Application of Singapore’s new rules on service out of jurisdiction: Three Arrows Capital and NW Corp

Application of Singapore’s new rules on service out of jurisdiction: Three Arrows Capital and NW Corp

The Rules of Court 2021 (‘ROC 2021’) entered into force on 1 April 2022. Among other things, ROC 2021 reformed the rules on service out of jurisdiction (previously discussed here). Order 8 rule 1 provides:

‘(1) An originating process or other court document may be served out of Singapore with the Court’s approval if it can be shown that the Court has the jurisdiction or is the appropriate court to hear the action.

(3) The Court’s approval is not required if service out of Singapore is allowed under a contract between the parties.

…’

A handful of decisions on the application of Order 8 rule 1 have since been delivered; two are discussed in this post. One of them considers the ‘appropriate court’ ground for service out of jurisdiction provided in Order 8 rule 1(1) and touches on the location of cryptoassets; the other is on Order 8 rule 1(3).

Service out under the ‘appropriate court’ ground

Cheong Jun Yoong v Three Arrows Capital[1] involved service out of jurisdiction pursuant to the ‘appropriate court’ ground in Order 8 rule 1(1). As detailed in the accompanying Supreme Court Practice Directions (‘SCPD’), a claimant making an application under this ground has to establish the usual common law requirements that:

‘(a) there is a good arguable case that there is a sufficient nexus to Singapore;

(b) Singapore is forum conveniens; and

(c) there is a serious issue to be tried on the merits of the claim.’[2]

For step (a), the previous Order 11 gateways have been transcribed as a non-exhaustive list of factors.[3] This objective of this reform was to render it ‘unnecessary for a claimant to scrutinise the long list of permissible cases set out in the existing Rules in the hope of fitting into one or more descriptions.’[4] As Three Arrows illustrates though, old habits die hard and the limits of the ‘non-exhaustive’ nature of the jurisdictional gateways remains to be tested by litigants. The wide-reaching effect of a previous Court of Appeal decision on the interpretation of gateway (n) which covers a claim brought under statutes dealing with serious crimes such as corruption and dug trafficking and ‘any other written law’ is also yet to be grasped by litigants.[5]

In Three Arrows, the first defendant (‘defendant’) was a British Virgin Islands incorporated company (BVI) which was an investment fund trading and dealing in cryptocurrency. It was under liquidation proceedings in the BVI; its two liquidators were the second and third defendants in the Singapore proceedings. The BVI liquidation proceedings were recognised as a ‘foreign main proceeding’ in Singapore pursuant to the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency as enacted under Singapore law.[6] The claimant managed what he alleged was an independent fund called the ‘DC Fund’ which used the infrastructure and platform of the defendant and its related entities. After the defendant decided to relocate its operations to Dubai, the claimant incorporated Singapore companies to take over the operations and assets of the DC Fund. Not all of the assets had been transferred to these new companies at the time the defendant went into liquidation. The claimant’s case was that the DC Fund assets remaining with the defendant were held on trust by the defendant for the claimant and other investors in the DC Fund and were not subject to the BVI liquidation proceedings. The Liquidators in turn sought orders from the BVI court that those assets were owned by the defendant and subject to the BVI Liquidation proceedings.

The claimant relied on three gateways for service out of jurisdiction: gateway (a) where relief is sought against a defendant who is, inter alia, ordinarily resident or carrying on business in Singapore; gateway (i) where the claim is made to assert, declare or determine proprietary rights in or over movable property situated in Singapore; and gateway (p) where the claim is founded on a cause of action arising in Singapore.

On gateway (a), the defendant was originally based in Singapore before shifting operations to Dubai a few months before the commencement of the BVI Liquidation proceedings. The claimant attempted to argue that residence for the purposes of gateway (a) had to be assessed at the time when the company was ‘alive and flourishing’.[7] This was rightly rejected by the court, which observed that satisfaction of the gateway depended on the situation which existed at the time application for service out of jurisdiction was filed or heard. On gateway (p), it was held that there was a good arguable case that the cause of action arose in Singapore because the trusts arose pursuant to the independent fund arrangement between the parties which was negotiated and concluded in Singapore. All material events pursuant to the arrangement took place when the defendant was still based in Singapore and the defendant’s investment manager was a Singapore company.

It is perhaps the court’s analysis of gateway (i) which is of particular interest as it deals with a nascent area of law. Are cryptocurrencies ‘property’ and if so, where are they located?

The court confirmed earlier Singapore decisions that cryptocurrencies are property.[8] It held:

‘Given the fact that a cryptoasset has no physical presence and exists as a record in a network of computers …. It best manifests itself through the exercise of control over it.’[9]

Between a choice of the identifying the situs as the domicile or residence of the person who controls the private key linked to the cryptoasset, the court preferred residence as being the ‘better indicator of where the control is being exercised.’[10] Seemingly drawing from the position in relation to debts, one of the reasons for preferring residence was that this was where the controller can be sued.[11] The court was also concerned that there may be difficulties in identifying domicile.[12] On the facts, the controller was one of the Singapore incorporated companies set up by the claimant and the claimant was in turn the sole shareholder of that company. Both the company and claimant were resident in Singapore and thus gateway (p) was satisfied.

On the other requirements for service out with permission of the court under the ‘appropriate court’ ground, the court was persuaded that there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits and that connecting factors indicated Singapore was forum conveniens. The defendants’ application to set aside the order granting permission to serve out of jurisdiction and to set aside service of process on them thus failed. The Appellate Division of the Singapore High Court has recently refused permission to appeal against the first instance decision.[13]

It bears pointing out that the same issue of ownership of the assets of the DC Funds was before the BVI court in the insolvency proceedings. The first instance court was unmoved by the existence of parallel proceedings in the BVI, as the BVI proceedings were at a very early stage and hence were not a significant factor in the analysis on forum conveniens.[14] However, as mentioned above, the BVI insolvency proceedings had been recognised as a ‘foreign main proceeding’ by the Singapore court. Under Article 21 of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, relief granted pursuant to such recognition can include staying actions concerning the ‘debtor’s property’.[15] While the very issue in the Singapore action is whether the assets of the DC Funds are indeed the ‘debtor’s property’,[16] staying the action will clearly be in line with the kinds of relief envisaged under Article 21. Under the Model Law, the issue of forum conveniens should take a back seat as the emphasis is on cross-border cooperation to achieve an optimal result for all parties involved in an international insolvency.

Service out pursuant to a contractual agreement

In NW Corp Pte Ltd v HK Petroleum Enterprises Cooperation Ltd,[17] the contract between the claimant and defendant, who were Singapore and Hong Kong-incorporated companies respectively, contained this clause:

‘This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the English law [sic]. Any dispute arising out of or in connection with this Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity or termination, shall be referred to and finally resolved by Singapore court [sic] without recourse to arbitration and to service of process by registered mail …’

The claimant served process on the defendant in Hong Kong by way of registered post to the defendant’s last known address and purportedly pursuant to Order 8 rule 1(3) ROC 2021. The issue whether the service was validly effected arose when the defendant sought to set aside the default judgment that was subsequently approved by the Singapore High Court Registry. The defendant argued that Order 8 rule 1(3) required that the agreement name not only a method of service but also specify a location out of Singapore where service could take place. The Assistant Registrar (‘AR’) disagreed, holding that this would be too narrow an interpretation of Order 8 rule 1(3). Pointing to the more relaxed modes of service permitted under the ROC 2021[18] in comparison with the predecessor ROC 2014,[19] the AR stated that there was no suggestion in Order 8 rule 1(3) or in the definitions provided elsewhere which suggested that both method and place of service had to be specified in a jurisdiction clause in order for a claimant to avail itself of service out without permission of the court. The AR was of the view that an agreement could come within Order 8 rule 1(3) so long as it provided for service of originating process of the Singapore courts on a foreign defendant.

The reasoning was as follows. First, Order 8 rule 1(3) was a deviation from the orthodox principles that the Singapore court’s jurisdiction was territorial in nature and service on a defendant abroad ordinarily required permission of court. If a foreign defendant agreed that jurisdiction of the court can be founded over them by way of service of originating process, that service necessarily included service out of Singapore. Thus, to come within Order 8 rule1(3), the agreement merely required the foreign defendant to consent to the jurisdiction of the court to be founded over them by way of service of originating process. Secondly, the phrase used in Order 8 rule 1(3) was service ‘out’ of Singapore, rather than service ‘outside’ Singapore. Only the latter phrase, in the AR’s view, connoted that service of process at a location other than Singapore was required.

On the first rationale, the Singapore court’s in personam jurisdiction over a defendant is founded on service of process.[20] This is the case ordinarily, with or without the defendant’s agreement. If the defendant expressly agrees that this can be done, this could be used to counter a subsequent challenge by the defendant to the existence of jurisdiction of the Singapore court, but it is difficult to see how, without more, an agreement to accept service of Singapore process takes the defendant outside the orthodox territorial framework of the Singapore court’s jurisdiction. Surely only the defendant’s agreement to service of Singapore process abroad, rather than merely agreement to service of Singapore process, would provide justification for the deviation from orthodox principles? The AR seemed to be suggesting that it is implicit that a foreign defendant, by agreeing to accept service of Singapore process, also consents to service of process out of Singapore, but the second rationale proffered renders any implicit agreement moot as, on the AR’s view, Order 8 rule 1(3) does not require the defendant to agree to accept service abroad. However, the legal difference between ‘out’ and ‘outside’ is elusive, as ‘service out of jurisdiction’ is uncontroversially understood to refer to service on a defendant who is abroad and thus not within the territorial jurisdiction of the court.

A parallel provision to Order 8 rule 1(3) can be found in the Singapore International Commercial Court Rules 2021 (‘SICC Rules’). Permission of the SICC is likewise not required where the defendant is party to a ‘written jurisdiction agreement’ for the SICC or ‘service out of Singapore is allowed under an agreement between the parties.’[21] Order 8 rule 1(3) is missing the first option. However, it would be unlikely for the parties to have agreed on ‘service out of Singapore’ without first having agreed on a Singapore choice of court agreement. Despite this slight oddity, the intention of the drafters is clearly to liberalise the service out(side) of jurisdiction rules. Whether the intention was to liberalise it as much as was held in NW Corp is, however, debatable.

[1] [2024] SGHC 21.

[2] SCPD 2021 para 63(2).

[3] SCPD 2021 para 63(3).

[4] Civil Justice Commission Report, Chapter 6, p 16 (29 December 2017).

[5] Li Shengwu v Attorney-General [2019] 1 SLR 1081 (CA). The point is explained here.

[6] Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018 s 252 and Third Schedule.

[7] [2024] SGHC 21 [46].

[8] CLM v CLN [2022] 5 SLR 273; Bybit Fintech Ltd v Ho Kai Xin [2023] 5 SLR 1748.

[9] [2024] SGHC 21 [60]

[10] [2024] SGHC 21 [63].

[11] [2024] SGHC 21 [63].

[12] [2024] SGHC 21 [63].

[13] Three Arrows Capital Ltd v Cheong Jun Yoong [2024] SGHC(A) 10.

[14] [2024] SGHC 21 [82].

[15] Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act 2018, Third Schedule, Art 21(1)(a).

[16] The respondent was clearly the legal owner; the question was whether the assets belonged beneficially to the applicant.

[17] [2023] SGHCR 22.

[18] ROC 2021 O7 r2(1)(d).

[19] ROC 2014 O10 r3.

[20] Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1969 s16(1)(a). The court also has jurisdiction if the defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction of the court (s16(1)(b)), but submission is normally used to counter a jurisdictional objection by the defendant; in the ordinary course of things, service of process must first take place.

[21] SICC Rules 2021 O5 r6(2).




Call for papers workshop Collective Actions on ESG

For a workshop on collective actions on ESG toics that will take place in Amsterdam on 21 and 22 November 2024 a call for paper has been posted, deadline 1 July 2024.

As a follow-up from the 4th International Class Action Conference in Amsterdam, 30 June – 1 July 2022, the University of Amsterdam, Tilburg University and Haifa University are jointly organizing a workshop on large scale collective actions on Environmental, Social and Governance topics. The workshop is intended to act as a forum for the sharing of experiences and knowledge. In an increasingly interconnected world, such opportunities for international scholars and practitioners to come together and discuss notes and views on the development of collective redress in their jurisdictions, are more relevant than ever. We choose to organize this as a workshop centered around academic papers in order to both give serious substance to the forum and to convert the exchange of knowledge into lasting contributions in the shape of publications in a special issue journal.

More information is available here: Call for papers for workshop on ESG collective action in Amsterdam – 21 and 22 Nov 2024




No role for anti-suit injunctions under the TTPA to enforce exclusive jurisdiction agreements

Australian and New Zealand courts have developed a practice of managing trans-Tasman proceedings in a way that recognises the close relationship between the countries, and that aids in the effective and efficient resolution of cross-border disputes. This has been the case especially since the implementation of the Agreement on Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement, which was entered into for the purposes of setting up an integrated scheme of civil jurisdiction and judgments.  A key feature of the scheme is that it seeks to “streamline the process for resolving civil proceedings with a trans-Tasman element in order to reduce costs and improve efficiency” (Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (TTPA), s 3(1)(a)). There have been many examples of Australian and New Zealand courts working to achieve this goal.

Despite the closeness of the trans-Tasman relationship, one question that had remained uncertain was whether the TTPA regime allows for the grant of an anti-suit injunction to stop or prevent proceedings that have been brought in breach of an exclusive jurisdiction agreement. The enforcement of exclusive jurisdiction agreements is explicitly protected in the regime, which adopted the approach of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements in anticipation of Australia and New Zealand signing up to the Convention. Section 28 of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (NZ) and s 22 of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (Cth) provide that a court must not restrain a person from commencing or continuing a civil proceeding across the Tasman “on the grounds that [the other court] is not the appropriate forum for the proceeding”. In the secondary literature, different opinions have been expressed whether this provision extends to injunctions on the grounds that the other court is not the appropriate forum due to the existence of an exclusive jurisdiction agreement: see Mary Keyes “Jurisdiction Clauses in New Zealand Law” (2019) 50 VUWLR 631 at 633-4; Maria Hook and Jack Wass The Conflict of Laws in New Zealand (LexisNexis, 2020) at [2.445].

The New Zealand High Court has now decided that, in its view, there is no place for anti-suit injunctions under the TTPA regime: A-Ward Ltd v Raw Metal Corp Pty Ltd [2024] NZHC 736 at [4]. Justice O’Gorman reasoned that the TTPA involves New Zealand and Australian courts applying “mirror provisions to determine forum disputes, based on confidence in each other’s judicial institutions” (at [4]), and that anti-suit injunctions can have “no role to play where countries have agreed on judicial cooperation in the allocation and exercise of jurisdiction” (at [17]).

A-Ward Ltd, a New Zealand company, sought an interim anti-suit injunction to stop proceedings brought against it by Raw Metal Corp Pty Ltd, an Australian company, in the Federal Court of Australia. The dispute related to the supply of shipping container tilters from A-Ward to Raw Metal. A-Ward’s terms and conditions had included an exclusive jurisdiction clause selecting the courts of New Zealand, as well as a New Zealand choice of law clause. In its Australian proceedings, Raw Metal sought damages for misleading and deceptive conduct in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (CCA). A-Ward brought proceedings in New Zealand seeking damages for breach of its trade terms, including the jurisdiction clause, as well as an anti-suit injunction.

O’Gorman J’s starting point was to identify the different common law tests that courts had applied when determining an application to the court to stay its own proceedings, based on the existence (or not) of an exclusive jurisdiction clause. While Spiliada principles applied in the absence of such a clause, The Eleftheria provided the relevant test to determine the enforceability of an exclusive jurisdiction clause: at [16]. The alternative to a stay was to seek an anti-suit injunction, which, however, was a controversial tool, because of its potential to “interfere unduly with a foreign court controlling its own processes” (at [17]).

Having set out the competing views in the secondary literature, the Court concluded that anti-suit injunctions were not available to enforce jurisdiction agreements otherwise falling within the scope of the TTPA, based on the following reason (at [34]):

  1. The term “appropriate forum” in ss 28 (NZ) and s 22 (Aus) of the respective Acts could not, “as a matter of reasonable interpretation”, be restricted to questions of appropriate forum in the absence of an exclusive jurisdiction agreement. This was not how the term had been used in the common law (see The Eleftheria).
  2. The structure of the TTPA regime reinforced this point, because it is on an application under s 22 (NZ)/ s 17 (Aus), for a stay of proceedings on the basis that the other court is the more appropriate forum, that a court must give effect to an exclusive jurisdiction agreement under s 25 (NZ)/ s 20 (Aus).
  3. Sections 25 (NZ) and 20 (Aus) already provided strong protection to exclusive choice of court agreements, and introducing additional protection by way of anti-suit relief “would only create uncertainty, inefficiency, and the risk of inconsistency, all of which the TTPA regime was designed to avoid”.
  4. The availability of anti-suit relief would “rest on the assumption that the courts in each jurisdiction might reach a different result, giving a parochial advantage”. This, however, would be “inconsistent with the entire basis for the TTPA regime – that the courts apply the same codified tests and place confidence in each other’s judicial institutions”.
  5. Australian case law (Great Southern Loans v Locator Group [2005] NSWSC 438), to the effect that anti-suit injunctions continue to be available domestically as between Australian courts, was distinguishable because there was no express provision for exclusive choice of court agreements, which is what “makes a potentially conflicting common law test unpalatable”.
  6. Retaining anti-suit injunctions to enforce exclusive jurisdiction agreements would be inconsistent with the concern underpinning s 28 (NZ)/ s 22 (Aus) about “someone trying to circumvent the trans-Tasman regime as a whole”.
  7. The availability of anti-suit relief would defeat the purpose of the scheme to prevent duplication of proceedings.
  8. More generally, anti-suit injunctions “have no role to play where countries have agreed on judicial cooperation in the allocation and exercise of jurisdiction”.

The Court further concluded that, even if the TTPA did not exclude the power to order an anti-suit injunction, there was no basis for doing so in this case in relation to Raw Metal’s claim under the CCA (at [35]). There was “nothing invalid or unconscionable about Australia’s policy choice” to prevent parties from contracting out of their obligations under the CCA, even though New Zealand law (in the form of the Fair Trading Act 1986) might now follow a different policy. The TTPA regime included exceptions to the enforcement of exclusive jurisdiction agreements. Here, A-Ward seemed to have anticipated that, from the perspective of the Australian court, enforcement of the New Zealand jurisdiction clause would have fallen within one of these exceptions, and the High Court of Australia’s observations in Karpik v Carnival plc [2023] HCA 39 at [40] seemed to be consistent with this. The “entirely orthodox position” seemed to be that the Federal Court in Australia “would regard itself as having jurisdiction to determine the CCA claim, unconstrained by the choice of law and court” (at [35]).

Time will tell whether Australian courts will agree with the High Court’s emphatic rejection of anti-suit relief under the TTPA as being inconsistent with the cooperative purpose of the scheme. The parallel debate within the context of the Hague Choice of Court Convention – which does not specifically exclude anti-suit injunctions – may be instructive here: Mukarrum Ahmed “Exclusive choice of court agreements: some issues on the Hague Convention on choice of court agreements and its relationship with the Brussels I recast especially anti-suit injunctions, concurrent proceedings and the implications of BREXIT” (2017) 13 Journal of Private International Law 386. Despite O’Gorman J’s powerful reasoning, her judgment may not be the last word on this important issue.

From a New Zealand perspective, the judgment is also of interest because of its restrained approach to the availability of anti-suit relief more generally. Even assuming that the Australian proceedings were, in fact, in breach of the New Zealand jurisdiction clause, O’Gorman J would not have been prepared to grant an injunction as a matter of course. In this respect, the judgment may be seen as a departure from previous case law. In Maritime Mutual Insurance Association (NZ) Ltd v Silica Sandport Inc [2023] NZHC 793, for example, the Court granted an anti-suit injunction to compel compliance with an arbitration agreement, without inquiring into the foreign court’s perspective and its reasons for taking jurisdiction. O’Gorman J’s more nuanced approach is to be welcomed (for criticism of Maritime Mutual, see here on The Conflict of Laws in New Zealand blog).

A more challenging aspect of the judgment is the choice of law analysis, and the Court’s focus on the potential concurrent or cumulative application of foreign and domestic statutes (at [28]-[31], [35]). The Court said that, to determine whether a foreign statute is applicable, the New Zealand court can ask whether the statute applies on its own terms (following Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections v Fujitsu New Zealand Ltd [2023] NZHC 3598, which I criticised here on The Conflict of Laws in New Zealand blog, also published as [2024] NZLJ 22). It is not entirely clear how this point was relevant to the issue of the anti-suit injunction. The Judge’s reasoning seemed to be that, from the New Zealand court’s perspective, the Australian court’s application of the CCA was appropriate as a matter of statutory interpretation and/or choice of law, which meant that the proceedings were not unconscionable or unjust (at [35]).




CfP: Enforcement of Rights in the Digital Space (7/8 Nov 24, Osnabrück)

On 7 and 8 November, the European Legal Studies Institute (ELSI) at the University of Osnabrück, Germany, is hosting a conference on “Enforcement of Rights in the Digital Space”.

The organizers have kindly shared the following Call for Papers with us:

The European Legal Studies Institute (ELSI) is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for a conference at Osnabrück University on November 7th and 8th, 2024.

We invite submissions on the topic of »Enforcement of Rights in the Digital Space« and in particular on the interplay between the current EU acts on the digital space and national law. The deadline for submissions is May 15th, 2024.

Legal Acts regulating the digital space in the European Union, such as the GDPR, the Data Act and the Digital Services Act, establish manifold new rights and obligations, such as a duty to inform about data use and storage, rights of access to data or requests for interoperability. Yet, with regard to many of these rights and obligations it remains unclear whether and how private actors can enforce them. Often, it is debatable whether their enforcement is left to the member states and whether administrative means of enforcement are intended to complement or exclude private law remedies. The substantial overlap in the scope of these legal acts, which often apply simultaneously in one and the same situation, aggravates the problem that the different legal acts lack a coherent and comprehensive system for their enforcement.

The conference seeks to address the commonalities, gaps and inconsistencies within the present system of enforcement of rights in the digital space, and to explore the different approaches academics throughout Europe take on these issues.

Speakers are invited to either give a short presentation on their current work (15 minutes) or present a paper (30 minutes). Each will be followed by a discussion. In case the speakers choose to publish the paper subsequently, we would kindly ask them to indicate that the paper has been presented at the conference. We welcome submissions both from established scholars and from PhD students, postdocs and junior faculty.

All speakers are invited to a conference dinner which will take place on November 7th, 2024. Further, the European Legal Studies Institute will cover reasonable travel expenses.

Electronic submissions with an abstract in English of no more than 300 words can be submitted to [elsi@uos.de]. Please remove all references to the author(s) in the paper and include in the text of the email a cover note listing your name and the title of your paper. Any questions about the submission procedure should be directed to Mary-Rose McGuire [mmcguire@uos.de]. We will notify applicants as soon as practical after the deadline whether their papers have been selected.




Reminder: Conference on Informed Consent to Dispute Resolution Agreements, Bremen, 20–21 June 2024

We have kindly been informed that a limited number of places remains available at the conference on Informed Consent to Dispute Resolution Agreements on 20 and 21 June in Bremen, which we advertised a couple of weeks ago.

The full schedule can be found on this flyer, which has meanwhile been released.




‘Conflict of Laws’ in the Islamic Legal Tradition – Between the Principles of Personality and Territoriality of the Law

Dr. Beligh Elbalti, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Law and Politics

Béligh Elbalti (Osaka University):
‘Conflict of Laws’ in the Islamic Legal Tradition –
Between the Principles of Personality and Territoriality of the Law

 

Research Group on the Law of Islamic Countries at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law

Afternoon Talks on Islamic Law

  • DATE: Apr 25, 2024
  • TIME: 04:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • LOCATION: online

more info here.




Geneva Executive Training – Module 4: Practice of Child Protection Stakeholders: Focus on Inter-agency Co-operation in Context

Registrations are still open for Module n°4, which is taking place on April 18th, 2024. 

The speakers are the following:

  • Dr Nicolas Nord, Secretary General, CIEC, “The ICCS Activities and Good Practices in the field of International Child Protection
  • Ms Joëlle Schickel-Küng, Deputy Head of Division, Co-Head of Unit, Swiss OFJ, “Cooperation in the area of international child abduction under the 1980 Hague Convention
  • Mr Jean Ayoub, Secretary General, International Social Service, “ISS – Bridging support to vulnerable children on the move

Price per module registration fee: 200 CHF. More information is available here.




Lex Fori Reigns Supreme: Indian High Court (Finally) Confirms Applicability of the Indian Law by ‘Default’ in all International Civil and Commercial Matters

Written by Shubh Jaiswal, student, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat (India) and Professor Saloni Khanderia, JGLS. 

In the landmark case of TransAsia Private Capital vs Gaurav Dhawan, the Delhi High Court clarified that Indian Courts are not automatically required to determine and apply the governing law of a dispute unless the involved parties introduce expert evidence to that effect. This clarification came during the court’s examination of an execution petition stemming from a judgment by the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales Commercial Court. The Division Bench of the Delhi High Court invoked the precedent set by the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Brownlie v. FS Cairo, shedding light on a contentious issue: the governing law of a dispute when parties do not sufficiently prove the applicability of foreign law.

The Delhi High Court has established that in the absence of evidence proving the applicability of a foreign law identified as the ‘proper law of the contract’, Indian law will be applied as the default jurisdiction. This decision empowers Indian courts to apply Indian law by ‘default’ in adjudicating international civil and commercial disputes, even in instances where an explicit governing law has been selected by the parties, unless there is a clear insistence on applying the law of a specified country. This approach aligns with the adversarial system common to most common law jurisdictions, where courts are not expected to determine the applicable law proactively. Instead, the legal representatives must argue and prove the content of foreign law.

This ruling has significant implications for the handling of foreign-related civil and commercial matters in India, highlighting a critical issue: the lack of private international law expertise among legal practitioners. Without adequate knowledge of the choice of law rules, there’s a risk that international disputes could always lead to the default application of Indian law, exacerbated by the absence of codified private international law norms in India. This situation underscores the need for specialized training in private international law to navigate the complexities of international litigation effectively.

Facts in brief

As such, the dispute in Transasia concerned an execution petition filed under Section 44A of the Indian Civil Procedure Code, 1908, for the enforcement of a foreign judgment passed by the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales Commercial Court. The execution petitioner had brought a suit against the judgment debtor before the aforementioned court for default under two personal guarantees with respect to two revolving facility loan agreements. While these guarantee deeds contained choice of law clauses and required the disputes to be governed by the ‘Laws of the Dubai International Finance Centre’ and ‘Singapore Law’ respectively, the English Court had applied English law to the dispute and decided the dispute in favour of the execution petitioner. Accordingly, the judgment debtor opposed the execution of the petition before the Delhi HC for the application of incorrect law by the Court in England.

It is in this regard that the Delhi HC invoked the ‘default rule’ and negated the contention of the judgment debtor. The Bench relied on the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in Brownlie v. FS Cairo, which postulated that “if a party does not rely on a particular rule of law even though it would be entitled to do so, it is not generally for the court to apply the rule of its own motion.

The HC confirmed that foreign law is conceived as a question of fact in India. Thus, it was for each party to choose whether to plead a case that a foreign system of law was applicable to the claim, but neither party was obliged to do so, and if neither party did, the court would apply its own law to the issues in dispute. To that effect, the HC also relied on Aluminium Industrie Vaassen BV, wherein the English Court had applied English law to a sales contract even when a provision expressly stipulated the application of Dutch law—only because neither party pleaded Dutch law.

Thus, in essence, the HC observed that courts would only be mandated to apply the chosen law if either party had pleaded its application and the case was ‘well-founded’. In the present dispute, the judgment debtor had failed to either plead or establish that English law would not be applicable before the Court in England and had merely challenged jurisdiction, and thus, the Delhi HC held that the judgment could not be challenged at the execution stage.

Choosing the Proper Law

The mechanism employed to ascertain the applicable law under Indian private international law depends on whether the parties have opted to resolve their dispute before a court or an arbitral tribunal. In arbitration matters, the identification of the applicable law similarly depends on the express and implied choice of the parties. Similarly, in matters of litigation, courts rely on the common law doctrine of the ‘proper law of the contract’ to discern the applicable law while adjudicating such disputes on such obligations. Accordingly, the proper law depends on the express and implied choice of the parties. When it comes to the determination of the applicable law through the express choice of the parties, Indian law, despite being uncodified, is coherent and conforms to the practices of several major legal systems, such as the UK, the EU’s 27 Member States, and its BRICS partners, Russia and China – insofar as it similarly empowers the parties to choose the law of any country with which they desire their disputes to be settled. Thus, it is always advised that parties keen on being governed by the law of a particular country must ensure to include a clause to this effect in their agreement if they intend to adjudicate any disputes that might arise by litigation because it is unlikely for the court to regard any other factor, such as previous contractual relationships between them, to identify their implied choice.

Questioning the Assumed: Manoeuvring through the Intricate Terrain of Private International Law and Party Autonomy in the Indian Judicial System

By reiterating the ‘default rule’ in India and presenting Indian courts with another opportunity to apply Indian law, this judgment has demonstrated the general tendency on the part of the courts across India to invariably invoke Indian law – albeit in an implicit manner – without any (actual) examination as to the country with which the contract has its closest and most real connection. Further, the lack of expertise by the members of the Bar in private international law-related matters and choice of law rules implies that most, if not all, foreign-related civil and commercial matters would be governed by Indian law in its capacity as the lex fori. Therefore, legal representatives should actively advocate for disputes to be resolved according to the law specified in their dispute resolution clause rather than assuming that the court will automatically apply the law of the designated country in adjudicating the dispute.

Foreign parties may not want Indian law to apply to their commercial contracts, especially when they have an express provision against the same. Apart from being unclear and uncertain, the present state of India’s practice and policy debilitates justice and fails to meet the commercial expectations of the parties by compelling litigants to be governed by Indian law regardless of the circumstance and the nature of the dispute—merely because they failed to plead the application of their chosen law.

This would inevitably lead to foreign parties opting out of the jurisdiction of the Indian courts by concluding choice of court agreements in favour of other forums so as to avoid the application of the Republic’s ambiguous approach towards the law that would govern their commercial contracts. Consequently, Indian courts may rarely find themselves chosen as the preferred forum through a choice of court agreement for the adjudication of such disputes when they have no connection to the transaction. In circumstances where parties are unable to opt out of the jurisdiction of Indian courts – perhaps because of the lack of agreement to this effect, the inconsistencies would hamper international trade and commerce in India, with parties from other jurisdictions wanting to avoid concluding contracts with Indian businessmen and traders so as to avert plausible disputes being adjudicated before Indian courts (and consequently being governed by Indian law).

Therefore, Indian courts should certainly reconsider the application of the ‘default rule’, and limit the application of the lex fori in order to respect party autonomy.




Cross-Border Litigation and Comity of Courts: A Landmark Judgment from the Delhi High Court

Written by Tarasha Gupta, student, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat (India) and Saloni Khanderia, Professor, Jindal Global Law School

 

In its recent judgment in Shiju Jacob Varghese v. Tower Vision Limited,[1] the Delhi High Court (“HC”) held that an appeal before an Indian civil court was infructuous due to a consent order passed by the Tel Aviv District Court in a matter arising out of the same cause of action. The Court deemed the suit before Indian courts an attempt to re-litigate the same cause of action, thus an abuse of process violative of the principle of comity of courts.

In doing so, the Court appears to have clarified confusions arising in light of the explanation to Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 (“CPC”), on one side, and parties’ right to choice of court agreements and forum non conveniens on the other. The result is that, as per the Delhi HC, Indian courts now ought to stay proceedings before them if the same cause of action has already been litigated before foreign courts.

The Indian Position on Concurrent Proceedings in Foreign and Domestic Courts

In the European Union, Article 33 of the Brussels Recast gives European courts the power to stay proceedings if concurrent proceedings based on the same cause of action are pending before a foreign court. The European court may exercise this right if the foreign court will give a judgment capable of recognition, and such a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice. By contrast, in India, the Explanation to Section 10 of the CPC provides that the pendency of a suit in a foreign Court does not preclude Indian courts from trying a suit founded on the same cause of action.

The Indian Supreme Court in Modi Entertainment v. WSG Cricket[2] upheld parties’ right to oust the jurisdiction of Indian courts in favour of a foreign forum through choice of court agreements. Where parties have agreed to approach a foreign forum by a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause, they would have considered convenience and other relevant factors. Therefore an anti-suit injunction cannot be granted.

Notwithstanding this judgment, however, when it came to situations where parties did not confer jurisdiction upon a foreign court through a choice of court agreement, the explanation to Section 10 of the CPC would still apply. Therefore, a party could initiate proceedings before both foreign and domestic courts on the same cause of action, resulting in the possibility of conflicting judgements and creating a nightmare for their enforcement. It would also increase the costs of resolving any dispute, as multiple litigation proceedings may occur simultaneously.

Courts in India tried to mitigate the impacts that could arise from these conflicting judgements through the doctrine of ‘forum non conveniens. The doctrine permits courts to stay proceedings on the ground that another forum would be more appropriate or convenient to adjudicate the matter. There are no fixed criteria in considering whether to invoke the doctrine. However, courts may consider, inter alia, the existence of a more appropriate forum, the expenses involved, the law governing the transaction, the plausibility of multiple proceedings and conflicting judgements.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens, however, is only a discretionary power and can only be invoked if the defendant is able to prove that the current proceedings would be vexatious or oppressive to them and the foreign forum is “clearly or distinctly more appropriate than the Indian courts” (clarified by the Indian Supreme Court in Mayar (HK) Ltd. v. Owners and Parties, Vessels MV Fortune Ltd.[3]). Thus, it would not be mandatory in every situation for an Indian court to stay a suit pending before it, even if proceedings on the same cause of action are pending or completed in a foreign court.

 

Dismissal of the Appeal before Indian courts in Shiju Jacob

The dispute concerned a Share Entitlement executed in favour of the present Appellant, based on which the Appellant had filed a civil suit before the Tel Aviv District Court. More than two years later, they filed a suit for interim relief that was partially allowed by the Tel Aviv District Court but set aside by the Supreme Court of Israel. After that, the Appellant filed a suit before the Indian court, which was dismissed as a re-litigation and violative of the principle of comity. Consent terms were then filed in the Tel Aviv suit, and the suit was disposed of as settled. Shortly after that, the appellant moved an application to rescind the order to dispose of the suit, which the Tel Aviv District Court dismissed.

The Respondents now claimed, before the Indian court, that the appeal against the previous order by the Indian court was infructuous in view of the consent order passed by the Tel Aviv District Court. The Appellants, on the other hand, argued that the explanation to Section 10 of the CPC allowed them to file a suit in India, even if it was on the same cause of action as the suit before the Israeli courts.

The Delhi High Court held that allowing the appeal to continue would violate the principle of comity of courts, as it could result in conflicting decisions between the Israeli and Indian courts. It would also constitute re-litigation, which, although may not in every case be barred as res judicata, depending on the facts and circumstances, could be an ‘abuse of process’. The concept of ‘abuse of process’ is thus more comprehensive than the concept of res judicata or issue estoppel. The Court therefore held that a suit or appeal must be struck down as an abuse of process even if the party is not bound by res judicata if it is shown that the new proceeding is manifestly unfair or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

 

Implications of the Judgment  

The judgment thus provides that Indian courts must dismiss suits which have already been litigated before foreign courts. This is a welcome change, considering that the explanation to Section 10 of the CPC allows such proceedings to occur at the same time.

However, given that this is a High Court judgement, it will not be binding on Courts outside of Delhi and would simply have persuasive value. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that as per the facts of Shiju Jacob, the suit had been dismissed by the Tel Aviv District Court by the time the appeal was heard. Thus, it is unclear whether Indian courts will be able to follow the same approach where proceedings in the foreign court haven’t been completed yet. In fact, the HC had observed that the effect of the explanation to Section 10 of the CPC did not even arise for consideration in the present case, as the settlement in question was not being executed or enforced in the proceedings before the Indian Court.

That said, the judgment of the Single Judge (which was being challenged in the present appeal) dismissed the suit even before the consent terms were passed because it was violative of the principle of comity of courts and amounted to re-litigation. The judgment signals that the Delhi HC intended for courts to apply the same principle where proceedings on the same cause of action are ongoing in a foreign court.

Ultimately, however, it is unfortunate that this intervention had to come from the judiciary and not the legislature. India still does not have comprehensive legislation governing transnational disputes, and its position on private international law has been gauged by extending domestic rules by analogy. In the absence of legislation, uncertainty continues to reign as parties must piece together the position of law from hundreds of judgements. Regardless, the judgment in Shiju Jacob is an encouraging precedent for improving the finality of transnational litigation in India and ending the difficulties created by the explanation to Section 10 of the CPC.

 

[1] 2023 SCC OnLine Del 6630.

[2] (2003) 4 SCC 341.

[3] AIR [2006] SC 1828.




New rules for extra-territorial jurisdiction in Western Australia

The rules regarding service outside the jurisdiction are about to change for the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

In a March notice to practitioners, the Chief Justice informed the profession that the Supreme Court Amendment Rules 2024 (WA) (Amendment Rules) were published on the WA legislation website on 26 March 2024.

The Amendment Rules amend the Rules of the Supreme Court 1971 (WA) (RSC). The primary change is the replacement of the current RSC Order 10 (Service outside the jurisdiction) while amending other relevant rules, including some within Order 11 (Service of foreign process) and Order 11A (Service under the Hague Convention).

The combined effect of the changes is to align the Court’s approach to that which has been applicable in the other State Supreme Courts for some years.

The changes will take effect on 9 April 2024.

Background

The rules as to service outside the jurisdiction are important to cross-border litigation in Australian courts. Among other things, the rules on service provide the limits to the court’s jurisdiction in personam: Laurie v Carroll (1957) 98 CLR 310, 323.

Whether a litigant has a judicial remedy before a court with respect to a person located outside of that court’s territorial jurisdiction will depend on that court’s rules as to service, among other things.

‘[C]ivil jurisdiction is territorial’: Gosper v Sawyer (1985) 160 CLR 548, 564 (Mason and Deane JJ). So historically, the rules on service would authorise ‘service out’ when there was an appropriate connection between the subject matter of the claim and the court’s territory. For example, a court would have the requisite connection to a contract dispute where the contract was made in the forum jurisdiction, even though the defendant in breach was located outside the jurisdiction.

The requisite connection to forum territory sufficient to justify a court’s extra-territorial jurisdiction over a person not within the forum would depend on the rules of that particular court.

State Supreme Courts’ approaches to ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ depend on where the defendant is located. If within Australia, the rules are effected by the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 (Cth) as modified by the rules of the forum court. Within New Zealand, the rules are in the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 (Cth)—legislation in the spirit of the Hague Conference on Private International Law—as modified by the rules of the forum court. Defendants in any other foreign country are captured by the rules of the forum court. The same goes for the Federal Court of Australia via the Federal Court Rules 2011 (Cth); see Overseas Service and Evidence Practice Note (GPN-OSE).

In characteristically Western Australian fashion, the Supreme Court of Western Australia has historically taken a unique approach to service out as compared to other State Supreme Courts of the Federation. As Edelman J explained in Crawley Investments Pty Ltd v Elman [2014] WASC 233, [45], the Western Australian rules have derived from Chancery practice, whereas the approach under the historical Supreme Court Rules 1970 (NSW) pt 10—underpinning leading authorities like Agar v Hyde (2000) 201 CLR 552—was quite different. See Agar v Hyde, CLR 572 [16].

The key difference was that the Supreme Court of WA had retained a need for leave to serve outside of the jurisdiction in advance, together with leave to have the writ issued, for persons outside Australia and not in New Zealand: see historical RSC O r 9 and O 10 r 4. Previously, the Federal Court was somewhat similar by also requiring leave, until it took a new approach from January 2023.

Some years ago, the Council of Chief Justices’ Rules Harmonisation Committee agreed to harmonise the rules as to service out as between Australia’s superior courts. New South Wales took the step of giving effect to what were then ‘new rules’ back in 2016. I discussed those changes with Professor Vivienne Bath: 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. Other States took the same approach.

In comparison to WA, the ‘new approach’ of the eastern States’ courts required very little connection between the forum jurisdiction and the subject matter of the dispute. For example, the Supreme Court of NSW could claim jurisdiction over a claim involving a tort occurring outside Australia provided there was just some damage occurring in Australia (not occurring in New South Wales—occurring in Australia): see Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) sch 6(a). Damage in the forum was not enough in the Supreme Court of WA: the tort had to occur in Western Australia (not just occurring in Australia): see historical RSC O 10 r 1(1)(k).

Through the Amendment Rules, the Supreme Court of WA is finally giving effect to what was agreed by the Rules Harmonisation Committee.

The changes

The changes for practice in the Supreme Court of Western Australia are significant in a number of respects. The full impact of the changes will require further pondering. The following is immediately apparent.

First, RSC Order 10 has been replaced with most significant impact for cases where the person to be served is outside Australia and not in New Zealand: see the new RSC O 10 div 3.

Second, service outside Australia is now possible without leave in the same circumstances that service would be permitted without leave in other ‘harmonised’ jurisdictions, like the Supreme Court of NSW. See the new RSC O 10 r 5.

Third, even if the circumstances do not satisfy the very broad pigeonholes of connection specified by the new RSC O 10 r 5, service outside Australia is still permissible with leave if the claim has a real and substantial connection with Australia, and Australia is an appropriate forum (which oddly means not a clearly inappropriate forum per the Australian doctrine of forum non conveniens—a whole other conundrum), among other things: see the new RSC O 10 r 6(5).

A remaining issue is the interaction between the new RSC O 10 and RSC OO 11 and 11A, particularly as regards service in accordance with the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. The latter order deals with service under the Hague Convention, but it is not clear if the Hague Convention procedure for service out displaces the autochthonous procedure for service out under RSC O 10, or merely prescribes the manner or mode of service in convention countries as opposed to impacting substantive bases for whether long-arm jurisdiction is warranted.

The relationship between the historical OO 10, 11 and 11A has been one for debate, as recognised by my co-author Bell CJ in chapter 3 of the latest edition of Nygh’s Conflict of Laws in Australia: see [3.27]. The situation remains confusing. I am still confused. I look forward to becoming less confused after conferring with more learned colleagues.

Comment

The changes will likely be welcomed by the profession. They make cross-border litigation easier in Western Australia. They will make life easier for ‘foreign’ east-coast practitioners trying to dabble at practice in WA.

But I expect they will be lamented by many in the private international law community. Most academics I know subscribe to the Savigny orthodoxy that forum shopping is bad, and courts should only seize themselves of jurisdiction when they have a genuine, or real and substantive, territorial connection to the subject matter of the dispute. I know Professor Reid Mortensen will criticise these changes as ‘exorbitant’ and contrary to principle. I disagree with Reid (to hell with multilateralism—Australia first!) but I respect the arguments to the contrary. We can all agree: these changes reaffirm Australia’s unique willingness to exercise jurisdiction in a way that many foreign courts would consider exorbitant.