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New rules on service outside Australia for the Federal Court of Australia

The Federal Court Legislation Amendment Rules 2022 (Cth) (‘Amendment Rules’) came into force on 13 January 2023. Among other things, they amend the Federal Court Rules 2011 (Cth) (‘FCR’) by repealing division 10.4, which dealt with service outside Australia. The Amendment Rules replace the old division 10.4 with a new one, which brings the Federal Court’s approach to service outside Australia into alignment with all other Australian jurisdictions, except for Western Australia and the Northern Territory.[1]

The previous approach to service outside Australia in the Federal Court

Historically, Australia’s superior courts have not been uniform in their approach to service outside the jurisdiction and outside Australia. The Federal Court’s approach was somewhat unique. Unlike the position in some of the State Supreme Courts,[2] leave to serve outside Australia[3] was required before service (FCR r 10.43(2)). Nonetheless, if leave was not obtained beforehand, service could be confirmed after the fact if sufficiently explained (FCR r 10.43(6)–(7)).

Leave to serve turned on three conditions: the court had subject matter jurisdiction, the claim was of a kind mentioned in the rules, and the party had a prima facie case for any or all of the relief claimed: FCR r 10.43(4). Even if those elements were satisfied, the court may have refused leave to serve in exercise of a ‘residual discretion’: Tiger Yacht Management Ltd v Morris (2019) 268 FCR 548, [100].

The second element, that the claim is of a kind mentioned in the rules, directed attention to FCR r 10.42. That rule set out pigeonholes or connecting factors that are familiar grounds of direct jurisdiction. For example, service may be permitted for a proceeding based on a cause of action arising in Australia (item 1), or where the defendant has submitted to the jurisdiction (item 19).

Some of the connecting factors might be described as exorbitant. For example, service may have been permitted where the proceeding was ‘based on, or seeking the recovery of, damage suffered wholly or partly in Australia caused by a tortious act or omission (wherever occurring)’ (item 5). Reid Mortensen, Richard Garnett and Mary Keyes commented, ‘[i]n effect, [this ground of service] allows service outside Australia merely because of the plaintiff’s personal connection—usually be reason of residence—with the forum, despite the complete absence of any connection between the events or the defendant on the one hand, and the forum on the other’.[4]

Combined with Australian courts’ unique approach to forum non conveniens (see Puttick v Tenon Ltd (2008) 238 CLR 265), the FCR provided plenty of room for establishing personal jurisdiction over foreign defendants in matters with foreign elements, even where those matters had strong connections to foreign jurisdictions. That position continues under the new approach effected by the Amendment Rules in the amended FCR.

The new approach

The Amendment Rules provide in a note to the new div 10.4: ‘t]his Division contains rules that have been harmonised in accordance with the advice of the Council of Chief Justices’ Rules Harmonisation Committee’. Those rules have been in force in New South Wales and other Australian jurisdictions for some years. When the rules changed in New South Wales in late 2016, Vivienne Bath and I explained the significance for that State: Michael Douglas and Vivienne Bath, ‘A New Approach to Service Outside the Jurisdiction and Outside Australia under the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules’ (2017) 44(2) Australian Bar Review 160.

As regards the Federal Court, considering the previous approach, some of the notable changes include the following.

First, in most cases, leave is not required before service, provided that the case comes within the scope of (new) defined grounds of direct jurisdiction: FCR r 10.42.

Second, the grounds of direct jurisdiction have changed: FCR r 10.42. Many of the changes seemingly involve a simple a re-wording or a re-structure rather than anything radical, although I am sure that the case law will tease out differences of substance in coming months.

One of the new grounds is worth highlighting. The new FCR r 10.42(j) provides:

(j)  if the proceeding arises under a law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, and:

(i)  any act or omission to which the proceeding relates was done or occurred in Australia; or

(ii)  any loss or damage to which the proceeding relates was sustained in Australia; or

(iii)  the law applies expressly or by implication to an act or omission that was done or occurred outside Australia in the circumstances alleged; or

(iv)  the law expressly or by implication confers jurisdiction on the Court over persons outside Australia (in which case any requirements of the law relating to service must be complied with);

FCR r 10.42(j)(iii) could provide a basis for jurisdiction over subject matter with very limited connection to Australia, provided an Australian legislature has sufficiently extended the territorial operation of a statute. This pigeonhole could give rise to some more interesting questions about the proper approach to identification of the applicable law where forum statutes are involved in the Australian context.[5]

Third, even if the proceeding does not come within one of the grounds of direct jurisdiction, service outside Australia may still be permitted with leave: FCR r 10.43. Leave requires the Court to be satisfied that the proceeding has a real and substantial connection with Australia, Australia is an appropriate forum for the proceeding, and in all the circumstances the Court should exercise jurisdiction: FCR r 10.43(4)(a)–(c).

Fourth, once a person is served outside Australia, that person may apply to stay or dismiss the proceeding, or set aside service: FCR r 10.43A(1). The Court may make an order to that effect if satisfied service of was not authorised by these Rules, Australia is an inappropriate forum for the proceeding, or the claim has insufficient prospects of success to warrant putting the person served outside Australia to the time, expense and trouble of defending it: FCR r 10.43A(2)(a)–(c). This mechanism is introduced with the title, ‘Court’s discretion whether to assume jurisdiction’.

The second ground, that Australia is an inappropriate forum, turns on application of the ‘clearly inappropriate forum’ test of the Australian forum non conveniens doctrine: Chandrasekaran v Navaratnem [2022] NSWSC 346, [5]–[8]; Sapphire Group Pty Ltd v Luxotico HK Ltd [2021] NSWSC 589, [77]–[80]; Studorp Ltd v Robinson [2012] NSWCA 382, [5], [62].

Fifth, if service on a person outside Australia in accordance with the new provisions was not successful, the party may apply to serve the person substituting another method of service: FCR r 10.49(a). This may prove particularly useful for applicants chasing rogues who have absconded overseas. It might allow for service on a person outside Australia by email or even social media, contrary to historical practice: see  Yemini v Twitter International Company [2022] FCA 318, [5].

Comment

I expect that the Amendment Rules will be welcomed by litigators who frequent the Federal Court of Australia. Doing away with the need to seek leave in advance will increase efficiency and save some costs. Lawyers on the east and south coasts may appreciate not having to be across substantive differences as regards long-arm jurisdiction between the Federal Court and State Supreme Courts. (Those in glorious Western Australia continue to be in a different / superior position.)

Private international law scholars may be less enthusiastic. Writing on the 2016 equivalent reforms in New South Wales, Andrew Dickinson lamented the tenuous connection that could justify long-arm jurisdiction under the amended Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW). Among other things, he noted that the ‘service without leave’ approach means that considerations of forum non conveniens might only arise if an application is brought by a person served contesting jurisdiction (under the equivalent of the new FCR r 10.43A(1)), costing them time and cost with respect to a matter with minimal connection to the forum.[6] That would be a fair objection to the new position in the Federal Court. I would argue, however, that the Federal Court’s new approach to long-arm service is a sensible innovation to better equip the Court to deal with the realities of modern commercial life (see Abela v Baadarani [2013] 1 WLR 2043, [53]). Australian courts are increasingly called on to deal with matters with a foreign element—their rules should adapt accordingly.

One of the more significant impacts of the Amendment Rules will concern a case that is currently before the High Court of Australia: Facebook Inc v Australian Information Commissioner & Anor (Case S 137/2022). Jeanne Huang and I previously blogged other decisions that have ultimately led to this appeal. Among other things, the American company behind Facebook (now Meta Platforms Inc) is challenging its service outside Australia in a proceeding brought by Australia’s privacy regulator in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The rules on which the appeal depends are no longer in force. If the High Court’s previous grant of special leave to appeal is maintained, the forthcoming decision will be a new leading authority on long-arm jurisdiction in Australia.

Dr Michael Douglas is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia and a Consultant at Bennett, a litigation firm in Western Australia

[1] Civil Procedure Rules 2006 (ACT) div 6.8.9; Supreme Court Rules 2000 (Tas) div 10; Supreme Court Civil Rules 2006 (SA) pt 4 div 2; Supreme Court (General Civil Proceedings) Rules 2015 (Vic) O 7 pt 1; Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (Qld) pt 7 div 1; Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) pt 11, sch 6.

[2] Leave to serve is still required in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. See Rules of the Supreme Court 1971 (WA) Order 10. See further M Davies, AS Bell, PLG Brereton and M Douglas, Nygh’s Conflict of Laws in Australia (LexisNexis Butterworths, 20th ed, 2020) ch 3.

[3] Except with respect to service in New Zealand. See Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (Cth).

[4] Reid Mortensen, Richard Garnett and Mary Keyes, Private International Law in Australia (LexisNexis Butterworths, 4th ed, 2019) 63–4.

[5] See Michael Douglas, ‘Does Choice of Law Matter?’ (2023) Australian International Law Journal (forthcoming).

[6] Andrew Dickinson, ‘In Absentia: The Evolution and Reform of Australian Rules of Adjudicatory Jurisdiction’ in Michael Douglas, Vivienne Bath, Mary Keyes and Andrew Dickinson (eds), Commercial Issues in Private International Law (Hart, 2019) 13, 42.

A Major Amendment to Provisions on Foreign-Related Civil Procedures Is Planned in China

Written by NIE Yuxin and LIU Chang, Wuhan University Institute of International Law

  1. Background

The present Civil Procedure Law of China (hereinafter “CPL”) was enacted in 1990 and has been amended four times. All amendments made no substantive adjustments to the foreign-related civil procedure proceedings. In contrast with legislative indifference, foreign-related cases in the Chinese judicial system have been growing rapidly and call for modernization of the foreign-related civil procedure law. On 30 December 2022, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the “Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China (amendment draft)”. Amendments are proposed for 29 articles, 17 of which relate to special provisions on foreign-related civil procedures, including rules on the jurisdiction, service abroad, taking of evidence abroad and recognition and enforcement of judgements.

  1. Jurisdiction

Special jurisdiction: Present special jurisdiction rules apply to “disputes concerning contract or other property rights or interests”. The literal interpretation may suggest non-contractual or non-propertary disputes are excluded. The amendment draft extends special jurisdiction rules to cover “disputes relating to property right or interest, and right or interest other than property” (Art. 276, para. 1). The amendment draft provides proceedings may be brought before the courts “where the contract is signed or performed, the subject matter of the action is located, the defendant has any distrainable property, the tort or harmful event occurred, or the defendant has any representative office” (Art. 276, para. 1). Furthermore, “the Chinese court may have jurisdiction over the action if the dispute is of other proper connections with China” (Art. 276, para. 2).

Choice of court agreement: A special provision on the choice of court agreement is inserted in the foreign-related procedure session (Art. 277), which states: “If the place actually connected to dispute is not within the territory of China, and the parties have agreed in written that courts of China are to have jurisdiction, Chinese courts may exercise jurisdiction. The competent court shall be specified according to provisions on hierarchical jurisdiction and exclusive jurisdiction of this law and other laws of China.” In contrast to Art. 35 on choice of court agreement in purely domestic cases, Art. 277 partly partially abolished the constraint prescribed in Art. 35, which requires the chosen forum to have practical connection to the dispute. When the party chose Chinese court to exercise jurisdiction, there will be no requirement for actually connection between the dispute and chosen place. But it does not state whether Chinese court should stay jurisdiction if a foreign court is chosen, and whether the chosen foreign court must have practical connections to the dispute. This is an obvious weakness and uncertainty.

Submission to jurisdiction: Art. 278 inserted a new provision on submission to jurisdiction: “Where the defendant raises no objection to the jurisdiction of the courts of China and responds to the action by submitting a written statement of defence or brings a counterclaim, the court of China accepting the action shall be deemed to have jurisdiction.”

Exclusive jurisdiction: The draft article expands the categories of disputes covered by exclusive jurisdiction (Art. 279), including disputes arising from: “(1) the performance of contracts for Chinese-foreign equity joint ventures, Chinese-foreign contractual joint ventures or Chinese-foreign cooperative exploration and exploitation of natural resources in China; (2) the formation, dissolution, liquidation and effect of decisions of legal persons and other organizations established within the territory of China; (3) examining the validity of intellectual property rights which conferred within the territory of China.” Not only matters relating to Chinese-foreign contractual cooperation, but the operation of legal persons and other organizations and the territoriality of intellectual property rights are deemed key issues in China.

Jurisdiction over consumer contracts: The proposal inserts protective jurisdiction rule for consumer contracts (Art. 280). paragraph 1 of this article provides “(w)hen the domicile of consumer is within the territory of China but the domicile of operator or its establishment is not”, which permits a Chinese consumer to sue foreign business in China. Paragraph 2 restricts the effect of standard terms on jurisdiction. It imposed the operator the “obligation to inform or explicate reasonably” the choice of court clause, otherwise the consumer may claim the terms are not part of the contract. Furthermore, even if consumers are properly informed of the existence of a choice of court clause, if it is “obviously inconvenient for the consumer” to bring proceedings in the chosen court, the consumer may claim the terms are invalid. In other words, the proposal pays attention to the fairness of a choice of court clause in consumer contracts both in procedure and in substance.

Jurisdiction over cyber torts: With regard to cyber torts, Art. 281 of the draft states: action for cyber torts may be instituted in the Chinese court if: (1) “computer or other information device locates in the territory of China”; (2) “the harmful event occurs in the territory of China”; (3) “the victim domiciles in the territory of China”.

3. Conflict of Jurisdiction, Lis pendens and Forum Non Conveniens

Parallel litigation and exclusive jurisdiction agreements: Art. 282 states: “If one party sues before a foreign court and the other party sues before the Chinese court, or if one party sues before a foreign court as well as the Chinese court, for the same dispute, the Chinese court having jurisdiction under this law may exercise jurisdiction. If the parties have agreed in writing on choosing a foreign court to exercise jurisdiction exclusively, and that choice does not violate the provisions on exclusive jurisdiction of this law or involve the sovereignty, security or social public interests of China, the Chinese court may dismiss the action.” The first part of this article deals with parallel litigation. It allows the Chinese court to exercise jurisdiction over the same dispute pending in a foreign court. The second part of this article provides exception to exclusive jurisdiction agreements. Although Chinese courts are not obliged to stay jurisdiction in parallel proceedings, they should stay jurisdiction in favour of a chosen foreign court in an exclusive jurisdiction clause, subject to normal public policy defence.

First-seized court approach: If the same action is already pending before a foreign court, conflict of jurisdiction will happen. First-seized court approach encourages the latter seized court to give up jurisdiction. The draft implements this approach in China. Art. 283 states: “Where a foreign court has accepted action and the judgment of the foreign court may be recognized by Chinese court, the Chinese court may suspend the action with the party’s written application, unless: (1) there is choice of court agreement indicating to Chinese court between the parties, or the dispute is covered by exclusive jurisdiction; (2) it is obviously more convenient for the Chinese court to hear the case. Where foreign court fails to take necessary measures to hear the case, or is unable to conclude within due time, the Chinese court may remove the suspension with the party’s written application.” This provision is the first time that introduces the first-in-time or lis pendens rule in China. But the doctrine is adopted with many limitations. Firstly, the foreign judgment may be recognised in China. Secondly, Chinese court is not the chosen court. Thirdly, Chinese court is not the natural forum. The lis pendens rule is thus fundamentally different from the strict lis pendens rule adopted in the EU jurisdiction regime, especially it incorporates the consideration of forum conveniens. Furthermore, it is also necessary to reconcile the first-in-time provision with the article on parallel proceedings, which states Chinese courts, in principle, can exercise jurisdiction even if the dispute is pending in the foreign court.

Res judicata: Paragraph 3 of Art. 283 state: “Once the foreign judgment has been fully or partially recognized by Chinese court, and the parties institute an action over issues of the recognized content of the judgement, Chinese court shall not accept the action. If the action has been accepted, Chinese court shall dismiss the action.”

Forum non conveniens: Even if the conflict of jurisdiction has not actually arisen, the Chinese court may decline jurisdiction in favour of the more appropriate court of another country. The defendant should plead forum non conveniens or challenge jurisdiction. Applying forum non conveniens should meet four prerequisites. (1) “Since major facts of disputes in a case do not occur within the territory of China, Chinese court has difficulties hearing the case and it is obviously inconvenient for the parties to participate in the proceedings”. (2) “The parties do not have any agreement for choosing Chinese court to exercise jurisdiction”. (3) “The case does not involve the sovereignty, security or social public interests of China”. (4) “It is more convenient for foreign courts to hear the case” (Art. 284, para. 1). This article also provides remedy for the parties if the proceedings on foreign court do not work well. “Where foreign court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the dispute, failed to take necessary measures to hear the case, or is unable to conclude within due time after Chinese court’s dismissal, the Chinese court shall accept the action which the party instituted again.” (Art. 284, para. 2).

4. Judicial Assistance

Service of process on foreign defendants: One of the amendment draft’s main focuses is to improve the effectiveness of foreign-related legal proceedings. In order to achieve this goal, the amendment draft introduces multiple mechanisms to serve process abroad.

Before the draft, the CPL has provided the following multiple service methods: (1) process is served in the manners specified in the international treaty concluded or acceded to by the home country of the person to be served and China; (2) service through diplomatic channels; (3) if the person to be served is a Chinese citizen, service of process may be entrusted to Chinese embassy or consulate stationed in the country where the person to be served resides; (4) process is served on a litigation representative authorized by the person to be served to receive service of process; (5) process is served on the representative office or a branch office or business agent authorized to receive service of process established by the person to be served within the territory of China; (6) service by post; (7) service by electronic means, including fax, email or any other means capable of confirming receipt by the person to be served; (8) if service of process by the above means is not possible, process shall be served by public notice, and process shall be deemed served three months after the date of public notice.[1]

Article 285 of the draft outlines two new methods to serve a foreign natural person not domiciled in China. First, if the person has a cohabiting adult family member in China, the cohabiting adult family member shall be served (Art. 285, para. 1(g)). Second, if the person acts as legal representative, director, supervisor and senior management of his enterprise established in the territory of China, that enterprise shall be served (Art. 285, para. 1(f)). Similarly, a foreign legal person or any other organization may be served on the legal representative or the primary person in charge of the organization if they are located in China (Art. 285, para. 1(h)). It is clear that by penetrating the veil of legal persons, the amendment draft increases the circumstances of alternative service between relevant natural persons and legal persons.

Amongst the amendments to the CPL, there are points relating to service by electronic means that are worthy of note. Compared to traditional ways of service, service by electronic means is usually more convenient and more efficient. The position in respect of service by electronic means, both before and after the amendment to the CPL, is that such service is permitted. A major innovation introduced by the amendment draft is that the service can now be conducted via instant messaging tools and specific electronic systems, if such means are legitimate service methods recognized in the state of destination (Art. 285, para. 1(k)). It meets the urgent demand of both sides in lawsuits by improving the delivery efficiency.

Party autonomy in service abroad is also accepted. The validity of service by other means agreed to by the person served is recognized, provided that it is permitted by the state of the person served (Art. 285, para. 1(l)).

If the above methods fail, the defendant may be served by public notice. The notice should be publicized for 60 days and the defendant is deemed served at the end of the period. Upon the written application of the party, the above methods and the way of service by public notice may be made at the same time provided that the service by public notice is not less than 60 days and the litigation rights of the defendant are not affected (Art. 285, para. 2).

 

Investigation and collection of evidence:

Prior to the draft, the CPL stipulated that Chinese and foreign courts can each request the other to provide judicial assistance in acquiring evidence located in the territory of the other country, in accordance with treaty obligations and the principle of reciprocity. Chinese courts can take evidence abroad generally via two channels. First, evidence overseas can be acquired according to treaty provisions. In the absence of treaties, foreign evidence can only be obtained through diplomatic channels based on the principle of reciprocity.[2]

Article 286 of the draft provides more varied methods to collect foreign evidence. Firstly, foreign evidence can be acquired according to the methods specified in the international treaties concluded or acceded to by both the country where the evidence is located and China. Secondly, the evidence can also be obtained through diplomatic channels. Thirdly, for a witness with Chinese nationality, the Chinese embassy or consulate in the country of the witness will be entrusted to take the evidence on behalf of the witness. Fourthly, via instant messenger tools or other means. Access to electronic evidence stored abroad faces the dilemma of inefficient bilateral judicial assistance, controversial unilateral evidence collection and inadequate functioning of multilateral conventions.[3] The application of modern information technology, such as video conferencing and teleconferencing, can overcome the inconvenience of distance, saving time and costs. It is the mainstream of international cooperation to apply modern technology in the field of extraterritorial evidence-taking. For example, in 2020, the EU Parliament and Council revised the EU Evidence Regulation. The most important highlight of the EU Evidence Regulation is the emphasis on the digitalization of evidence-taking and the use of modern information technology in the process of evidence-taking.[4] On this basis, the amendment draft proposes that the court may, with the consent of the parties, obtain evidence through instant messenger tools or other means, unless prohibited by the law of the country where the evidence is collected (Art. 286).

 

5. Recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitral awards

Grounds for non-recognition and non-enforcement of foreign judgments: Recognition and enforcement shall not be granted if (1) the foreign court has no jurisdiction over the case in accordance with the provisions of Article 303; (2) the respondent has not been legitimately summoned or has not been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard or to argue, or the party who is incapable of litigation has not been properly represented; (3) the judgment or ruling has been obtained by fraud; (4) the court of China has issued a judgment or ruling on the same dispute, or has recognized and enforced a judgment or ruling issued by a court of a third country on the same dispute; (5) it violates the Chinese general principles of the law or sovereignty, national security or public interests of China (Art. 302).

After several amendments and official promulgation, the CPL has not significantly changed the requirements for the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. In China, reciprocity as a prerequisite for recognition of foreign judgments continues to play a dominating role in China. The difficulty of enforcing foreign judgments is one of the major concerns in the current Chinese conflicts system when applying the principle of reciprocity, impeding the development of international cooperation in trade and commerce. The local judicial review process may become more transparent thanks to this new draft. However, the key concern, the reciprocity principle, is still left unaltered in this draft.

In addition, if the foreign judgment for which recognition and enforcement are sought involves the same dispute as that being heard by a Chinese court, the proceedings conducted by the Chinese court may be stayed. If the dispute is more closely related to China, or if the foreign judgment does not meet the conditions for recognition, the application shall be refused (Art. 304).

Lack of jurisdiction of the foreign court: One of the grounds for non-recognition and non-enforcement of foreign judgments is that the foreign court lacks jurisdiction (See Art. 302). Article 303 provides that the foreign courts shall be found to have no jurisdiction over the case in the following circumstances: (1) The foreign court has no jurisdiction over the case pursuant to its laws; (2) Violation of the provisions of this Law on exclusive jurisdiction; (3) Violation of the agreement on exclusive choice of court for jurisdiction; or (4) The existence of a valid arbitration agreement between the parties (Art. 303).

Recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards: If the person sought to be enforced is not domiciled in China, an application for recognition and enforcement may be made to the Chinese intermediate court of the place of domicile of the applicant or of the place with which the dispute has an appropriate connection (Art. 306). The inclusion of the applicant’s domicile and the court with the appropriate connection to the dispute as the court for judicial review of the arbitration significantly facilitates the enforcement of foreign awards. A major uncertainty, however, is how “appropriate connection” is defined. The amendment draft remains silent on the criterion.

 

6. Conclusion

The amendment draft presents efforts to actively correspond to the trends in the internationalization of the civil process along with the massive ambition to build a fair, efficient, and convenient civil and commercial litigation system. It offers more comprehensive and detailed rules that apply to all proceedings involving foreign parties. The amendment draft is significant both in terms of its impact on foreign-related civil procedures and the continuing open-door policy. It demonstrates that China is growing increasingly law-oriented to provide more efficient and convenient legal services to foreign litigants and to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests. On the other hand, the proposal also includes discrepancy and uncertainty, especially whether the practical connection for choice of foreign court is still required, what is the relationship between the first-in-time rule and the rule permitting parallel proceedings, whether reciprocity should be reserved for recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. It is also noted that although anti-suit injunction is used in Chinese judicial practice, the proposal does not include a provision on this matter. Hopefully, these issues may be addressed in the final version.

[1] The CPL, Art. 274.

[2] The CPL, Art. 284.

[3] Liu Guiqiang, ‘China’s Judicial Practice on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil and Commercial Matters: Current Situation, Problems and Solutions’ (2021) 1 Wuhan University International Law Review, 92, 97.

[4] Regulation (EU) 2020/1783 on cooperation between the courts of the Member States in the taking of evidence in civil and commercial matters (Taking of Evidence Recast). Official Journal of the European Union [online], L 405, 2 December 2020.

The “Event Giving Rise to the Damage” under Art. 7 Rome II Regulation in CO2 Reduction Claims – A break through an empty Shell?

Written by Madeleine Petersen Weiner/Marc-Philippe Weller

In this article, we critically assess the question of where to locate the “event giving rise to the damage” under Art. 7 Rome II in CO2 reduction claims. This controversial – but often overlooked – question has recently been given new grounds for discussion in the much discussed “Milieudefensie et al. v. Shell” case before the Dutch district court in The Hague. In this judgment, the court had to determine the law applicable to an NGO’s climate reduction claim against Royal Dutch Shell. The court ruled that Dutch law was applicable as the law of the place where the damage occurred under Art. 4 (1) Rome II and the law of the event giving rise to the damage under Art. 7 Rome II as the place where the business decision was made, i.e., at the Dutch headquarters. Since according to the district court both options – the place of the event where the damage occurred and the event giving rise to the damage – pointed to Dutch law, this question was ultimately not decisive.

However, we argue that it is worth taking a closer look at the question of where to locate the event giving rise to the damage for two reasons: First, in doing so, the court has departed from the practice of interpreting the event giving rise to the damage under Art. 7 Rome II in jurisprudence and scholarship to date. Second, we propose another approach that we deem to be more appropriate regarding the general principles of proximity and legal certainty in choice of law.

1. Shell – the judgment that set the ball rolling (again)

The Dutch environmental NGO Milieudefensie and others, which had standing under Dutch law before national courts for the protection of environmental damage claims, made a claim against the Shell group’s parent company based in the Netherlands with the aim of obliging Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions. According to the plaintiffs, Shell’s CO2 emissions constituted an unlawful act. The Dutch district court agreed with this line of reasoning, assuming tortious responsibility of Shell for having breached its duty of care. The court construed the duty of care as an overall assessment of Shell’sobligations by, among other things, international standards like the UN Guiding Principles of Human Rights Responsibilities of Businesses, the right to respect for the private and family life under Art. 8 ECHR of the residents of the Wadden region, Shell’s control over the group’s CO2 emissions, and the state’s and society’s climate responsibility etc. This led the district court to ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and ordering Shell to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% compared to 2019.

In terms of the applicable law, the court ruled that Dutch law was applicable to the claim. The court based its choice of law analysis on Art. 7 Rome II as the relevant provision. Under Art. 7 Rome II, the plaintiff can choose to apply the law of the event giving rise to the damage rather than the law of the place where the damage occurred as per the general rule in Art. 4 (1) Rome II. The court started its analysis by stating that “climate change, whether dangerous or otherwise, due to CO2 emissions constitutes environmental damage in the sense of Article 7 Rome II”, thus accepting without further contemplation the substantive scope of application of Art. 7 Rome II.

The court went on to find that the adoption of the business policy, as asserted by the plaintiffs, was in fact “an independent cause of the damage, which may contribute to environmental damage and imminent environmental damage with respect to Dutch residents and the inhabitants of the Wadden region”. The court thereby declined Shell’s argument that Milieudefensie’s choice pointed to the law of the place where the actual CO2 emissions occurred, which would lead to a myriad of legal systems due to the many different locations of emitting plants operated by Shell.

2. The enigma that is “the event giving rise to the damage” to date

This line of reasoning marks a shift in the way “the event giving rise to the damage” in the sense of Art. 7 Rome II has been interpreted thus far. To date, there have been four main approaches: A broad approach, a narrower one, one that locates the event giving rise to the damage at the focal point of several places, and one that allows the plaintiff to choose between several laws of events which gave rise to the damage.

(1.) The Dutch district court’s location of the event giving rise to the damage fits into the broad approach. Under this broad approach, the place where the business decision is made to adopt a policy can qualify as a relevant event giving rise to the damage. As a result, this place will usually be that of the effective headquarters of the group. On the one hand, this may lead to a high standard of environmental protection as prescribed by recital 25 of the Rome II Regulation, as was the case before the Dutch district court, which applied the general tort clause Art. 6:162 BW. On the other hand, this may go against the practice of identifying a physical action which directly leads to the damage in question, rather than a purely internal process, such as the adoption of a business policy.

(2.) Pursuant to a narrower approach, the place where the direct cause of the violation of the legal interest was set shall be the event giving rise to the damage. In the case of CO2 reduction claims, like Milieudefensie et al. v. Shell, that place would be located (only) at the location of the emitting plants. This approach – while dogmatically stringent – may make it harder to determine responsibility in climate actions as it cannot necessarily be determined which plant led to the environmental damage, but rather the emission as a whole results in air pollution.

(3.) Therefore, some scholars are in favor of a focal point approach, according to which the event giving rise to the damage would be located at the place which led to the damage in the most predominant way by choosing one focal point out of several events that may have given rise to the damage. This approach is in line with the prevailing opinion regarding jurisdiction in international environmental damage claims under Art. 7 Nr. 2 Brussels I-bis Regulation. In practice, however, it may sometimes prove difficult to identify one focal point out of several locations of emitting plants.

(4.) Lastly, one could permit the victim to choose between the laws of several places where the events giving rise to the damage took place. However, if the victim were given the option of choosing a law, for example, of a place that was only loosely connected to the emissions and resulting damages, Art. 7 Rome II may lead to significantly less predictability.

3. Four-step-test: A possible way forward?

Bearing in mind these legal considerations, we propose the following interpretation of the event giving rise to the damage under Art. 7 Rome II:

First, as a starting point, the laws of the emitting plants which directly lead to the damage should be considered. However, in order to adequately mirror the legal and the factual situations, the laws of the emitting plants should only be given effect insofar as they are responsible for the total damage.

If there are several emitting plants, some of which are more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than others, these laws should only be invoked under Art. 7 Rome II for the portion of their responsibility regarding the entire claim. This leads to a mosaic approach as adopted by the CJEU in terms of jurisdiction for claims of personality rights. This would give an exact picture of contributions to the environmental damage in question and would be reflected in the applicable law.

Second, in order not to give effect to a myriad of legal systems, this mosaic approach should be slightly moderated in the sense that courts are given the opportunity to make estimations of proportions of liability in order not to impose rigid calculation methods. For example, if a company operates emitting plants all over the world, the court should be able to roughly define the proportions of each plant’s contribution, so as to prevent potentially a hundred legal systems from coming into play to account for a percentile of the total emissions.

Third, as a fall-back mechanism, should the court not be able to accurately determine each plant’s own percentage of responsibility for the total climate output, the court should identify the central place of action in terms of the company’s environmental tort responsibility. This will usually be at the location of the emitting plant which emits the most CO2 for the longest period of time, and which has the most direct impact on the environmental damage resulting from climate change as proclaimed in the statement of claim.

Fourth, only as a last resort, should it not be possible to calculate the contributions to the pollution of each emitting plant, and to identify one central place of action out of several emitting plants, the event giving rise to the damage under Art. 7 Rome II should be located at the place where the business decisions are taken.

This proposal is discussed in further detail in the upcoming Volume 24 of the Yearbook of Private International Law.

News

Bonn University / HCCH Conference — The HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention: Cornerstones – Prospects – Outlook, 9 and 10 June 2023

Registration now open

Dates:                   

Friday and Saturday, 9 and 10 June 2023

Venue:                  

Universitätsclub Bonn, Konviktstraße 9, D – 53113 Bonn

Registration:     

sekretariat.weller@jura.uni-bonn.de

 

Registration Fee: € 220.-
Young Scholars Rate (limited capacity): € 110.-
Dinner (optional):                      € 60.-

Registration: Please register with sekretariat.weller@jura.uni-bonn.de. Clearly indicate whether you want to benefit from the young scholars’ reduction of the conference fees and whether you want to participate in the conference dinner. You will receive an invoice for the respective conference fee and, if applicable, for the conference dinner. Please make sure that we receive your payment at least two weeks in advance. After receiving your payment we will send out a confirmation of your registration. This confirmation will allow you to access the conference hall and the conference dinner.

Please note: Access will only be granted if you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Please confirm in your registration that you are, and attach an e-copy of your vaccination document. Please follow further instructions on site. Thank you for your cooperation.

Programme

Friday, 9 June 2023

 

8.30 a.m.      Registration

9.00 a.m.      Welcome notes

Prof Dr Matthias Weller, Director of the Institute for German and International Civil Procedural Law, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn;
Dr Christophe Bernasconi, Secretary General, HCCH

Moderators: Prof Dr Moritz Brinkmann, Prof Dr Nina Dethloff, Prof Dr Matthias Weller, University of Bonn; Prof Dr Matthias Lehmann, University of Vienna; Dr João Ribeiro-Bidaoui, Former First Secretary, HCCH

Part I: Cornerstones

  1. Scope of application
    Prof Dr Xandra Kramer, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  1. Judgments, Recognition, Enforcement
    Prof Dr Wolfgang Hau, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, Germany
  1. The jurisdictional filters
    Prof Dr Pietro Franzina, Catholic University of Milan, Italy
  1. Grounds for refusal
    Adj Prof Dr Marcos Dotta Salgueiro, University of the Republic, Montevideo; Director of International Law Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uruguay
  1. Article 29: From a Mechanism on Treaty Relations to a Catalyst of a Global Judicial Union
    Dr João Ribeiro-Bidaoui, Former First Secretary, HCCH
    Dr Cristina Mariottini, Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for International, European and Regulatory Law, Luxembourg

 

1.00 p.m.     Lunch Break

  1. The HCCH System for choice of court agreements: Relationship of the HCCH Judgments Convention 2019 to the HCCH 2005 Convention on Choice of Court Agreements
    Prof Dr Paul Beaumont, University of Stirling, United Kingdom

Part II: Prospects for the World 

  1. European Union
    Dr Andreas Stein, Head of Unit, DG JUST – A1 “Civil Justice”, European Commission
  1. Perspectives from the US and Canada
    Professor Linda J. Silberman, Clarence D. Ashley Professor of Law, Co-Director, Center for Transnational Litigation, Arbitration, and Commercial Law, New York University School of Law, USA
    Professor Geneviève Saumier, Peter M. Laing Q.C. Professor of Law, McGill Faculty of Law, Canada
  1. Southeast European Neighbouring and EU Candidate Countries
    Prof Dr Ilija Rumenov, Associate Professor at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, North Macedonia

8.00 p.m.     Conference Dinner (€ 60.-)

Dinner Speech
Prof Dr Burkhard Hess, Director of the Max Planck Institute for International, European and Regulatory Law, Luxembourg

Saturday, 10 June 2023

9.00 a.m.      Part II continued: Prospects for the World

  1. Perspectives from the Arab World
    Prof Dr Béligh Elbalti, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Law and Politics at Osaka University, Japan
  1. Prospects for Africa
    Prof Dr Abubakri Yekini, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
    Prof Dr Chukwuma Okoli, Postdoctoral Researcher in Private International Law, T.M.C. Asser Institute, The Netherlands
  1. Gains and Opportunities for the MERCOSUR Region
    Prof Dr Verónica Ruiz Abou-Nigm, Director of External Relations, Professor of Private International Law, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  1. Perspectives for ASEAN
    Prof Dr Adeline Chong, Associate Professor of Law, Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University, Singapore
  1. China
    Prof Dr Zheng (Sophia) Tang, University of Newcastle, United Kingdom

1.00 p.m.     Lunch Break

 

Part III: Outlook

  1. Lessons Learned from the Genesis of the HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention
    Dr Ning Zhao, Principal Legal Officer, HCCH
  1. International Commercial Arbitration and Judicial Cooperation in civil matters: Towards an Integrated Approach
    José Angelo Estrella-Faria, Principal Legal Officer and Head, Legislative Branch, International Trade Law Division, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations; Former Secretary General, UNIDROIT
  1. General Synthesis and Future Perspectives
    Hans van Loon, Former Secretary General, HCCH

Poster – Conference HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention – 9 and 10-06-23

HCCH Monthly Update: January 2023

Conventions & Instruments

On 1 December 2022, the 2007 Maintenance Obligations Protocol entered into force for Ukraine. At present, 31 States and the European Union are bound by the Protocol. More information is available here.

On 7 December 2022, the 1961 Apostille Convention entered into force for Saudi Arabia. The Convention currently has 124 Contracting Parties. More information is available here.

On 1 January 2023, the 1980 Child Abduction Convention entered into force for Cabo Verde. The Convention currently has 103 Contracting Parties. More information is available here.

On 19 January 2023, El Salvador deposited its instrument of accession to the 1970 Evidence Convention. The Convention, which currently has 65 Contracting Parties, will enter into force for El Salvador on 20 March 2023. More information is available here.

Publications & Documentation

On 20 December 2022, the Permanent Bureau published the Practitioners’ Tool: Cross-Border Recognition and Enforcement of Agreements Reached in the Course of Family Matters Involving Children. More information is available here.

On 18 January 2023, the Permanent Bureau published the second edition of the Practical Handbook on the Operation of the Apostille Convention. More information is available here.

Other

On 13 December 2022, the Permanent Bureau celebrated the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the HCCH Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. More information is available here.

 

These monthly updates are published by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), providing an overview of the latest developments. More information and materials are available on the HCCH website.

Conference in Milan on the European Account Preservation Order, 3 March 2023

On 3 March 2023, the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart will host a conference titled The European Account Preservation Order – Six Years On. The aim is to discuss the operation of Regulation (EU) 655/2014 in light of practice and case law, six years after its provisions became applicable, in January 2017.

Presentations will be given in English and Italian, with simultaneous interpretation.

The speakers include Fernando Gascón Inchausti (Complutense University of Madrid), María Luisa Villamarín López (Complutense University of Madrid), Katharina Lugani (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf), Antonio Leandro (University of Bari), Carlos Santalò Goris (Max Planck Institute, Luxembourg), Caterina Benini (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart), Elena Alina Ontanu (Tilburg University), Raffaella Muroni (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart), Elena D’Alessandro (University of Torino), and Gilles Cuniberti (University of Luxembourg).

The event will also serve as a launch event for an article-by-article commentary on the EAPO Regulation, edited by Elena D’Alessandro and Fernando Gascón Inchausti, and recently published by Edward Elgar Publishing in its Commentaries in Private International Law series. Augusto Chizzini (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart) and Luca Radicati di Brozolo (formerly of the same University, now partner at ArbLit) will discuss the commentary with the editors and the audience.

Attendance is free, but prior registration is required.

See the registration form and the full programme. For further information: pietro.franzina@unicatt.it