Undeniably, various parties have entered this market, including US counsels and their sizeable fees. However, in spite of its difficult task, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal seems growingly comfortable in assessing the reasonableness of a collective settlement, including the representative organizations’ remuneration. In Converium, the reasonableness of (contingency) fees was assessed for the first time. In the currently pending eighth WCAM case, the Fortis-settlement, the court has demonstrated its awareness of the risks and of its task to also scrutinize the motives of representative organizations. In its interlocutory judgment, it has ruled that the settlement, in its current state, cannot be declared binding. It is deemed not reasonable due to, inter alia, the sizeable remuneration of the representative organizations and their lack of transparency thereon.

A Dutch ‘manoeuvre’ to become a ‘go-to-point’ for mass claim or an attempt to enhance access to justice for all?

‘The Netherlands and the UK seem to be manoeuvring themselves to become the go-to jurisdictions for collective claims outside the EU’, the March report highlighted. Obviously, this not the first time that other countries express their concerns against the extra-territorial effects of the Dutch legislation, an issue that has been discussed for several years in the context of the WCAM (Van Lith, 2011). The ILR report indeed highlighted that in the Converium case, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal declared the settlement binding where a majority of shareholders were domiciled outside the Netherlands. Yet, the key question here is whether, for reasons linked to equality and efficiency, individuals who have suffered from losses resulting from a same misbehaviour should not be treated in a same manner and in the same proceeding, regardless of their actual location. By asserting global jurisdiction, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ultimately ensured access to justice and equal treatment for all parties placed in similar situations, and ultimately avoided costly fragmentation of the case for parties and courts. In this regard, it should also be highlighted that the WCAM is a settlement-only mechanism, and – to the benefit of victims of wrongdoings – it is the wrongdoing party and the representatives of the aggrieved parties that jointly choose to address the Amsterdam Court of Appeal considering that the Netherlands has a suitable procedure to declare such settlement binding.

It is evident that collective redress mechanisms have both benefits and drawbacks. More than ever, the challenging, yet indispensable key word here is balance. As Commissioner Jourova recently observed at the release of the ILR September report, ‘the discussion in EU countries is in full swing on how to strike the right balance between access to justice and prevention of abuse’. We hope this short post can contribute to the discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News

Second Issue of 2021’s Revue Critique de Droit International Privé

The last issue of the Revue Critique de Droit International Privé has been released. It contains eight articles and several case notes.

The editorial (authored by Horatia Muir Watt, Dominique Bureau and Sabine Corneloup) and five of the articles deal with the reserved share (réserve héréditaire) in international successions. These five articles are authored by: Paul Lagarde (« Une ultime (?) bataille de la réserve héréditaire »), Cécile Pérez (« Quelques observations relatives à la réserve héréditaire dans le projet de loi confortant le respect des principes de la République »), Diane Le Grand de Belleroche (« Contre le retour du droit de prélèvement en droit français : une vue de la pratique du droit international »), Suzel Ramaciotti (« Le prélèvement compensatoire du projet d’article 913 du code civil à l’épreuve des exigences européennes et constitutionnelles »), and Nathalie Joubert (« Droit de prélèvement, réserve héréditaire, protection des héritiers contre les discriminations, quelle méthode ? »).

The sixth article, authored by Christelle Chalas and Horatia Muir Watt deals with the international jurisdiction of courts in matters relating to the environnemental responsibility of multinational companies.

In the seventh article, Vincent Richard presents the recast of the regulation on the service of judicial and extrajudicial documents.

The eighth article, by Christine Budzikiewicz, discusses the reform of international adoption law in Germany.

A full table of contents is available here.

‘Giustizia consensuale’: A New Law Journal on Consensual Justice in Its Many Nuances and Forms

In recent years, the debate surrounding consensual justice and party autonomy has received increasing attention in the national and international arenas and has raised a broad array of questions. In the pressing need to observe this phenomenon from different perspectives lies the rationale behind a newly founded biannual journal, Giustizia consensuale. The journal, founded and directed by Prof. Silvana Dalla Bontà and Prof. Paola Lucarelli, features contributions in both Italian and English.

By adopting an interdisciplinary and holistic approach, the journal aims to investigate the meaning of consensual justice, its relation with judicial justice, and the potential for integrating – rather than contrasting – these two forms of justice. This investigation is premised on the relationship between justice and private autonomy as well as forms of integrative, participatory, and restorative justice. By being particularly suited for meeting the needs of an increasingly complicated and multi-faceted society, these forms of justice ultimately promote social cohesion and reconciliation. Against this backdrop, Giustizia consensuale strives to make a valid contribution to the discourse on conflict and the meaning of justice by fostering an interdisciplinary dialogue which encompasses both theory and practice.

The first issue of Giustizia Consensuale has just been released and it features:

Silvana Dalla Bontà (University of Trento), Giustizia consensuale (‘Consensual Justice – A Foreword’; in Italian)

Paola Lucarelli (University of Firenze), Mediazione dei conflitti: una spinta generosa verso il cambiamento (Conflict Mediation: A Push for Cultural Change; in Italian)

From the Italian Recovery and Resilience Plan to the guidelines of the Italian Ministry of Justice, the urgency of a reform to strengthen out-of-court dispute resolution procedures clearly emerges. Recovery and resilience become fundamental objectives. Conflict mediation is the path chosen to achieve social cohesion and reconciliation. Promoting and strengthening this dispute resolution mechanism is important not only to reduce the judicial backlog, but also to empower the parties to self-tailor the solution of their conflict with the assistance of their attorneys. By fostering responsibility, self-determination, awareness and trust, mediation makes citizens and professionals protagonists in the process of change that combines judicial and consensual justice.

Francesco P. Luiso (University of Pisa), La «proposta» del mediatore (The Mediator’s ‘Dispute Settlement Offer’; in Italian)

The Italian Legislative Decree No. 28 of 4 March 2010 – implementing the Directive 2008/52/EC – enables, in certain conditions, the mediator to submit a settlement offer to the conflicting parties. In the case that the mediation fails, the judge, in the subsequent court proceedings, might sanction the non-accepting party when allocating procedural costs. Nonetheless, the aforementioned Legislative Decree does not compel the mediator to submit such a settlement offer. However, the mediation rules of some institutions oblige the mediator to make a settlement offer to the parties. Against this background, when ordering the parties to attempt mediation, some courts require them to file their mediation application with a mediation institution allowing the mediator to submit a settlement offer to the parties. In this article, the author argues that these court orders are against the above-mentioned Legislative Decree. In fact, this does not permit the judge to make any particular determination regarding the mediation procedure, the parties, or the mediator themselves. Furthermore, the author underlines how the judge could never take the mediator’s settlement offer into consideration in the pending proceedings. While the judge grounds their decision on what is right and what is wrong, the mediator’s settlement offer revolves around the needs and interests of the conflicting parties, thus impeding any comparison between their contents.

Antonio Briguglio (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’), Conciliazione e arbitrato. Conciliazione nell’arbitrato. Appunti sparsi fra diritto, psicologia e prassi (Conciliation and Arbitration. Conciliation in Arbitration. Notes on Law, Psychology, and Practice; in Italian)

The article deals with the relationship between conciliation and arbitration within the overall ADR system. It first analyses the conceptual, legal and systematic differences between conciliation and arbitration, with references to some areas of partial overlap (such as, for example, the one now opened by the Singapore Convention of 2019). The author then takes into consideration the parties’ and adjudicators’ different approaches to conciliation both in in-court proceedings and arbitration. Subsequently, the attention is focused on the attempt of conciliation in the course of the arbitral proceedings; on the so-called multi-step clauses that provide for a mandatory attempt of conciliation before the commencement of arbitration; and on the ‘award by consent’ in the practice of international arbitration.

Neil Andrews (University of Cambridge), Procedure, Party Agreement, and Contract (in English)

In this piece the author considers three points of interaction between agreement and procedure. (1) The parties might consensually choose the applicable procedure, notably the choice between (a) judicial proceedings and (b) arbitration. If they have chosen (a), the parties might stipulate which court and in which jurisdiction the matter will be litigated. Having chosen instead (b) arbitration, the parties will normally make explicit the ‘seat’ (London, Milan, New York, etc) and the size of the arbitral tribunal (one, three, five, etc). Also falling within (1), there is possibility that the parties will agree to impose on themselves preliminary ‘negotiation agreements’ and/or mediation agreements. (2) The parties can take a further step and specify or modify the elements of the relevant formal process (whether that process is court proceedings or arbitration). This modification of the default elements of the procedure will involve a ‘bespoke’ or ad hoc agreement, rather than simply adopting national or institutional procedural rules. However, this is less common. Most parties adopt without modification the relevant procedure ‘off the peg’. (3) Settlement is the consensual disposal or narrowing of the dispute. In practice, this is the most important way in which agreement and procedure interact. Settlement can occur before or after court or arbitration proceedings have commenced. It is also possible that settlement might occur even after the first-instance judgment has been obtained, for example, when appeal or enforcement proceedings are pending.

Margherita Ramajoli (University of Milan), Per una giustizia amministrativa alternativa con particolare (anche se non esclusivo) riguardo alle transazioni pubblicistiche (For an Alternative Administrative Justice: Focusing on Public Dispute Settlements; in Italian)

The use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in public interest litigation brings both substantial and procedural advantages. They may improve the quality of public decision-making, foster the adoption of shared solutions, re-establish dialogue between parties whose relations are bound to last over time, contribute to moralisation by making clear agreements otherwise not intended to emerge, and finally, make the administrative judicial review more efficient by directing the demand for justice elsewhere. In addition, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are in tune with the current changes in administrative law; there is a deep link between droit souple and justice douce, between soft law and ADR, between non-traditional substantive law and alternative administrative judicial review. However, alternative justice is a phenomenon not yet sufficiently developed in public litigation, because of some debated issues in its use. Specifically, it is not easy to harmonise the very purpose of ADR to definitively settle a dispute with the perpetual protection of public interest institutionally entrusted to administrative authorities, as demonstrated by how the latter use the settlement. The introduction of a framework law on ADR in public interest litigation could solve some of the most dramatic issues, naturally maintaining the indispensable flexibility.

Teresa Arruda Alvim (Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo) and Márcio Bellocchi (Universidade de São Paulo), Mediazione. Il frutto di un buon esercizio del diritto (Mediation. The Result of a Mindful Exercise of Rights; in Italian)

In the last few decades, even civil law jurisdictions have witnessed an increase in the promotion of alternative dispute resolution. Among various reasons for its adoption, ADR affords the parties the possibility to self-tailor a solution to their conflict while significantly diminishing the case overload of the judiciary. Nevertheless, just as varied are the obstacles to the diffusion of ADR, ranging from the lack of preparation of mediators to the traditional adversarial approach of attorneys. The authors examine each of these profiles in the perspective of the Brazilian legal system, analysing the reasons behind the promotion of ADR, its practical implications, and the future outlook on a multi-door justice.

Colin Rule (University of Stanford), Reinventing Justice with Online Dispute Resolution (in English)

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is the study of how to use technology to help parties resolve their disputes. Originally created to help e-Commerce companies build trust with their users, ODR is now being integrated into the courts to expand access to justice and reduce costs. With the expansion of artificial intelligence and machine learning, ODR has the potential to play a major role in the justice systems of the future, but there are many questions that still need to be answered. This article outlines the need for ODR, provides a short history of its development, and describes some of the challenges that could accompany its expansion.

Silvana Dalla Bontà (University of Trento), Una giustizia «co-esistenziale» online nello spazio giuridico europeo? Spunti critici sul pacchetto ADR-ODR per i consumatori (‘Co-Existential’ Online Justice within the EU Judicial Area? Some Constructive Criticism on the Consumer ADR/ODR Package; in Italian)

Since the 1990s, the European Community, now the European Union, has shown particular regard to the matter of extra-judicial settlement of civil and commercial disputes. The European Union recognized the added value brought by alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in answering the problems posed by cross-border litigation and thus facilitating the creation of the Single Market. The Community’s attention first focused on consumer disputes (Recommendations 98/257/EC and 2001/310/EC); it subsequently extended its reach to all civil and commercial disputes (Directive 2008/52/EC); ultimately, it reverted its focus back to consumer disputes with the Directive on consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the Regulation on consumer Online Dispute Resolution (ODR),  both adopted in 2013. This article proposes an in-depth analysis of the objectives, the scope, and the application of the two above-mentioned legal acts composing the so-called ADR/ODR package for consumers, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. In particular, the discussion focuses on the ODR Platform for the resolution of consumer-to-business disputes launched by the European Union in 2016. In reviewing its functioning through the statistical data collected by the European Union, the author inquires whether the ODR Platform provides for the creation of a ‘co-existential justice’ in the European legal area or whether other complementary instruments should be implemented to grant a high standard of protection for consumers as the European Treaties impose.

The third EFFORTS Newsletter is here!

EFFORTS (Towards more EFfective enFORcemenT of claimS in civil and commercial matters within the EU) is an EU-funded Project conducted by the University of Milan (coord.), the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law, the University of Heidelberg, the Free University of Brussels, the University of Zagreb, and the University of Vilnius.

The third EFFORTS Newsletter has just been released, giving access to up-to-date information about the Project, save-the-dates on forthcoming events, conferences and webinars, and news from the area of international and comparative civil procedural law.

Regular updates are also available via the Project’s website, and  LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

Project JUST-JCOO-AG-2019-881802
With financial support from the Civil Justice Programme of the European Union