Application of the Brussels I bis Regulation ratione materiae, interim relief measures and immunities: Opinion of AG Saugmandsgaard Øe in the case Supreme Site and Others, C-186/19

Written by María Barral Martínez, a former trainee at the European Court of Justice (Chambers of AG Campos Sánchez-Bordona) and an alumna of the University of Amsterdam and the University of Santiago de Compostela

The Hoge Raad Neederlanden (The Dutch Supreme Court), the referring court in the case Supreme Site Service and Others, C-186/19, harbours doubts regarding the international jurisdiction of Dutch courts under the Brussels I bis Regulation, in respect to a request to lift an interim garnishee order. An insight on the background of the case can be found here and here, while the implications of that background for admissibility of request for a preliminary ruling are addressed in section 1 of the present text.

In replying to a preliminary ruling request made by that court, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe issued his Opinion. Advocate General concluded that a flexible approach should be taken when interpreting the concept of “civil and commercial matters” within the meaning of Article 1(1) of the Brussels I bis Regulation. AG was of the view that an action for interim measures as the one brought by SHAPE, aimed at obtaining the lifting of a garnishee order, qualifies as civil and commercial matters, within the meaning of Article 1(1), provided that such garnishee order had the purpose of safeguarding a right originating in a contractual legal relationship which is not characterised by an expression of public powers, a matter that is left to the referring court to verify. For presentation of AG reasoning and its analysis in relation to interim measures, see section 2.

Moreover, according to AG, alleged claims of immunity enjoyed under international law by one of the parties to the proceedings had no significance, when it comes to the analysis of the material scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation. Against this background, the case provides a good opportunity to explore jurisdictional issues in the face of immunities, such as the debate regarding international jurisdiction preceding the assessment of immunities, and what can be inferred from the case-law of the Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights in that respect. Next, it requires us to determine whether the case-law developed in relation to State bodies and their engagement in acta iure imperii can be applied mutatis mutandis to the international organisations. Finally, it revives the concerns on whether the scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation should be determined in a manner allowing to establish international jurisdiction under that Regulation even though enforcement against public authorities stands little chances, be that international organisations as in the present case. These issues are discussed in section 3.

1.     Admissibility of the preliminary reference

Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe made some remarks on the admissibility of the preliminary ruling and on whether a reply of the Court of Justice would be of any avail to the referring court.

It should be recalled that at national level, two sets of proceedings were initiated in parallel. In the first set, – the proceedings on the merits – Supreme, the private-law companies, sought a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to the payment of several amounts by SHAPE, an international organisation. These proceedings were under appeal before the Den Bosch Court of Appeal because SHAPE challenged the first instance court’s jurisdiction. In the second set – the proceedings for interim measures where the preliminary ruling originated from – SHAPE brought an action seeking the lift of the interim garnishee order and requesting the prohibition of further attempts from Supreme to levy an interim garnishee order against the escrow account.

In the opinion of AG, the preliminary ruling was still admissible despite the fact that the Den Bosch Court of Appeal ruled on the proceedings on the merits granting immunity of jurisdiction to SHAPE in December 2019 – the judgment is under appeal before the Dutch Supreme Court. He opined that the main proceedings should not be regarded as having become devoid of purpose until the court renders a final judgment on the question whether SHAPE is entitled to invoke its immunity from jurisdiction, in the context of the proceedings on the merits and whether that immunity, in itself, precludes further garnishee orders targeting the escrow account (point 35).

2.     Civil and commercial matters in respect of substantive proceedings or interim relief proceedings?

The Opinion addressed at the outset the question on whether the substantive proceedings should fall under the material scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation in order for the interim relief measures to fall as well within that scope. As a reminder, the object of the proceedings on the merits, is a contractual dispute over the payment of fuels supplied by Supreme to SHAPE, in the context of a military operation carried out by the latter.

As AG signalled, to answer the question several hypotheses have been put forward by the parties at the hearing held at the Court of Justice. The first hypothesis, supported by the Greek Government and Supreme, proposed that in order to determine if an action for interim measures falls within the scope of the Regulation, the proceedings on the merits should fall as well under the material scope of the Regulation. In particular, the characteristics of the proceedings on the merits should be taken into account. The second hypothesis, supported by SHAPE, considered that the analysis should be done solely in respect to the proceedings for interim measures. The European Commission and the Dutch and Belgian Governments opined that in order to determine if the action for interim measures can be characterised as civil and commercial matters, it is the nature of the right which the interim measure was intended to safeguard in the framework of the interim relief proceedings that matters.

Endorsing the latter hypothesis, AG indicated that an application for interim measures cannot be regarded as automatically falling within or outside the scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation, depending on whether or not the proceedings on the merits fall within that scope, simply because it is ancillary to the proceedings on the merits (point 51). To support his conclusion, AG followed the line of reasoning developed by the Court in the context of the instruments preceding the Brussels I bis Regulation. In that regard, the Court has held that to ascertain that provisional/protective measures come within the scope of the Regulation, it’s not the nature of the measures that should be taken into account but the nature of the rights they serve to protect. To illustrate this: in Cavel I, the Court held that interim measures can serve to safeguard a variety of rights which may or may not fall within the scope of the now Brussels I bis Regulation (then the Brussels Convention) depending on the nature of the rights which they serve to protect. This has been confirmed in Cavel II: “ancillary claims accordingly come within the scope of the Convention according to the subject-matter with which they are concerned and not according to the subject-matter involved in the principal claim”. Further, in Van Uden, the Court held that “provisional measures are not in principle ancillary to arbitration proceedings but are ordered in parallel to such proceedings and are intended as measures of support. They concern not arbitration as such but the protection of a wide variety of rights”. This case-law has been also confirmed in recent judgments of the Court, namely in Bohez – where a penalty payment was imposed as a measure to comply with the main judgment – and Realchemie Nederland concerning an action brought for alleged patent infringement in the context of interim proceedings, where a prohibition in the form of payment of a fine was ordered.

In brief, what matters in this discussion on interim measures falling or not within the scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation, is not the relation between the main proceedings and the interim measures, the crucial factor being the purpose – determined from a procedural law standpoint – of the interim relief measure vis-à-vis the proceedings on the merits: an interim measure falling within the scope of the Regulation has to safeguard the substantive rights at stake in the main proceedings. In the present case, the substantive right in question is a credit arising from a contractual obligation that Supreme holds against SHAPE.

3.     Whether immunities play a role in determining if an action can qualify as “civil and commercial matters” within the meaning of Article 1(1) of the Regulation

One of the particularities of the case is that in the second set of proceedings where the preliminary ruling originated, SHAPE and JFCB (NATO) have introduced an action for interim relief measures, based on immunity from execution. SHAPE alleged that its immunity from execution flowing from the 1952 Paris Protocol trumps any jurisdiction derived from that Regulation.

It is against this background that the Dutch Supreme Court asked the Court of Justice if the fact that an International Organisation claims to enjoy immunity from execution under public international law, bars the application of the Brussels I bis Regulation or has an impact on its application ratione materiae. In his Opinion, Advocate General considered that the referring court is concerned by the actions relating to “acts or omissions in the exercise of state authority” linked to the concept of “acta iure imperii” – a concept which is also used in international law in relation to the principle of State immunity.

The Opinion tackled the question of immunities under public international law and concluded that a dispute where an International Organisation is a party, should not be automatically excluded from the material scope of the Brussels I bis Regulation. Interestingly, some aspects of the reasoning that allowed to reach that conclusion echo the doctrinal debates on the interplay between the jurisdictional rules of EU private international law, on the one hand, and the immunity derived from public international law, on the other hand.

  • Does immunity precede the jurisdiction under EU PIL?

At point 72, AG rejected the arguments advanced by the Austrian Government, who argued that the Brussels I bis Regulation should not apply to the case at hand. In the view of this government, if an international organisation takes part in a dispute, the immunity that this organisation enjoys on the basis of customary international law or treaty law, characterizes the nature of the legal relationship between the parties. In other words, a criterion based on the nature of a party (scil. the fact that it is an international organization that is a party to proceedings) should suffice to decline jurisdiction under the Brussels I regime.

In that respect, AG made some interesting remarks: first, by applying the Brussels I bis Regulation to a dispute where an International Organisation is a party, there is no breach of Article 3(5) TUE and of the obligation to respect public international law enshrined in that provision. Second, if, based on the Brussels I bis regime, a national court declares its international jurisdiction over a dispute,  potential immunity claims advance by the parties will not be affected, as they are to be considered at a later stage of the proceedings. AG departed from the premise that the assessment on immunities should take place after the national judge seised with the case looks into the substance of the merits, including party allegations. This is therefore, at a second stage, after the national court has decided over its international jurisdiction within the first stage, that the immunity needs to be ascertained and its limits set (point 69).

This approach resonates with the idea that national courts are not supposed to engage in an in-depth analysis of the substance at that very first stage, when they are determining their own jurisdiction. They should not be undertaking a mini-trial, ascertaining jurisdiction requires only a first approximation to the facts of the case, solely for the purpose of determining jurisdiction. In FlyLaL II, a case concerning jurisdictional issues pursuant to the Brussels I Regulation, in respect of an action for damages brought for infringement of competition law, the Court observed that at the stage of determining jurisdiction “the referring court must confine itself to a prima facie examination of the case without examining its substance”. The statement draws on AG Bobek’s Opinion presented in the aforementioned case: “[d]etermination of jurisdiction should be as swift and easy as possible. Thus, a jurisdictional assessment is by definition a prima facie one. […] The jurisdictional assessment will, in practice, require a review of the basic factual and legal characteristics of the case at an abstract level.”

From the ECtHR case-law (see, most notably, Waite and Kennedy v. Germany) dealing with immunities of international organizations and the right to a remedy enshrined in Article 6 ECHR, a similar reading can be extracted. National courts deciding on granting of an immunity – be [it] immunity of jurisdiction or from execution – and performing the “reasonable alternative means” test, inevitably engage in a substantive analysis of the merits. To ensure that the claimant’s right to access justice is not breached, requires more than an abstract examination of the facts. This would seem to favour the idea that determination of international jurisdiction precedes a substantive analysis of the circumstances of the case in respect to any alleged claim of immunities made by the parties.

However, it is still not clear how this reasoning can be reconciled with judgments of the Court of Justice in the cases Universal Music International Holding and Kolassa. There, the Court of Justice held that according to the objective of the sound administration of justice which underlies the Brussels I Regulation, and respect for the independence of the national court in the exercise of its functions, a national court in the framework of ascertaining its international jurisdiction pursuant to the Brussels I regime, must look at all the information available to it. Although such an assertion seems to be construed in very general terms, one may well wonder what exactly a court assessing its international jurisdiction under the Brussels I bis Regulation is required to look at. Should it be a minimal review of the substance or a prima facie analysis strictly focused on the nature of the elements of the action – relevant in the context of the connecting factors used by the rules on jurisdiction –,including all the information available before the court?

If the answer would be the latter, that means that in the case at hand, the immunity from execution relied on by SHAPE in support of its action should be taken into account.

A reading of paragraphs 53 to 58 in the Court of Justice’s recent judgment in Rina, hints that in order to establish its own jurisdiction under the Brussels I bis Regulation, a national court has to take into consideration all available information. In the case at issue, party allegations where a party (Rina) invokes immunity of jurisdiction. While at first glance this instruction does not steer away from the judgments in Universal Music International Holding and Kolassa, what the Court proposes here is definitely more complex than a first approximation to the facts of the case. At paragraph 55 the Court notes “a national court implementing EU law in applying [the Brussels I Regulation] must comply with the requirements flowing from Article 47 of the Charter. […] The referring court must satisfy itself that, if it upheld the plea relating to immunity from jurisdiction, [the claimants] would not be deprived of their right of access to the courts, which is one of the elements of the right to effective judicial protection in Article 47 of the Charter.” If the national courts were to engage in such analysis – in a similar fashion as the ECtHR established in regards to Article 6 ECHR – it will certainly go beyond a mere examination in abstracto, implying rather a deep dive on the merits.

Moreover, the judgment in Rina seems to suggest that the analysis of international law cannot be avoided even when it comes only to the question whether the Brussels I regime applies or not. At paragraph 60, the Court of Justice explained “[t]he principle of customary international law concerning immunity from jurisdiction does not preclude the national court seised from exercising the jurisdiction provided for by that regulation in a dispute relating to such an action, where that court finds that such corporations have not had recourse to public powers within the meaning of international law.” Again, for the examination of these matters in the framework of determining international jurisdiction, a greater level of scrutiny is required. A national judge would have to dig dipper in the facts and party allegations to come to the conclusion that a certain party did not have recourse to public powers. Something that is everything but a swift and easy exercise.

  • Does the case-law developed in the context of State bodies apply to international organisations?

Be that as it may, while an immunity claim does not automatically rule out the application of the Brussels I bis Regulation according to AG Saugmandsgaard Øe, the key question in his analysis is to determine if actions related to acta iure imperii under Article 1(1) of the Regulation are applicable to international organisations. It flows from the Court of Justice well-settled case-law that disputes between a State body and a person governed by private law come within the scope of civil and commercial matters, if the public authority in question does not act in the exercise of its public powers. At point 75 of his Opinion, AG made a reference to the judgment in Eurocontrol and indicated that exceptions under Article 1(1) in fine can extend to acts and omissions carried out by an international organisation. He remarked that, the concept of “public powers” established under the Court’s case-law, not only relates to State responsibility but refers also to those situations where a public authority acts under the umbrella of its public powers.

Advocate General moved then to analyse the Court of Justice case-law concerning liability of the State for acts and omissions carried out in the exercise of sovereign authority. Here matters get a bit complicated.

On the one hand, it remains to be seen how that case-law could be applied mutatis mutandis to international organisations. Leaving aside the question of immunities and putting emphasis on the notion of “civil and commercial matters” within the meaning of Article 1(1) of the Brussels I bis Regulation, the acts and omissions of an international organization are strictly connected with the powers conferred to the organisation for its proper functioning. Thus, one could wonder whether a functional test would be more suitable to determine if the acts or omissions were carried out by an international organization in the exercise of its public powers: a demarcating line could be drawn between non-official (non-related to the mission of the organization) acts and omissions and those of official nature, therefore necessary to fulfil the organisation’s mandate.

On the other hand, concerning the criteria applied by the Court when analysing if a public authority has exercised its powers of State authority, there is no “one size fits all” solution. As AG rightly pointed out at point 84 of his Opinion, the Court has still to sort out the interplay between different criteria: matters characterising the legal relationship between the parties, the subject-matter of the dispute and the basis of the action and the detailed rules governing the action brought.

To illustrate this point: in Préservatrice Foncière TIARD, the Court looked mainly at the legal relationship between the parties, while in Baten and Sapir and Others the Court did not refer to the legal relationship between the parties but focused on the subject-matter of the dispute and the basis of the action brought. Hence, the alternative or cumulative use of these criteria – or a flexible one- seem to reflect the need to provide an adequate response to the case-specific factual context of a particular case.

In that sense, AG pointed out that the criterion concerning the basis of the action is not relevant in all cases, it will be determinant in situations where is not established that the substantive basis of the claim is an act carried out in the exercise of public powers. For that reason, at 90, AG considered more appropriate that the action is based on a right originating from an act of public authority or in a legal relationship characterized by a manifestation of public power.

  • Does the perspective of anticipated recognition/enforcement influence the interpretation of the notion of “civil and commercial matters”?

It is worth mentioning that some commentators (see also Van Calster, G., European Private International Law, Hart Publishing, 2016, p. 32) pointed out that, in the light of the judgment in Eurocontrol, the scope of application of the Brussels I bis Regulation should be interpreted by taking into account the perspectives of recognition and enforcement. Thus, if immunity bears no significance at the stage of determining jurisdiction, but it is later granted/recognised resulting in refusal of recognition and/or enforcement, concerns are raised regarding what is the practical use of exercising jurisdiction under the Brussels I bis Regulation against public authorities when there are little chances of recognition/enforcement.

On this point, the Spanish Supreme Court – in a case concerning the enforcement of a judgment rendered in Germany in favour of a private party against the Republic of Argentina –, held that a declaration of enforceability issued in relation to a general enforcement order does not breach the rules on immunity of execution. The Spanish Court precised that only when specific legal attachment measures are taken, a court should determine if the property in question is subject to execution. Thus, the issue of immunity of execution and the assessment whether the property to be executed is for commercial or official purposes would be at stake at a second stage of the enforcement procedure, not interfering with the application of the Brussels I regime.



Enforcing Outbound Forum Selection Clauses in U.S. State Court

Written by John Coyle, the Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Katherine C. Richardson, Law Clerk, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, 2020-21 Term


European legal scholars have long bemoaned the difficulty in identifying “black letter rules” when it comes to U.S. private international law.  One area where this law is famously opaque relates to state enforcement of “outbound” forum selection clauses.  Outbound clauses—which are known as derogation clauses in the rest of the world—state that a dispute must be heard by a court other than the one where the suit was brought.  State courts in the United States generally refused to enforce these provisions prior to 1972.  After the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its seminal decision in The Bremen, however, attitudes began to change.  Today, it is generally acknowledged that state courts are far more likely to enforce outbound forum selection clauses than they were fifty years ago.  To date, however, nobody has attempted to determine empirically the extent to which state court practice has shifted since the early 1970s.  Our new paper seeks to accomplish this goal.


State Practice by the Numbers


We reviewed every published and unpublished state court decision addressing the enforceability of outbound forum selection clauses decided after 1972.  Our analysis of these decisions revealed the following:


  1. State courts in the United States enforce outbound forum selection clauses approximately 77% of the time when one party challenges the enforceability of the clause.


  1. The enforcement rate is remarkably consistent across large states in the United States. In California, the enforcement rate was 80%. In Texas, it was 79%. In New York, it was 79%. In Florida, it was 78%.  In Ohio, it was 78%. In Illinois, it was 74%.


We are currently gathering data about federal court practice.  Our preliminary results suggest that the enforcement rate is at least as high, if not higher, when the enforceability of an outbound clause is challenged in federal court.


In addition to looking at enforcement rates, we also examined the rationales proffered by state courts in cases when they declined to enforce outbound clauses.  Knowing how often state courts enforce these clauses, and more importantly, why they do not enforce them, offers valuable insights for contract drafters, judges, and scholars. We found that when a state court refuses to enforce an outbound clause, it is almost always because the clause is contrary to public policy (8% of all cases) or unreasonable (12% of all cases).  What does it mean, however, for a clause to be contrary to public policy?  And what are the situations when a clause will be deemed unreasonable?  The cases in our data set shed light on both of these questions.


Public Policy


With respect to public policy, state courts most frequently refuse to enforce an outbound clause because there is a state statute directing them to ignore it.  Forty-nine states have enacted states declaring outbound clauses unenforceable in consumer leases.  Twenty-eight states have enacted statutes announcing a similar rule with respect to clauses in construction contracts.  All told, we identified more than 175 state statutes directing courts to refuse to enforce outbound clauses across a wide range of agreement types.  Our paper includes a detailed chart that shows which statutes are in force in which states.


U.S. courts also sometimes refuse to enforce a clause on public policy grounds by citing an “anti-waiver” statute. Anti-waiver statutes provide that certain rights conferred by state law are non-waivable.  When a state court is presented with a contract that contains an outbound forum selection clause, and when the forum court concludes that the courts in the chosen jurisdiction are unlikely to give effect to non-waivable rights conferred by the forum state, the forum court may refuse to enforce the forum selection clause on public policy grounds.  On this account, the enforcement of the clause is contrary to the public policy of the forum not because the legislature has specifically directed the courts to ignore it.  Instead, these clauses go unenforced because their enforcement would result in the waiver of non-waivable rights.




The most common basis cited by state courts in refusing to enforce an outbound forum selection clause is a lack of reasonableness. The most common reason why state courts strike down clauses on reasonableness grounds is that the clause would result in duplicative litigation. Courts are reluctant to enforce the clause—and send litigation elsewhere—if it means the plaintiff would have to litigate the same set of facts in two different fora.


Second, many state courts refuse to uphold forum selection clauses if it means the plaintiff cannot secure effective relief in the chosen forum. Typical examples of this type of concern include procedural or jurisdictional problems in the chosen forum, claims that are so small as to make it uneconomical for a plaintiff to pay the costs to travel to pursue them, and fora that constitute a “serious inconvenience” to the plaintiff. We should note here that most state courts do not refuse to enforce clauses because it would be expensive for the plaintiff to maintain the lawsuit in another state. However, when the plaintiff presents an extremely small claim or an extreme expense to litigate, some courts will take pity the plaintiff and refuse to enforce the outbound clause.


In several other categories of cases, state courts refuse to uphold outbound clauses when (1) the plaintiff has no notice of the clause, or (2) the chosen forum bears no reasonable relationship to the parties. The notice issue arises most frequently in cases of form passage tickets, mostly for cruise lines, and in online “clickwrap” agreements. Some courts have been reluctant to hold plaintiffs responsible for forum selection clauses in these two scenarios when the defendant did not reasonably communicate the clause to the plaintiff. In addition, some courts refuse to uphold outbound clauses against unsophisticated parties where the clause is buried in fine print amid other legal jargon. We note, however, that simply because a forum selection clause is contained in a contract of adhesion does not make it unreasonable. This scenario was obviated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, where the Court upheld a forum selection clause on the back of a preprinted cruise ticket. Finally, the typical contract defenses, such as fraud, unconscionability, and problems with formation, all apply to forum selection clauses as well, with some variation among the states.


Equality of the parties in investment arbitration – public international law aspects

Written by Silja Vöneky, University of Freiburg

Note: This blogpost is part of a series on „Corporate social responsibility and international law“ that presents the main findings of the contributions published in August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020.

I. Introduction

1. The question of the status of transnational corporations in investment arbitration is of central importance for the division of spheres of responsibility, for the pursuit and enforcement of values, and thus for the bases of legitimation of the international legal order today.

2. The promotion of foreign direct investments and the deepening of economic cooperation between States to promote economic development with the common welfare objective of increasing the prosperity of the peoples of the contracting States parties has been the legitimating basis of the ICSID Convention, which is central to investment protection under international law, and of the bilateral investment protection agreements.

3. Investment protection law, as part of public international law – from its basis and purpose – should not be understood as a departure from a state-centered international order.

4. From the point of view of international law, the following questions have to be answered: What are the implications for the investment protection regime and investment arbitration as its core

a) if the triad justifying economic globalization (foreign private investment – promotion of economic development – promotion of prosperity) loses its persuasiveness as a paradigm for its justification in a normative sense, and

b) if a discourse of delegitimization prevails that accuses profit-oriented transnational corporations in their role as investors of irresponsible conduct, which is incompatible with the public welfare, and States of enabling this conduct to the detriment of their own population by means of international treaties establishing investment arbitration?

5. The aim to align investment treaties with the principle of sustainable development can be seen by the reforms initiated by States, groups of States, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; besides, this aim should have an impact on already existing investment treaties and investment arbitration as far as it is coherent with international law.

II. Transnational corporations as equal parties under international law within the framework of investment arbitration

6. A necessary condition for the equality of the host State and an investing foreign corporation as parties is that both by consent agree to arbitration in respect of a legal dispute directly related to an investment, i.e. that the State, which is a contracting party to the ICSID Convention and a subject of international law, besides ratifying the convention additionally gives its written consent (Art. 25 (1), Art. 36 (2) ICSID Convention), which has a threefold function (legitimating element, transformative element and constitutive element).

7. For various reasons, the procedural equality of the host State and the transnational corporations within the framework of a concrete arbitration procedure is justified and thus legitimate with regard to the international legal order as a whole. In particular, it complies with the principle of fair trial and the rule of law as enshrined in international law.

8. The principle of the equality of the parties does not preclude that transnational corporations are given preferential access to arbitration on the basis of international treaties and that arbitration is open only to transnational corporations.

9. The principle of the equality of the parties is inter alia observed during the composition of an arbitral tribunal if the judges are appointed by both parties in the same manner and each judge fulfils criteria which plausibly ensure impartiality. However, the appointment by the parties is not a necessary condition for the equality of the parties.

10. Questions about how to implement the principle of the equality of the parties arise in the arbitral proceedings themselves, in particular with regard to the possibility that several investors seek to bring their claims against the same host State, with regard to the admissibility of a counterclaim by the host State, with regard to the admissibility of “amicus curiae briefs” (third person submissions), with regard to the so-called equality of arms, and with regard to the problem of safeguarding confidentiality interests (in particular State secrecy).

11. Questions of the applicable law within the scope of the merits, such as the possibility of the host State to invoke justifications under international law (e.g. necessity) and the principles of interpretation of the investment protection agreements, are not considered to be questions of the principle of the equality of the parties.

III. (Un)justified unequal treatment to the detriment of transnational corporations as parties with regard to corruption problems

12. The decisions of arbitral tribunals, which deny their jurisdiction or the admissibility of the investor claim if the defendant host State asserts corruption, are convincing (only) with regard to limited types of cases.

13. The lack of jurisdiction of the tribunal or the inadmissibility of the investor’s claim does not seem to be justified even if the transnational corporation’s act of corruption made the investment possible in the first place: The contrary reasoning in investment arbitration decisions, based inter alia on the wording of bilateral investment treaties, the scope of the host State’s consent and/or a violation of fundamental general principles (such as, inter alia, the so-called “clean hands” principle, the “international public policy” or “transnational public policy”, or the principle that no one shall profit from his/her own wrong) is not convincing for various reasons .

14. The same is true even more – in accordance with recent investment arbitration decisions – if the foreign investor acted corruptly after the investment had already been initiated in the host State.

15. Instead, corruption should be taken into account in the decision on the merits of a case in accordance with the objectives and principles of the international legal order in such a way that central values of investment protection are not disproportionately undermined, but nevertheless relevant disadvantages arise for transnational corporations if they engage in acts of corruption abroad for or during investments. This can be achieved if the amount of investors compensation is reduced for example by a multiple of the sum of the corruption.

16. When considering acts of corruption in the merits of a case, the arbitral tribunal should therefore consider the distribution of responsibility, the pursuit and enforcement of global values, and the bases of legitimacy of the current international legal order, also taking into account the state’s anti-corruption obligations, in particular as enshrined in anti-corruption conventions and human rights treaties.

IV. Concluding remarks

17. The procedural equality of host States and transnational corporations within the framework of an investment arbitration procedure has no implications on the status of transnational corporations in the international legal order as a whole; other views, which argue that transnational corporations are (full or partial) subjects of international law in a normative sense, exceed the – de lege lata – narrowly limited equality.

18. The risks associated with a normative enhancement of transnational corporations in the international legal order present another argument against the view that corporations are (full or partial) subjects of international law. These risks are hinted at in the delegitimization discourse, which grants profit-oriented companies less influence in the international legal order of the 21st century.

19. Even without the status as subjects of international law, transnational corporations can be bound by norms of international law (international law in the narrow sense and so-called soft law). The UN Guiding Principles for the Business and Human Rights are, inter alia, of particular relevance.

20. If – with good reasons – foreign direct investments by transnational corporations continue to be promoted via international law as a means of increasing prosperity in the participating States for the benefit of the respective population, the public-good orientation of international investment arbitration tribunals should be further developed, on the one hand, by reforming the constitutional aspects of the arbitral procedure, and, on the other hand, by further focusing their jurisprudence on public-good aspects including the proportionate protection of responsible investments.


Full (German) version: Silja Vöneky, Die Stellung von Unternehmen in der Investitionsschiedsgerichtsbarkeit unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Korruptionsproblemen – Unternehmen als völkerrechtlich gleichberechtigte Verfahrensparteien?, in: August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020, pp. 339 et seq.


Equality of the parties in investment arbitration – private international law aspects

Written by Stefan Huber, University of Tübingen

Note: This blogpost is part of a series on „Corporate social responsibility and international law“ that presents the main findings of the contributions published in August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020.

1. In investor-state arbitration, one has to distinguish between arbitral proceedings which are initiated on the basis of a contract concluded between the investor and the host state, on the one hand, and arbitral proceedings which are initiated on the basis of a bilateral investment treaty, on the other hand. In the latter case, there is no arbitration agreement in the traditional sense. This entails a unilateral right of the investor to initiate arbitral proceedings. Granting the host state the right to bring a counterclaim might compensate this asymmetry up to a certain degree.

2. Whether the host state has the right to bring a counterclaim, depends on the dispute settlement mechanism provided for in the bilateral investment treaty. For future investment treaties, it is recommended to grant the host state such a right. When the investor introduces arbitral proceedings on the basis of such a treaty, the investor usually declares his consent with the entire dispute settlement clause. If, at this moment, the investor expressly excludes the right of the host state to bring a counterclaim which is provided for in the bilateral investment treaty, there is no correspondence between the declaration of the host state and the declaration of the investor to submit the dispute to arbitration. Consequently, if the host state refuses to participate in the arbitral proceedings on such a basis, the arbitral tribunal does not have jurisdiction to decide the case.

3. The subject matter of treaty-based investor-state arbitration generally concerns regulatory measures of the host state. This makes a considerable difference in comparison to commercial arbitration, which focuses on the interests of private actors. This difference entails different procedural principles, primarily as far as questions of confidentiality and transparency are concerned.

4. There are, however, procedural principles of particular importance, which reflect the cornerstones in a system based on the rule of law in its substantive sense and require, as such, observance in all types of proceedings independently of the subject matter. The principle of equality of arms is one of these principles. Tribunals shall ensure that both parties are in an equal position to present their case. If there is a systemic superiority of one group of parties, tribunals have to be particularly vigilant and, if necessary, to intervene proactively in order to compensate factual inequality.

5. The principle of equal treatment of the parties is not only to be respected within one and the same proceeding. Treating two types of party – states on the one hand and investors on the other – differently in general, i.e. not just in a specific proceeding, would likewise amount to a violation of this principle. If certain questions concerning the burden and standard of proof arise in one procedural situation typically in the interest of the host state and in another procedural situation typically in the interest of the investor, the tribunals should deal with those questions in the same manner.

6. Investments which are in conformity with the law as far as their object is concerned, but which are corruption-tainted due to corruption that took place when the investment was made lead to discussions about the content of international public policy. Against this background, there would appear to be a practice for tribunals to deny jurisdiction or admissibility of the arbitral proceedings in cases concerning corruption-tainted investments. Actually, this leads to a denial of justice. International public policy, however, does not require such an approach. A comparison with the treatment of corruption cases in commercial arbitration shows this very clearly. The circumstances of the individual cases are too manifold; a one-fits-all solution construed at the level of jurisdiction or admissibility is not convincing. The arbitral tribunals should rather undertake a comprehensive analysis on the basis of the applicable substantive rules of law in order to take into account the particular circumstances of each individual case. State interests can be properly respected via mandatory rules and international public policy.


Full (German) version: Stefan Huber, Die Stellung von Unternehmen in der Investitionsschiedsgerichtsbarkeit (unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Korruptionsproblemen) – Unternehmen als gleichberechtigte Verfahrensparteien?, in: August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020, pp. 303 et seq.

Corona and Private International Law: A Regularly Updated Repository of Writings, Cases and Developments

by Ralf Michaels and Jakob Olbing

Note: This repository will stay permanent at
Please send additions to

Updated: August 13, 2020

The coronavirus has created a global crisis that affects all aspects of life everywhere. Not surprisingly, that means that the law is affected as well. And indeed, we have seen a high volume of legislation and legal regulations, of court decisions, and of scholarly debates. In some US schools there are courses on the legal aspects of corona. Some disciplines are organizing symposia or special journal issues to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the respective discipline.

Private international law has not (yet?) consolidated discussions of the relevance of the crisis for the field, and of the field for the crisis (though the new EAPIL blog is running a very valuable series). But of course, private international law matters are crucial to countless issues related to the epidemic – from production chains through IP over possible vaccines to mundane questions like the territorial application of lockdown regulations.

Knowledge of these issues is important. It is important for private international lawyers to realize the importance of our discipline. But it is perhaps even more important for decision makers to be aware of both the pitfalls and the potentials of conflicts of law.

This site, which we hope to update continually, is meant to be a place to collect, as comprehensively as possible, sources on the interaction of the new coronavirus and the discipline. The aim is not to provide general introductions into private international law, or to lay out sources that could be relevant. Nor is this meant to be an independent scholarly paper. What we try to provide is a one-stop place at which to find private international law discussions worldwide regarding to coronavirus.

For this purpose, we limit ourselves to the discipline as traditionally understood—jurisdiction, choice of law, recognition and enforcement, international procedure. Coronavirus has other impacts on transnational private law and those deserve attention too, but we want to keep this one manageable.

Please help make this a good informative site. Please share any reference that you have – from any jurisdiction, in any legislation – and we will, if possible, share them on this site. Please contact



The European Law Institute has issued a set of Principles for the COVID-19 Crisis, covering a variety of legal topics such as Democracy (Principle 3) and Justice System (Principle 5) as well as Moratorium on Regular Payments, Force Major and Hardship, Exemption from Liability for simple Negligence (Principles 12 to 14). Ending with something everybody hopes for: Return to Normality (Principle 15).

The Secretary General of the Hague Conference provided an online message from his home. Ensuing, the Permanent Bureau developed a Toolkit for resources and publications relevant to the current global situation.

The university of Oxford‘s Blavatnik School of Government collects all measures by governments around the world in the “Coronavirus Government Response Tracker”.

Matthias Lehmann discusses the role of private international law on a number of issues – the impact of travel restrictions on transportation contracts, contract law issues for canceled events, canceled or delayed deliveries, but also liability for infections.


Online Workshops and Conferences

In time of travel restrictions and social distancing the academic exchange is still active and sometimes more diverse than bevor, since people from all around the world come together, as the great number of workshops and symposiums that are held online shows.

Contrary to the regular sessions of The Hague Academy of International Law’s Centre for Studies and Research, the upcoming edition is entirely online. The topic will be “Epidemics and International Law” and held from September 2020 to June 2021. The collective works will be published by the Academy. You will find application and programme here.

A comparative analysis of reactions in Japan and Germany on COVID-19 in private and public law with scholars from both jurisdictions will be the topic of an online conference (in German) on August 19 to 20, 2020. To participate register here.

During a live youtube conference on July 23, 2020 Humberto Romero-Muci presented with several others his views on “Migrantes, pandemia y política en el Derecho Internacional Privado”. The video is still online.

Online, Mirèze Philippe talked about the “The ICC Guidance Note on Possible Measures Aimed at Mitigating the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic” on June 22, 2020. Further information under

Another webinar was held on “Vulnerability in the Trade and Investment Regimes in the Age of #COVID19”, which is available online, as part of the Symposium on COVID-19 and International Economic Law in the Global South.

A Mexican conference about Civod-19 and its impacts on private international Law was on June 25, 2020 on Zoom.

There was an online-workshop on “COVID-19 und IPR/IZVR” by Matthias Lehmann on Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 11:00 a.m.

As a follow-up of a webinar on PIL & COVID-19, Inez Lopez and Fabrício Polido give “some initial thoughts and lessons to face in daily life

A group of Brazilian scholars organized an online symposium on Private International Law & Covid-19. Mobility of People, Commerce and Challenges to the Global Order. The videos are here.

The Organization of American States holds a weekly virtual forum on “Inter-American law in times of pandemic” (every Monday, 11:00 a.m., UTC-5h). One topic of many will be on “New Challenges for Private International Law” (Monday, June 15, 2020).


State Liability

Some thoughts are given to compensation suits brought against China for its alleged responsibility in the spread of the virus. One main issue here is whether China can claim sovereign immunity.

In the United States, several suits have been brought in Florida (March 12), Nevada (March 23) and Missouri (April 21) against China, which plaintiffs deem responsible for the uncontrolled spread of the virus, which later caused massive financial damage and human loss in the United States. Not surprisingly officials and scholars in China were extremely critical (see here and here).

But legal scholars, including Chimène Keitner and Stephen L. Carter, also think such suits are bound to fail due to China’s sovereign immunity, as do Sophia Tang and Zhengxin Huo. Hiroyuki Banzai doubts that the actions can succeed since it will be difficult to prove a causal link between the damages and the (in-) actions by the Chinese Gorvernment. Lea Brilmayer suspects that such a claim will fail since it would be unlikely, that a court will assume jurisdiction. Tom Ginsburg lays out the legal issues in an interview in German. Fabrizio Marrella discusses the Italian perspective. Brett Joshpe analyzes China’s private and public liability in the domestic and international framework.

A Republican Representative is introducing two House Resolutions urging the US Congress to waive China’s sovereign immunity in this regard; such a waiver has also been proposed by a Washington Post author. The claim has also found support by Fox News.

Interestingly, there is also a reverse suit by state-backed Chinese lawyers against the United States for covering up the pandemic. Guodong Du expects this will likewise be barred by sovereign immunity.

In the UK, the conservative Henry Jackson Society published a report suggesting that China is liable for violating its obligations under the International Health Regulations. The report discusses ten (!) legal avenues towards this goal, most of them in public international law, but also including suits in Chines, UK and US courts (pp 28-30). Sovereign immunity is discussed as a severe but not impenetrable barrier.


Contract Law

Both the pandemic itself and the ensuing national regulations impede the fulfilment of contracts. Legal issues ensue. An overview of European international contract law and the implications of COVID-19 is given here and here.

The UNIDROIT Secretariat has just released a Note on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts and the COVID-19 health crisis.

Bernard Haftel highlights three different techniques to apply COVID-19 legislation to an international contract: as lex contractus, as lois des police and through consideration within the applicable law.

Gerhard Wagner presents COVID caused defaults under the aforementioned ELI principles.

If a contracting party is unable to perform its contractual obligations, incapacity to perform can be based on force majeure or hardship. Some contributions suggest to apply for force majeure certificates which are offered by most countries, for example by China, Russia. How such a certificate can influence contractual obligations under English and New York Law is shown by Yeseung Jang. The German perspective is given by Philip Reusch and Laura Kleiner, further the South Korean, French and the Common Law perspective on force majeure have been published. Bruno Ancel compares the French and American approach. The difficulty to implement appropriate force majeure clauses in a contract is shown by Matteo Winkler.

The CISG has long been of very little importance in international contract law but now is subject to many discussions. André Janssen and Johannes Wahnschaffe dedicate a detailed analysis to exemptions from liability and cases of hardship under the CISG.

Victoria Lee, Mark Lehberg, Vinny Sanchez and James Vickery go beyond force majeure implications on contracts in their expert analysis.

William Shaughnessy presents issues which might occur in international construction contracts.

Another crucial aspect is the application of overriding mandatory rules on international contracts. Ennio Piovesani discusses whether Italian decree-laws enacted in view of the pandemic can operate as overriding mandatory rules and whether that would be compatible with EU law. So does Giovanni Zarra on international mandatory rules. Aposotolos Anthimos adds the Greek perspective, Claire Debourg the French to the discussion.

The applicability of self-proclaiming mandatory provisions in Italian law in respect to package travels in general and the Directive (EU) 2015/15 on package travel in particular, is discussed by Fabrizio Marongiu Buonaiuti.

Matthias Lehmann considers more broadly possible private international law issues and responses under European law. José Antonio Briceño Laborí and Maritza Méndez Zambrano add the Venezuelan view.

The crisis hits in particular global value and production chains. Impacts are discussed by Tomaso Ferando, by Markus Uitz and Hemma Parsché and by Anna Beckers, though neither focuses specifically on private international law.

Caterina Benini explains a new Italian mandatory rule providing a minimum standard of protection for employees.

Klaus Peter Berger and Daniel Behn in their historical and comparative study on force majeure and hardship, highlight that such remedies are quite regular to find and fit to distribute the risk emanating from such a crisis evenly.



Caused by fear of loss of tenancy and the resulting evictions several countries have altered their tenancy laws accordingly. An overview of some jurisdictions can be found in the current issue of the “Zeitschrift für Europarecht, Internationales Privatrecht und Rechtsvergleichung“ (ZfVR 2020, Vol. 3)(German).



Next to state liablitiy, a lively but less political discussion on civil liability in international tort law has evolved.

An extensive overview about damages and Corona under Indian international tort law is given by Saloni Khanderia.

General implications of the coronavirus on product liability and a possible duty to warn costumers, without specific reverence to conflict of laws.

In Austria, a consumer protection association is considering mass litigation against the Federal State of Tyrolia and local tourist businesses based on their inaction in view of the spreading virus in tourist places like Ischgl. A questionnaire is opened for European citizens. Matthias Weller reports.

Florian Heindler discusses how legal measures to battle the virus could be applicable to a relevant tort case (either as local data or by special connection), by analyzing the hypothetical case of a tourist who gets infected in Austria.

Jos Hoevenars and Xandra Kramer discuss the potential of similar actions in the Netherlands under the 2005 Collective Settlement Act, WCAM.


Family Law

Implications also exist in family law, for example regarding the Hague Abduction Convention.

In an Ontario case (Onuoha v Onuoha 2020 ONSC 1815), concerning children taken from Nigeria to Ontario, the father sought to have the matter dealt with on an urgent basis, although regular court operations were suspended due to Covid-19. The court declined, suggesting this was “not the time” to hear such a motion, and in any way international travel was not in the best interest of the child. For the discussion see here.

Aspects of travel restrictions in international abduction cases are analysed by Gemme Pérez.

A general overview of abduction in times of corona was published by Nadia Rusinova. Another contribution by her covers recent case law and legislation on remote child related proceedings which were conducted during the last weeks around the world. She also highlights, that COVID-19 measures can impact Article 8 ECHR.

A recent webinar also discussed the impact on the Hague Abductions Convention.

Also cases of international surrogacy come into mind which are affected by COVID-19, as Mariana Iglesias shows.


Personal Data

The protection of personal data in transnational environments has always been a controversial topic in conflict of laws. Jie Huang shows, that due to COVID-19 existing tensions between the EU, the USA and China are reflected in their conflict of laws approach.


Economic Law

The crisis puts stress on global trade and therefore also economic law. Sophie Hunter discusses developments in the competition laws of various countries (though with no explicit focus on conflict of laws issues).

A list of authors from around the world analyses the interrelation between “Competition law and health crises” in its international context in the current issue Concurrences.


Intellectual Property

Due to lockdowns and school closures, online work and teaching has exorbitantly increased but, as Marketa Trimble stresses, with little notion of transnational copyright issues.

To tackle those a prominently endorsed letter to the World Intellectual Property Organization, emphasizes the need to ensure that intellectual property regimes should support the efforts against the Coronavirus and should not be a hindrance.


Public Certification

In times of lockdown and closed borders notarization and public certification become almost impossible. Therefore, various countries have adjusted their legislation. You will find an overview here.


Dispute Resolution

Regulations against social contact and lockdowns make physical presence in court rooms impossible and thereby put pressure on courts. Some courts suspend their activities except for urgent matters (one international abduction case in which this becomes prevalent is discussed in the family law section.) Developments in Italy are discussed here, developments in English law here.

Another possibility is the move to greater digitalization, as discussed comparatively by Emma van Gelder, Xandra Kramer and Erlis Themeli. The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) published a Guide to Good Practice on the Use of Video-Link under the 1970 Evidence Convention, discussed also with reference to Corona by Mayela Celis.

In litigation, virtual hearings become a prominent measure to overcame restrictions on physical presence. While in on some jurisdiction such hearings are possible, Luigi Malferrari discusses the question if such hearings should also be enabled before the CJEU.

Maxi Scherer takes the crisis as an opportunity to analyse virtual hearings in international arbitration. Complications and long-term effects of virtual arbitration are presented here. Mirèze Philippe however sees this development as a positive game changer not just in health aspect but also to protect the environment and saving time as well as travelling costs (further articles covering international arbitration and virtual hearings: here and here).

A very broad presentation of legislation in France, Italy and Germany in civil procedure, including cross border service and taking of evidence as well as its implications on international child abduction and protection, is given by Giovanni Chiapponi.

Jie Huang examines the case of substitute service under the Hague Service Convention during the pandemic in the case Australian Information Commission v Facebook Inc ([2020] FCA 531).

A US project guided by Richard Suskind collects cases of so-called “remote courts” worldwide.

The EU gives information about the “impact of the COVID-19 virus on the justice field” concerning various means of dispute resolution.

Gilberto A. Guerrero-Rocca analyses the impacts of COVID-19 on international arbitration in relation to the CISG.



General and Workshops

Blavantik School of Government, Coronavirus Government Response Tracker,

Direito Internacional Privado & Covid19, Mobilidade de Pessoas, Comércio e Desafios da Ordem Global, Webinar 11-22 May 2020,

Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), HCCH Covid-19 Toolkit, 04 May 2020,

Matthias Lehmann, Corona Virus and Applicable Law, EAPIL Blog, 16 March 2020,

Inez Lopes, Fabrício Polido, Private International Law and the outbreak of Covid-19: Some initial thoughts and lessons to face in daily life, CoL Blog, 10 June 2020,

Secretariat for Legal Affairs, Organization of American States: Inter-American law in times of pandemic, Weekly virtual forum 11 May – 06 July 2020,

Società italiana di Diritto internazionale e di Diritto dell’Unione europea, Forum “Covid-19, Diritto Internatzionale e Diritto dell’Unione Europea”, SIDIBlog, 24 March 2020,

State Liability

Hiroyuki Akiyama, US lawsuits seek to pin coronavirus blame on China: Allegations of negligence raise legal questions about responsibility, Nikkei Asian Review, 01 April 2020,

Stephen L. Carter, No, China Can’t Be Sued Over Coronavirus: Nation-states are immune from such lawsuits, Bloomberg Opinion, 24 March 2020,

C.D. Davidsmeyer, Strip China’s Sovereign Immunity and Sue for Damages Caused by Coronavirus, 03 April 2020,

Guodong Du, Meng Yu, A Wuhan Lawyer Suing the U.S. Government Over COVID-19? In China, Legal Impediments May Surface, China Justice Observer, March 25 2020,

Georg Fahrion, Reparationen für Coronavirus: “Soll China dem Rest der Welt einen Scheck über zehn Billionen Dollar ausstellen?”, SPIEGEL Online, 05 May 2020,

Matthew Hernderson, Alan Mendoza, Andrew Foxall, James Rogers and Sam Armstrong, Coronavirus Compensation? Assessing China’s potential culpability and avenues of legal response, The Henry Jackson Society, April 2020,

Brett Joshpe, Considering Domestic and International Frameworks for Analyzing China’s Potential Legal Liability in the Aftermath of COVID-19, SSRN 13 May 2020,

Chimène Keitner, Don’t Bother Suing China for Coronavirus, Just Security, 31 March 2020,

José Antonio Briceño Laborí, Maritza Méndez Zambrano, El Derecho Internacional Privado ante el COVID-19, Derecho y Sociedad Blog, March 2020,

Matthias Lehmann, Corona Virus and Applicable Law, EAPIL Blog, 16 March 2020,

Fabrizio Marrella, La Cina deve risarcire i danni transnazionali da Covid-19? Orizzonti ad oriente, SIDIBlog, 17 May 2020,

Hollie McKay, How China can be held legally accountable for coronavirus pandemic, Fox News Channel, 20 March 2020,

Frank Morris, The Coronavirus Crisis: Missouri Sues China, Communist Party Over The Coronavirus Pandemic, National Public Radio, 21 April 2020,

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Missouri Attorney General Schmitt Files Lawsuit Against Chinese Government, 21 April 2020,

Zhong Sheng, U.S. practice to claim compensation for COVID-19 outbreak a shame for human civilization, People’s Daily Online, 03 May 2020,

Zheng Sophia Tang and Zhengxin Huo, State immunity in global COVID-19 pandemic: Alters, et. al. v People’s Republic of China, et. al., CoL Blog, 21 March 2020,

Marc A. Thiessen, China should be legally liable for the pandemic damage it has done, The Washington Post, 09 April 2020,

Xinhua, Commentary: Suing China for pandemic damage is nothing but political pandering, edited by Huaxia, Xinhua News, 03 April 2020,

Ng Yik-tung, Ho Shan, Sing Man and Qiao Long, Chinese Lawyers Sue U.S. Over ‘Coronavirus Cover-up’, edited by Luisetta Mudie, Radio Free Asia, 26 March 2020,

Contract Law

Bruno Ancel, Les contrats français et américains face au Covid – 19: un futur nimbé d’incertitude?, AJ Contrat 2020, 217

Apostolos Anthimos, Covid-19 and overriding mandatory provisions, CoL Blog, 15 April 2020,

Anna Beckers, Towards Consti­tutionalizing Global Value Chains and Corporations: The State of Exception and Private Law, Verfassungsblog, 08 April 2020,

Caterina Benini, The COVID-19 Crisis and Employment Contracts: the Italian Emergency Legislation on Dismissals, EAPIL Blog, 11 May 2020,

Klaus Peter Berger, Daniel Behn, Force Majeure and Hardship in the Age of Corona: A Historical and Comparative Study, McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution, Forthcoming,

Claire Debourg, Covid-19 | Lois de police et ordonnances 2020, GIDE 7 May 2020,

Tomaso Ferando, Law and Global Value Chains at the Time of Covid-19: A Systemic Approach Beyond Contracts and Tort, EAPIL Blog, 20 March 2020,

Claudia Galvis, Jose Moran and James O Brien, Coronavirus Outbreak: Global Guide to Force Majeure and International Commercial Contracts, Global Compliance News UG, 19 March 2020,

Pascel Guiomard, La grippe, les épidémies et la force majeure en dix arrêts, Dalloz actualité, 4 March 2020,

Bernard Haftel, Le Covid-19 et les contracts internationaux, Recueil Dalloz 2020, 1040

André Janssen, Christian J. Wahnschaffe, Der internationale Warenkauf in Zeiten der Pandemie, EuZW 2020, 410-416,

Tony Dongwook Kang, Seong Soo Kim, COVID-19 and Force Majeure in Sales Transactions — South Korea, Bae, Kim & Lee LLC, Law Business Research, 06 March 2020,

José Antonio Briceño Laborí, Maritza Méndez Zambrano, El Derecho Internacional Privado ante el COVID-19, Derecho y Sociedad, March 2020,

Victoria Lee, Mark Lehberg, Vinny Sanchez and James Vickery, Expert Analysis: COVID-19 Contract Issues Reach Beyond Force Majeure, Law360, 13 March 2020,

Fabrizio Marongiu Buonaiuti, Le disposizioni adottate per fronteggiare l’emergenza coronavirus come norme di applicazione necessaria, in: Calzolaio, Ermanno/Maccarelli, Massimo/Pollastrelli, Stefano (eds.), Il diritto nella pandemia, 2020, pp. 235-256,

Pedro de Miguel Asensio, Medidas de emergencia y contratos internacionales, personal Blog, 27 April 2020,

Pedro de Miguel Asensio, Contratación internacional y COVID-19: primeras reflexiones, Personal Blog, 19 March 2020,

Ekaterina Pannebakker, ‘Force majeure certificates’ issued by the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, CoL Blog, 17 April 2020,

Ennio Piovesani: Italian Self-Proclaimed Overriding Mandatory Provisions to Fight Coronavirus, CoL Blog, 19 March 2020,

Philip Reusch, Laura Klein, Distribution of risk in connection with coronavirus-related trade disruptions, Reuschlaw Legal Consultants, 2020,

William J. Shaughnessy, William E. Underwood, Chris Cazenave, COVID-19’s Impact on Construction: Is There a Remedy? — Time Extension, Force Majeure, or More?, The National Law Review, 03 April 2020,

Sophia Tang, Coronavirus, force majeure certificate and private international law, Coronavirus outbreak and force majeure certificate, CoL Blog, 01 March 2020,

Markus Uitz, Hemma Parsché, Coronavirus – ein Praxisleitfaden bei Unterbrechung internationaler Lieferketten, Ecolex 273, no. 4, p. 273, 04 April 2020,

UNIDROIT Secretariat, Note on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts and the COVID-19 health crisis,

Gerhard Wagner, Corona Law, ZEuP 2020, 531,

Anton A. Ware, Jeffrey Yang, Yingxi Fu-Tomlinson, Timothy C. Smyth, What to Do When You Receive a Coronavirus-Related Force Majeure Notice, Coronavirus: Multipractice Advisory, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, 04 March 2020,

Matteo Winkler, Practical Remarks on the Assessment of COVID-19 as Force Majeure in International Contracts, SIDIBlog, 06 May 2020,

Giovanni Zarra, Alla riscoperta delle norme di applicazione necessaria Brevi note sull’art. 28, co. 8, del DL 9/2020 in tema di emergenza COVID-19, SIDIBlog, 30 March 2020,

Tort Law

Florian Heindler, Schadenersatz mit Auslandsberührung wegen COVID-19 ZAK 2020/237

Jos Hoevenaars and Xandra Kramer: Mass Litigation in Times of Corona and Developments in the Netherlands, CoL Blog, 22 April 2020,

Saloni Khanderia, Kashish Jaitley, Niharika Kuchhal, The COVID pandemic: Time to ‘ramp-up’ India’s conflict of law rules in matters of tort?, CoL Blog, 14 April 2020,

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, Product Liability and Tort Law Implications of the COVID-19 Crisis, JD Supra, 02 April 2020,

Verein zum Schutz von Verbraucherinteressen (Verbraucherschutzverein), Class Action: Corona-Virus-Tyrol questionnaire, 2020,

Verein zum Schutz von Verbraucherinteressen (Verbraucherschutzverein), Sammelaktion Corona-Virus-Tirol, 2020,

Matthias Weller, Cross-border Corona mass litigation against the Austrian Federal State of Tyrol and local tourist businesses?, CoL Blog, 02 April 2020,

Family Law

Pamela Cross, Recent case: Hague Convention case under COVID-19 court protocols, Luke’s Place, 31 March 2020,

Mariana Iglesias, Un tema polémico: La espera de los bebés que nacieron en Ucrania durante la cuarentena reaviva el debate por el alquiler de vientres, Calrín, 06. June 2020,

Gemma Pérez, ¿Puede el COVID-19 tener efectos en materia de sustracción internacional de menores?, Diario Jurídico, 27 April 2020,

MK Family Law (Washington), Grotius Chambers (The Hague), COVID-19 and International Child Abduction: Pertinent Issues, CoL Blog, Webinar 08 April 2020,

Nadia Rusinova, COVID-19 and the Right to Respect for Family Life under Article 8 ECHR, EAPIL Blog, 1 June 2020,

Nadia Rusinova, Child abduction in times of corona, CoL Blog, 16 April 2020,

Nadia Rusinova, Remote Child-Related Proceedings in Times of Pandemic – Crisis Measures or Justice Reform Trigger?, CoL Blog, 30 April 2020,

Personal Data

Jie (Jeanne) Huang, COVID-19 and Applicable Law to Transnational Personal Data: Trends and Dynamics, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/23,

Economic Law

Sophie Hunter, Competition Law and COVID 19, CoL Blog 09 April 2020,

Frédéric Jenny et. al., Competition law and health crisis, Concurrences 2020, 24,

Intellectual Property

Marketa Trimble, COVID-19 and Transnational Issues in Copyright and Related Rights, IIC – International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law 51 (2020), 40.

Public Certification

Ralf Michaels, Notarization from abroad in times of travel restrictions, CoL Blog 22 May 2020,

Dispute Resolution

Giovanni Chiapponi, Judicial cooperation and coronavirus: the law must go on, Judicium, 23 May 2020,

Giovanni Chiapponi, The Impact of Corona Virus on the Management of Judicial Proceedings in Italy, EAPIL Blog, 13 March 2020,

Mayela Celis, Useful reading in times of corona and just released: The Guide to Good Practice on the Use of Video-Link under the HCCH 1970 Evidence Convention, CoL Blog, 17 April 2020,

European Union, Impact of the COVID-19 virus on the justice field, The European e-Justice Portal, 2020,

Emma van Gelder, Xandra Kramer and Erlis Themeli, Access to justice in times of corona, CoL Blog, 07 April 2020,

Gilberto A. Guerrero-Rocca, Arbitraje internacional al ‘rescate’ de la CISG en tiempos del COVID-19, CIAR Global, 21 April 2020,

Horacio Grigera Naón, Björn Arp, Virtual Arbitration in Viral Times: The Impact of Covid-19 on the Practice of International Commercial Arbitration,

Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH), Guide on Use of Video-Link under Evidence Convention, 16 April 2020,

Jie (Jeanne) Huang, Australian Information Commission v Facebook Inc: Substituting the Hague Service Convention during the Pandemic?, CoL Blog 11 Juli 2020,

Alex Lo, Virtual Hearings and Alternative Arbitral Procedures in the COVID-19 Era: Efficiency, Due Process, and Other Considerations, Contemporary Asia Arbitration Journal, Special Issue on “COVID-19 and International Dispute Settlement, 2020, 85,

Luigi Malferrari, Corona-Krise und EuGH: mündliche Verhandlungen aus der Ferne und in Streaming? EuZW 2020, 393-395,

Aygun Mammadzada, Impact of Coronavirus on English Civil Proceedings: Legislative Measures During Emergency and Potential Outcomes, EAPIL Blog, 13 May 2020,

Philippe Mirèze, Offline or Online? Virtual Hearings or ODR?’, Kluwer Arbitration Blog, 26 April 2020,

Maxi Scherer, Remote Hearings in International Arbitration – and What Voltaire Has to Do with It ?, Kluwer Arbitration Blog, 26 May 2020,

Mark L. Shope, The International Arbitral Institution Response to COVID-19 and Opportunities for Online Dispute Resolution, Contemporary Asia Arbitration Journal, Special Issue on “COVID-19 and International Dispute Settlement, 2020, 67,

Richard Susskind, Remote Courts Worldwide, Society for Computers and Law, 27 March 2020,




Supreme Court of California (ROCKEFELLER TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS (ASIA) v. CHANGZHOU SINOTYPE TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD). A European reading of the ruling

A bit more than a month ago, the Supreme Court of California rendered its decision on a case concerning the (non-)application of the 1965 Hague Service Convention. The case has been thoroughly reported and commented before and after  the ruling of the Supreme Court. I will refrain from giving the full picture of the facts; I will focus on the central question of the dispute.


The parties are U.S. and Chinese business entities. They entered into a contract wherein they agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of California courts and to resolve disputes between them through California arbitration. They also agreed to provide notice and “service of process” to each other through Federal Express or similar courier. The exact wording of the clause in the MOU reads as follows:

“6. The Parties shall provide notice in the English language to each other at the addresses set forth in the Agreement via Federal Express or similar courier, with copies via facsimile or email, and shall be deemed received 3 business days after deposit with the courier.

“7. The Parties hereby submit to the jurisdiction of the Federal and State Courts in California and consent to service of process in accord with the notice provisions above”.


An agreement between the companies was eventually not reached, which was reason for Rockefeller to initiate arbitration proceedings. All materials were sent both by email and Federal Express to the Chinese’s company address listed in the MOU. The latter did not appear. The arbitrator awarded Rockefeller the amount of nearly 415 million $. The decision was sent to Sinotype by e-mail and Federal Express.


In accordance with the Civil Procedure Code of the State of California [§ 1285.  Any party to an arbitration in which an award has been made may petition the court to confirm, correct or vacate the award…], Rockefeller petitioned the award to be confirmed. The same ‘service’ method was used by the petitioner, i.e. e-mail and Federal Express. Again, Sinotype did not take part in the proceedings.

At a later stage, Sinotype became active, and filed a motion to set aside the default judgment for insufficiency of service of process. In particular, it asserted that it did not receive actual notice of any proceedings until March 2015 and argued that Rockefeller’s failure to comply with the Hague Service Convention rendered the judgment confirming the arbitration award void. The motion was denied by the Los Angeles County Superior Court; the Court of Appeal reversed; finally, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate decision.


The first instance court confirmed that the Service Convention was in principle applicable, however, the agreement between the parties to accept service by mail was valid and superseded the Convention. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, stating exactly the opposite, namely that the Service Convention supersedes private agreements. In light of China’s opposition to service by mail, the agreed method of communication was considered inadequate for the purposes of the Convention. The Supreme Court held yet again the opposite, because the parties’ agreement constituted a waiver of formal service of process under California law in favor of an alternative form of notification; hence, the Convention does not apply.


I place myself next to the commentators of the case: It is true that the Service Convention does not apply in the course of arbitration proceedings. There is convincing case law to support this view from different jurisdictions in different continents (example here). However, in the case at hand, the issue at stake was the use of a method not permitted by the Convention in court proceedings. It was lawfully agreed to send all documents by e-mail or FedEx during arbitration. Nowadays, this has become standard procedure in international commercial arbitration. However, a multilateral convention may not succumb to the will of the parties. If a contracting state refuses to accept postal service within the realm of litigation, the parties have no powers to decide otherwise. The best option would be, as already suggested, to oblige a party to appoint a service agent. This enables service within the jurisdiction, as already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk case. In a similar fashion, the CJEU consolidated the same position in the Corporis Sp. z o.o. v Gefion Insurance A/S case, following its ruling in the case Spedition Welter GmbH v Avanssur SA.

Finally, returning to the EU, postal service would not require any agreement between the parties; Article 14 of the Service Regulation stipulates service by mail as an equivalent means of service between Member States. In addition, service by e-mail is scheduled to be embedded into the forthcoming Recast of the Regulation under certain requirements which are not yet solidified.

Public international law requirements for the effective enforcement of human rights

Written by Peter Hilpold, University of Innsbruck

Note: This blogpost is part of a series on „Corporate social responsibility and international law“ that presents the main findings of the contributions published in August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020.

1. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) have set forth a process by which Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rules are to be further specified. The approach followed is not to impose specific results but to create procedures by which CSR is given further flesh on the basis of a continuing dialogue between all relevant stakeholders.

2. The operationalization of this concept takes place by a three pillar model („protect“, „respect“, „remedy“) based on an approach called „embedded liberalism“ according to which the creation of a liberal economic order allowing also for governmental and international intervention is pursued.

3. The „remedies“ pillar is the least developed one within the system of the Guiding Principles. Intense discussion and studies are still needed to bring more clarity into this field.

4. In the attempt to bring more clarity into this area guidance can be obtained by discussions that have taken place within the UN in the field of general human rights law and by ensuing academic studies referring to the respective documents.

5. The remedies mentioned in the Guiding Principles are formulated in a relatively „soft“ manner, after attempts to create „harder“ norms have failed. There are, however, initiatives underway to create a binding instrument in this field. According to the „Zero Draft“ for such a treaty much more restrictive rules are envisaged. It is, however, unlikely that such an instrument will meet with the necessary consensus within the foreseeable future.

6. In Europe, within the Council of Europe as well as within the European Union, various attempts have been undertaken to give further substance to the „remedies”. The relevant documents contain both an analysis of the law in force as well as proposals for new instruments to be introduced. These proposals are, however, in part rather far-reaching and thus it is unclear whether they can be realized any time soon.

7. If some pivotal questions shall be identified that have emerged as an issue for further discussion, the following can be mentioned:

7.1. The extraterritorial application of remedies

a) In this context, first of all, the specific approach taken by the US Courts when applying the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) has to be mentioned. However, after „Kiobel“ this development seems to have come to a halt.

b) Some hopes are associated with the application of tort law in Europe according to the „Brussels I”- and the „Rome II”-Regulation. However, on this basis European tort law can be applied to human rights violations by companies and subsidiaries abroad only to a very limited measure.

7.2. Criminal law as a remedy

According to some, remedies should be sought more forcefully within the realm of international criminal law. A closer look at the relevant norms reveals, however, that expectations should not be too high as to such an endeavour. International Investment Agreements (IIAs) and Counterclaims

Due to their „asymmetrical“ nature (As are intended to protect primarily the investor) IIAs do not offer, at first sight, a suitable basis for holding investors responsible for human rights abuses in the guest state. Recently, however, in the wake of the „Urbaser“ case, hopes have come up that counterclaims could be used to such avail. For the time being, however, these hopes are not justified. Nonetheless, attempts are under way to re-draft IIAs so that counterclaims are more easily available and, in general, to emphasize the responsibility of investors.

7.3. The national level

The national level is of decisive importance for finding remedies in the area of CSR. In this context, National Contact Points, National Action Plans and Corporate Social Reporting have to be mentioned. A wide array of initiatives have been taken in this field. Up to this moment the results are, however, not really convincing.

8. The Guiding Principles envisage a vast panoply of judicial and non-judicial initiatives, of State-based and non-State based measures. Many of these measures have to be further specified and tested. It is most probably too early to impose binding obligations in this field as the „Zero Draft“ ultimately intends. Further discussion and a further exchange of experience, as it happens within the „Forum on business and human rights”, seem to be the more promising way to follow.


Full (German) version: Peter Hilpold, Maßnahmen zur effektiven Durchsetzung von Menschen- und Arbeitsrechten: Völkerechtliche Anforderungen, in: August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020, pp. 185 et seq.

Private international law requirements for the effective enforcement of human rights

Written by Tanja Domej, University of Zurich

Note: This blogpost is part of a series on „Corporate social responsibility and international law“ that presents the main findings of the contributions published in August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020.

1. It is essential for the effective enforcement of human and workers’ rights to create effective local institutions and procedures. This encompasses functioning, trustworthy and accessible civil courts, but also other public, private and criminal institutions and mechanisms (e.g. permission, licencing or inspection procedures to ensure safety in the workplace; accident insurance; trade unions). Civil litigation cannot be a substitute for such mechanisms – particularly if it takes place far away from the place where the relevant events occurred.

2. This, however, is not a reason against ensuring effective enforcement mechanisms, including judicial mechanisms, for private law claims arising from violations of human rights or claims aiming to prevent or to terminate such violations. Such judicial proceedings can also help to promote the establishment of effective local mechanisms for preventing and remedying violations.

3. The usual difficulties arising in cross-border litigation tend to be aggravated in cases concerning human rights violations in developing countries. In addition to issues of jurisdiction and choice of law, there are often considerable challenges particularly with respect to litigation funding, fact-finding and establishing the content of foreign law, if required.

4. Legal aid alone usually is not a viable financial basis for corporate human rights litigation. The funding of such claims largely depends on market mechanisms, particularly on success-based lawyers’ fees or commercial litigation funding. Because of the moral hazard that may arise in this context, it is desirable to promote the establishment of public-interest litigation funders. Nevertheless, “entrepreneurial litigating” in the field of corporate human rights cases cannot be considered as per se abusive. There seems to be a need, however, to monitor practices in this field closely to assess whether further regulation is required.

5. Where cross-border judicial cooperation is not functioning, taking of evidence located in a foreign state without involving authorities of the state where such evidence is located becomes increasingly important. A generous approach should be adopted in cases where “direct” taking of evidence neither violates legitimate third-party interests nor involves the use or threat of compulsion in the territory of a foreign state.

6. In cases where liability for damage inflicted by the violation of human rights standards depends on a business’s internal operations, it is essential for an effective access to remedy that either the burden of proof with respect to the relevant facts is on the business or that there is a disclosure obligation that ensures access to relevant information. Where such disclosure could endanger legitimate confidentiality interests (particularly with respect to trade secrets), appropriate mechanisms to protect such interests should be put in place.

7. Collective redress mechanisms can improve access to justice with respect to corporate human rights claims. Meanwhile, reducing an excessive burden on the courts that could result from a large number of parallel proceedings currently does not seem to be as important a consideration in practice in the field of corporate human rights litigation as it can be in other fields of mass tort litigation. Appropriate safeguards have to be put in place to protect both the legitimate interests of defendants and those of the members of the claimant group. When designing such safeguards, it is important to ensure that they do not lead to the obstruction of legitimate claims. Particularly in collective redress proceedings, the court should have strong case management and control powers, both during the proceedings and in the case of a settlement.

8. In addition to claims aiming at remedies for victims of violations, private law claims brought by non-government organisations, by public bodies or by individuals can at least indirectly contribute to the enforcement of human rights standards. Possible examples are claims on the basis of unfair competition, and possibly also contractual claims, because of false statements about production standards. Actions by associations or popular actions for injunctive or declaratory relief could also contribute to private enforcement of human rights standards. It remains to be seen whether litigation among businesses concerning contractual obligations to comply with human rights standards will play a meaningful role in this field in the future as well.

9. Soft law mechanisms and alternative dispute resolution can supplement judicial law enforcement mechanisms, but they are not a substitute for judicial mechanisms. In particular, human rights arbitration depends on a voluntary submission. Its practical effectiveness therefore requires the cooperation of the parties to the dispute. It would, however, be possible to create incentives for such cooperation.


Full (German) version: Tanja Domej, Zivilrechtliche Rechtsdurchsetzungsmechanismen, in: August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020, pp. 229 et seq.

Third-party liability of classification and certification societies in the context of conflict of laws and public international law – a comment on the CJEU’s recent ‘Rina judgement’

Written by Yannick Morath

Yannick Morath, doctoral candidate at the University of Freiburg, has kindly provided us with his thoughts on the CJEU’s judgement in the case of LG and Others v Rina SpA, Ente Registro Italiano Navale (C-641/18 – ECLI:EU:C:2020:349)

(See also the earlier post by Matthias Weller concerning the CJEU’s judgement).

  1. Introduction

Private-law classification and certification societies play a vital role in modern economies. Especially in the maritime sector, external auditors issue certificates dealing with public tasks such as the seaworthiness and safety of vessels. Not only their contractual partners but also third parties rely on the accuracy of such certificates. Due to cross-border mobility of certificates and certified items, issues of Private International Law have to be taken into account when dealing with a certifiers’ liability.

When not applying the appropriate level of care, classification and certification agencies can – according to the CJEU – be sued in the courts of the Member State where the agency is seated. By finding this ruling, the CJEU had to deal with two interesting questions: Firstly, it had to establish whether an action for damages, brought against private certifiers falls within the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’, and therefore, within the scope of the Regulation 44/2001 (Brussels I). Secondly, the CJEU had to examine the legitimacy of the certifier’s plea based on the principle of customary international law concerning immunity from state jurisdiction.

2. Facts of the ‘Rina-case’

In 2006, the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98, a ship sailing under the flag of the Republic of Panama, sunk in the Red Sea, tragically causing the loss of more than 1,000 lives. Relatives of the victims and survivors have brought an action under Italian law before the Tribunale di Genova (District Court, Genoa, Italy) against two private law corporations (the Rina companies), that are seated in Genoa and were responsible for the classification and certification of the ship.

The applicants argue that the defendants’ operations, carried out under a contract concluded with the Republic of Panama, are to blame for the ship’s lack of stability and its lack of safety at sea, which are the causes of its sinking. Therefore, they claim compensation from the Rina companies for the losses they suffered.

The Rina companies counter that the referring court lacks jurisdiction, relying on the international-law principle of immunity from jurisdiction of foreign States. They state that they are being sued in respect of activities, which they carried out as delegates of the Republic of Panama. The activities in question were a manifestation of the sovereign power of a foreign State and the defendants carried them out on behalf of and in the interests of that State.

The applicants, however, argue in favour of the case’s civil law nature, within the meaning of Article 1 (1) of Regulation 44/2001. As the Rina companies are seated in Genoa, the Italian courts should have jurisdiction under Article 2 (1) of that regulation. They submit that the plea of immunity from jurisdiction does not cover activities that are governed by non-discretionary technical rules, which are, in any event, unrelated to the political decisions and prerogatives of a State.

The Tribunale di Genova decided to stay the proceedings and consult the CJEU for further clarification under Article 267 TFEU.

3. Background: The dual role of classification and certification societies

When dealing with the classification and certification of ships it is important to be aware of the dual role private-law societies play in this area. Traditionally they are hired by a shipowner to attest that a ship is built in accordance with the standards of a specific ship class. Those ‘class rules’ are developed by the classification societies themselves. The maritime industry depends on these services, as the classification of a ship is necessary to evaluate its insurability and marketability. Therefore, these voluntary classifications are mainly prompted by private interest. This is referred to as the ‘private function’ of classification.

On the other hand, the same societies fulfil a ‘public function’ as well. Under international maritime law, states have a duty to take appropriate measures for ships flying under their flag to ensure safety at sea (Article 94 (3) of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea). For this purpose ships have to be surveyed by a qualified personnel to make sure it meets all relevant safety and environmental standards. Flag states can perform these tasks themselves; however, most of them delegate executive powers to classification societies. Pursuant to Article 3 (2) of Directive 2009/15 this is also possible under EU law. When executing these powers classification agencies are subject to two contracts: The first one is the agreement on the delegation of powers with the flag state, the second contract is the actual certification agreement with the owner of the ship that is about to be surveyed. Whereas shipowners are free to choose one of the recognized classification societies, the certification itself is compulsory.

It must be noted that the classification according to class rules (private function) is a prerequisite for the statutory inspection and certification (public function). In the case at hand, the Rina companies were responsible for both aspects. They classified the ship in accordance with their class rules and then issued the statutory certificate on behalf of and upon delegation from the Republic of Panama. This public law background caused the need for clarification by the CJEU.

4. The CJEU on the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial matters’

Under Article 1(1) of Regulation 44/2001, the scope of that regulation is limited to ‘civil and commercial matters’. It does not extend, in particular, to revenue, customs or administrative matters. In order to ascertain whether Italian courts have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 2 (1) of that regulation it is necessary to interpret the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’. This concept is subject to an autonomous European interpretation. By determining whether a matter falls within the scope of the Regulation, the nature of the legal relationships between the parties to the dispute is crucial. It must be noted that the mere fact that one of the parties might be a public authority does not exclude the case from the scope of the Regulation. It is, however, essential whether the party exercises public powers (acta iure imperii). These powers are ‘falling outside the scope of the ordinary legal rules applicable to relationships between private individuals’ (para. 34).

Following the Advocate General’s opinion and the CJEU’s judgement in Pula Parking (C-551/15 – ECLI:EU:C:2017:193), the Court notes that ‘it is irrelevant that certain activities were carried out upon delegation from a State’ (para. 39). The fact that the operations were carried out on behalf of and in the interest of the Republic of Panama and that they fulfil a public purpose, do not, in themselves, ‘constitute sufficient evidence to classify them as being carried out iure imperii’ (para. 41.).

In fact it must be taken into account that ‘the classification and certification operations were carried out for remuneration under a commercial contract governed by private law concluded directly with the shipowner of the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98’ (para. 45). Moreover, it is the responsibility of the flag state to interpret and choose the applicable technical requirements for the certification necessary to fly their flag.

The CJEU continues to examine the agency’s decision-making power. If the agency decides to withdraw a certificate, the respective ship is no longer able to sail. It argues, however, that this effect does not originate from the decision of the agency but rather from the sanction which is imposed by law (para. 47). The role of the certifier simply ‘consists in conducting checks of the ship in accordance with the requirements laid down by the applicable legislative provisions.’ As it is for the States to fix those provisions, it is ultimately their power to decide on a ship’s permission to sail.

Whereas the general remarks on the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial matters’ are convincing and based on settled case law, the findings about the ‘decision making power’ of recognised organisations give rise to further questions. If a ship does not comply with the relevant requirements, the statutory certificate must not be issued and the shipowner is not allowed to sail under the flag of the respective state. Even though this legal consequence is finally imposed by law, it is the certifier’s application of that law that leads to this effect. Whenever a certification agency refuses to issue a certificate, the ship is initially not able to sail. The CJEU’s technical perspective in paragraph 47 does not sufficiently appreciate the factual decision making of the certifier. The judgement does unfortunately not explicitly address the issue of legal discretion and its consequences on the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’.

However, there are other grounds to qualify the case a ‘civil matter’. As the CJEU pointed out as well, it follows from Regulation 6 (c) and (d) of Chapter I of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, that the final responsibility is allocated to the flag state (para. 48). Therefore, the state is subject to far-reaching supervisory duties. Even though this is not expressively regulated by international or EU law, it appears like the flag state can at any time overrule an agency’s decision to issue or withdraw the certificate. This would result in a limitation to the finality of the agency’s powers and prepare the ground for a civil law qualification. Some further remarks by the CJEU about this aspect would have been interesting.

5. The CJEU on state immunity from jurisdiction

Doubts regarding the jurisdiction of the Italian courts arose from the Rina companies’ plea based on the principle of customary international law concerning immunity from jurisdiction. Pursuant to the principle par in parem non habet imperium, a State cannot be subjected to the jurisdiction of another State. ‘However, in the present state of international law, that immunity is not absolute, but is generally recognised where the dispute concerns sovereign acts performed iure imperii. By contrast, it may be excluded if the legal proceedings relate to acts which do not fall within the exercise of public powers’ (para. 56).

The CJEU held that this principle does not preclude the application of the Regulation in this case, although it is the referring court that has to examine whether the Rina companies had recourse to public powers within in the meaning of international law. It must be noted that a rule of customary international law will only exist where a given practice actually exists that is supported by a firm legal view (opinio iuris). Following the Advocate General, the CJEU finds that the case-law cited by the defendants ‘does not support the unequivocal conclusion that a body carrying out classification and certification operations may rely on immunity from jurisdiction in circumstances such as those of the present case` (c.f. para. 109 of his opinion).

In regard of state immunity, the CJEU changes its perspective on the case. Whereas the interpretation of ‘civil and commercial matters’ was driven by EU law, the doctrine of state immunity requires a different methodological approach, as it originates from international law. Nevertheless, the CJEU’s overall convincing remarks are in line with its earlier findings, setting a high bar for statutory certification societies to plead for state immunity.

6. Final remarks

The CJEU established legal security for the victims of maritime disasters such as the sinking of the Al Salam Boccaccio ’98. The judgement indirectly clarified the applicability of the Brussels I Regulation in cases where maritime certifiers operate only in their private function. When statutory certifications are a civil matter, this must a fortiori be the case for voluntary classifications. Having consistent results when establishing jurisdiction in such cases, also meets with the principle of foreseeability. The remarks on the applicability of the Brussels I regulation are also of significant relevance when dealing with the Brussels Ibis and the Rome I and II Regulations, as all of them apply the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’.

Moreover, the judgement underlines the responsibility of private-law certifiers and recognises their vital role as regulators that operate in the public interest. Even though the CJEU’ findings on the interpretation of ‘civil matters’ are consistent with its earlier developed broad understanding of the concept, further clarification regarding privatised decision making powers would have been desirable.

Corporate responsibility in (public) international law

Written by Oliver Dörr, University of Osnabrück

Note: This blogpost is part of a series on „Corporate social responsibility and international law“ that presents the main findings of the contributions published in August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020.

I. Companies – responsibility

1. As for commercial entities, international law is concerned, above all, with transnational or multinational companies. The term basically describes the conglomerate of commercial entities that are acting separately in at least two different countries and which are tied together by a regime of hierarchical coordination.

2. In times of „global governance“ the international legal concept of responsibility is undergoing a process of de-formalization and, thus, encompasses the violation of social behavioural expectations, which for companies may result from international standards that are not legally binding. The resulting responsibility is a legal one insofar as the law adopts those standards and attaches negative consequences to their violation.

II. Private persons and the law of international responsibility

3. Private companies may be held responsible under international law to the extent that they are either themselves bound by primary legal obligations (direct responsibility), or their business activities are regulated by States which, in doing so, are fulfilling their own international legal obligations (indirect responsibility). A State may just as well impose such regulation without actually being under an obligation to do so (e.g. the US Alien Tort Statute).

Private persons as subjects of international legal obligations

4. Private persons being themselves bound by international legal obligations pertain to the process of de-medatization, which established the legal personality of the individual under international law.

5. Sovereign States can, by concluding international treaties, create legal obligations for private persons, including private companies, directly under international law. The personal scope of this comprehensive law-creating power of States is delimitated by their personal jurisdiction under international law. Whether an individual treaty itself gives rise to legal obligations for private persons, is, just as the creation of individual rights, a matter of treaty interpretation.

6. Genuine legal obligations have evolved for private persons under international criminal law: Here, detailed primary obligations of private persons have developed that are linked to a specific regime of individual responsibility, in particular under the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

7. In contrast, the extension of international human rights obligations to apply directly between private persons is not yet part of the international lex lata. Individual texts pointing in that direction (such as art. 29 para. 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are merely of a programmatic nature.

8. Genuine international legal obligations of companies can today be found in the rules regulating deep sea-bed activities (arts. 137, 153 para. 2 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and in various treaties establishing regimes of civil liability.

9. Obligations of private persons under international law, including those having direct effect within UN Member States, may also be created by the UN Security Council through resolutions under arts. 39, 41 of the UN Charter.

10. It is fairly uncertain whether the initiative, currently being undertaken within the UN Human Rights Council, to adopt a „legally binding instrument“ encompassing direct human rights liability of private companies, will ever have a chance of becoming binding law.

11. To the extent that there actually are primary obligations of private persons under international law, a general principle of law requires their violation to result in a duty to make reparation. Only in exceptional circumstances could the rules of State responsibility be transferred to private persons.

Obligations to establish the responsibility of private persons

12. An indirect responsibility under international law applies to undertakings via the international legal obligation of States to criminalize certain activities, e.g. in respect of waste disposal, bribery in foreign countries, organized crime and corruption.

Responsibility of private persons under autonomous national law

13. Provisions in national law that autonomously sanction private acts for international law violations bridge with their own binding effect the fact that the private person is not itself bound by the international legal norm.

14. The French Law No. 399-2017 on the plan de vigilance is far too general and vague to serve as an example for an (indirect) international legal reporting responsibility. The same applies to the CSR directive of the European Union of 2014.

III. Responsibility on the basis of non-binding rules of conduct

Behavioural governance without legally binding effects

15. The values contained in certain international law principles shape some social behavioural expectations that are summarized today in concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR). As a matter of substance, those expectations relate to human rights, the environment, conditions of labour and fighting corruption.

Processes of rule-making

16. The discussion is mainly focused on certain international, cross-sector corporate codes of conduct, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (1976), die ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (1977), the UN Global Compact (2000) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011).

17. In particular, with regard to human rights and environment, those rules are extremely unspecific, which means that here, law merely serves as a backdrop in order to endow social behavioural expectations with moral authority.

Responsibility by reception

18. In order to adopt and implement those business-related standards, basically all instruments of law-making and application can be used, as long as they impose normative requirements on companies and their activities. Legal certainty standards under the rule of law, as well as the rules of international law on the jurisdiction of States, can limit the reception.

19. Non-binding standards could be implemented, for example, via the legal regimes of State aid (in particular with respect to export finance), public procurement, investment protection and the rules on civil liability. So far, however, the international standards on business conduct are rarely being implemented in a legally binding manner.

IV. Conclusion

20. If the distinction of law and non-law is to be maintained, responsibility of companies in international law is a theoretical possibility, but of little practical relevance: Only in very specific circumstances are private companies themselves subjected to international legal obligations; moreover, it is similarly rare that „soft“ international standards of conduct are being adopted by „hard“ law and thereby made into specific legal duties of companies.

21. Behavioural standards that determine the international debate on CSR assign a mere „backdrop function“ to the law, as they neither identify concretely the international legal norms referred to, nor differentiate them properly. In that context, companies are simply required to publicly declare their commitment to „the good cause“, which results in duties to take precautionary measures, to exercise transparency and to publish reports.

22. That is why environmental protection, human rights etc. in relation to the activities of private companies is still mainly the responsibility of States. Tools that exist in international law in this respect, such as the rules of attribution or protective duties, must be adapted and enhanced, in order to achieve adequate solutions for detrimental business conduct on the basis of State responsibility.


Full (German) version: Oliver Dörr, Unternehmensverantwortlichkeit im Völkerrecht, in: August Reinisch, Stephan Hobe, Eva-Maria Kieninger & Anne Peters (eds), Unternehmensverantwortung und Internationales Recht, C.F. Müller, 2020, pp. 133 et seq.