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Walking Solo – A New Path for the Conflict of Laws in England

Written by Andrew Dickinson (Fellow, St Catherine’s College and Professor of Law, University of Oxford)

The belated conclusion of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement did not dampen the impact of the UK’s departure from the European Union on judicial co-operation in civil matters between the UK’s three legal systems and those of the 27 remaining Members of the Union. At the turn of the year, the doors to the UK’s participation in the Recast Brussels I Regulation and the 2007 Lugano Convention closed. With no signal that the EU-27 will support the UK’s swift readmission to the latter, a new era for private international law in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland beckons.

The path that the United Kingdom has chosen to take allows it, and its constituent legal systems, to shape conflict of laws rules to serve the interests that they consider important and to form new international relationships, unfettered by the EU’s legislative and treaty making competences. This liberty will need to be exercised wisely if the UK’s legal systems are to maintain their positions in the global market for international dispute resolution, or at least mitigate any adverse impacts of the EU exit and the odour of uncertainty in the years following the 2016 referendum vote.

As the guidance recently issued by the Ministry of Justice makes clear, the UK’s detachment from the Brussels-Lugano regime will magnify the significance of the rules of jurisdiction formerly applied in cases falling under Art 4 of the Regulation (Art 2 of the Convention), as well as the common law rules that apply to the recognition and enforcement of judgments in the absence of a treaty relationship. This is a cause for concern, as those rules are untidy and ill-suited for the 21st century.

If the UK’s legal systems are to prosper, it is vital that they should not erase the institutional memory of the three decades spent within the EU’s area of justice. They should seek to capture and bottle that experience: to see the advantages of close international co-operation in promoting the effective resolution of disputes, and to identify and, where possible, replicate successful features of the EU’s private international law framework, in particular under the Brussels-Lugano regime.

With these considerations in mind, I began the New Year by suggesting on my Twitter account (@Ruritanian) ten desirable steps towards establishing a more effective set of conflict of laws rules in England and Wales for civil and commercial matters. Ralf Michaels (@MichaelsRalf) invited me to write this up for ConflictofLaws.Net. What follows is an edited version of the original thread, with some further explanation and clarification of a kind not possible within the limits of the Twitter platform. This post does not specifically address the law of Scotland or of Northern Ireland, although many of the points made here take a broader, UK-wide view.

First, a stand-alone, freshly formulated set of rules of jurisdiction replacing the antiquated service based model. That model (Civil Procedure Rules 1998, rr 6.36-6.37 (CPR) to be read with Practice Direction 6B) dates back to the mid-19th century and has only been lightly patched up, albeit with significant ad hoc extensions, since then. The new rules should demand a significant connection between the parties or the subject matter of the claim and the forum of a kind that warrants the exercise of adjudicatory jurisdiction. In this regard, the Brussels-Lugano regime and the rules applied by the Scots courts (Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, Sch 8) provide more suitable starting points than the grounds currently set out in the Practice Direction.

Taking this step would allow the rules on service to focus on the procedural function of ensuring that the recipient of a claim form or other document is adequately informed of the matters raised against it. It would enable the cumbersome requirement to obtain permission to serve a claim form outside England and Wales to be abolished, and with it the complex and costly requirement that the claimant show that England and Wales is the ‘proper place’ (ie clearly the appropriate forum) for the trial of the action. Instead, the claimant would need to certify that the court has jurisdiction under the new set of rules (as has been the practice when the rules of the Brussels-Lugano apply) and the defendant would need to make an application under CPR, Part 11 if it considers that the English court does not have or should not exercise jurisdiction. The claimant would bear the burden of establishing jurisdiction, but the defendant would bear the burden of persuading the court that it should not be exercised. This brings us to the second point.

Secondly, stronger judicial (or legislative) control of the expensive and resource eating Goffian forum conveniens model. Senior judges have repeatedly noted the excesses of the Spiliada regime, in terms of the time, expense and judicial resource spent in litigating questions about the appropriate forum (see, most recently, Lord Briggs in Vedanta Resources Plc v Lungowe [2019] UKSC 20, [6]-[14]), yet they and the rule makers have done little or nothing about it. In many ways, the model is itself to blame with its wide ranging evaluative enquiry and micro-focus on the shape of the trial. Shifting the onus to the defendant in all cases (see above) and an emphasis on the requirement that another forum be ‘clearly [ie manifestly] more appropriate’ than England would be useful first steps to address the excesses, alongside more pro-active case management through (eg) strict costs capping, a limit in the number of pages of evidence and submissions for each side and a greater willingness to require the losing party to pay costs on an indemnity basis.

Thirdly, a clipping of the overly active and invasive wings of the anti-suit injunction. English judges have become too willing to see the anti-suit injunction, once a rare beast, as a routine part of the judicial arsenal. They have succumbed to what I have termed the ‘interference paradox’ ((2020) 136 Law Quarterly Review 569): a willingness to grant anti-suit injunctions to counter interferences with their own exercise of jurisdiction coupled with an overly relaxed attitude to the interferences that their own orders wreak upon foreign legal systems and the exercise of constitutional rights within those systems. Moreover, the grounds for granting anti-suit injunctions are ill defined and confusing – in this regard, the law has travelled backwards rather than forwards in the past century (another Goffian project). Much to be done here.

Fourthly, steps to accede to the Hague Judgments Convention and to persuade others to accede to the Hague Choice of Court Convention. Although the gains from acceding to the Judgments Convention may be small, at least in the short term, it would send a strong signal as to the UK’s wish to return to centre stage at the Hague Conference, and in the international community more generally, and may strengthen its hand in discussions for a future Judgments Convention. By contrast, the success of the Hague Choice of Court Convention is of fundamental importance for the UK, given that it wishes to encourage parties to choose its courts as the venue for dispute resolution and to have judgments given by those courts recognised and enforced elsewhere.

Fifthly, a review of the common law rules for the recognition and enforcement of judgments, which are in places both too broad and too narrow. These rules have been little changed since the end of the 19th century. They allow the enforcement of foreign default judgments based only on the defendant’s temporary presence in the foreign jurisdiction at the time of service, while treating as irrelevant much more substantial factors such as the place of performance of a contractual obligation or place of commission of a tort (even in personal injury cases). Parliamentary intervention is likely to be needed here if a satisfactory set of rules is to emerge.

Sixthly, engagement with the EU’s reviews of the Rome I and II Regulations to test if our choice of law rules require adjustment. The UK has wisely carried forward the rules of applicable law contained in the Rome Regulations. Although not perfect, those rules are a significant improvement on the local rules that they replaced. The EU’s own reviews of the Regulations (Rome II currently underway) will provide a useful trigger for the UK to re-assess its own rules with a view to making appropriate changes, whether keeping in step with or departing from the EU model.

Seventhly, statutory rules governing the law applicable to assignments (outside Rome I) and interests in securities. The UK had already chosen not to participate in the upcoming Regulation on the third party effects of assignments, but will need to keep a close eye on the outcome of discussions and on any future EU initiatives with respect to the law applicable to securities and should consider legislation to introduce a clear and workable set of choice of law rules with respect to these species of intangible property. These matters are too important to be left to the piecemeal solutions of the common law.

Eighthly, a measured response to the challenges presented by new technology, recognising that the existing (choice of law) toolkit is fit for purpose. In December 2020, the UK Law Commission launched a consultation on Smart Contracts with a specific section (ch 7) on conflict of laws issues. This is a welcome development. It is hoped that the Law Commission will seek to build upon existing solutions for offline and online contracts, rather than seeking to draw a sharp distinction between ‘smart’ and ‘backward’ contracts.

Ninthly, changes to the CPR to reduce the cost and inconvenience of introducing and ascertaining foreign law. The English civil procedure model treats foreign law with suspicion, and places a number of obstacles in the way of its effective deployment in legal proceedings. The parties and their legal teams are left in control of the presentation of the case, with little or no judicial oversight. This approach can lead to uncertainty at the time of trial, and to the taking of opportunistic points of pleading or evidence. A shift in approach towards more active judicial case management is needed, with a move away from (expensive and often unreliable) expert evidence towards allowing points of foreign law to be dealt with by submissions in the same way as points of English law, especially in less complex cases.

Tenthly, measures to enhance judicial co-operation between the UK’s (separate) legal systems, creating a common judicial area. It is a notable feature of the Acts of Union that the UK’s constituent legal systems stand apart. In some areas (notably, the recognition and enforcement of judgments – Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, Sch 6 and 7), the rules operate in a way that allows the recognition of a single judicial area in which barriers to cross-border litigation have been removed. In other respects, however (for example, the service of documents, the taking of evidence and the ascertainment of foreign law), the UK’s legal systems lack the tools that would facilitate closer co-operation and the more effective resolution of disputes. The UK’s legal systems should consider what has worked for the EU, with its diverse range of legal systems, and for Commonwealth federal States such as Australia and work together to adopt comprehensive legislation on a Single UK Judicial Area.




Symeonides’ 30th (and last) Annual Survey of Choice of Law

symeonides-symeon

 

Symeon Symeonides, without doubt the doyen of US conflict of laws, just published what he says is the last of his annual surveys of American Choice of Law. (The series will be continued by John F. Coyle, William S. Dodge, and Aaron D. Simowitz, suggesting it takes three of our most eminent scholars to replace Symeonides.)

As everyone in our discipline knows, reliably, at the end of the year, Symeon has posted his survey of conflict-of-laws decisions rendered over the year, according to Westlaw. He would assemble the most important decisions (of which he finds a lot), organize them around themes, and comment on them, always with (sometimes admirable) restraint from criticism. Anyone who has ever tried to survey the case law of an entire year in a jurisdiction knows how much work that is. (We at Max Planck, with IPRspr, certainly do.)

The service rendered to the discipline is invaluable. Conflict-of-laws opinions are hard to track, not least because courts themselves do not always announce them as such, and because they cover all areas of the law. Moreover, conflict of laws in the United States remains disorganized, with different states following different methods. (Symeon helpfully provides a table listing each state’s methodological approach.) Of course, Symeonides also compiled his superb knowledge of the case law in his Hague Lectures on the past, present, and future of the Choice-of-Law Revolution (republished as a book) and his book on (US) choice of law in the series of Oxford Commentaries.

Incredibly, this is Symeon’s 30th survey in 34 years. In this one, he uses the occasion to ruminate about what the 30 years have taught him: reading all the cases, and not missing the forest for the trees, enabled him (and thereby us) to gain a truer view of the conflicts landscape.( Of course, Symeonides also compiled his superb knowledge of the case law in his Hague Lectures on the past, present, and future of the Choice-of-Law Revolution (republished as a book) and his book on (US) choice of law in the series of Oxford Commentaries.) Such surveying shows that some of our assumptions are dated, as he showed in two special surveys on product liability and more generally cross-border torts. And it shows, as he beautifully puts it, that judges are not stupid, just busy.  Which is one of the reasons why the practice of conflicts owes such an amount of gratitude for these surveys.

Our discipline has seen a theoretical revival over the last ten or so years. A discipline once viewed as overly technical, doctrinal and untheoretical (a “dismal swamp”, in Dean Prosser’s much-cited words) is now being analyzed with newly-found theoretical and interdisciplinary interest – from economic analyses to political theory, philosophy, and even gender theory. The risk of such work is always to disentangle from the actual practice of the discipline, and thereby to lose what is arguably one of conflicts’ greatest assets: the concrete case. Symeonides (himself no enemy to methodological and sometimes theoretical discussions) has, with his annual surveys, made sure that such theories could always remain tied to the actual practice. For this, he deserves gratitude not only from practice but also from theory of private international law. His oeuvre is, of course, much much richer than the surveys. But even if he had written nothing beyond the surveys (and truth be told, it is not fully clear how he ever managed to write so much beyond them), his stature would have been earned.

The last twenty of Symeonides’ surveys have been compiled in a three volume edition published by Brill, a flyer allows for a 25% discount. While you wait for delivery (or maybe for approval of the loan you need to afford the books), you may want to download his lates survey, read Symeonides’ own thirty-year retrospective in the beginning, and marvel.

Correction: In the original version of this post I said that Symeonides will be replaced by four scholars. I have now been informed that Melissa Tatum will not join the group of authors for the annual surveys, leaving the list of the other three.

 




The CJEU Shrems cases – Personal Data Protection and International Trade Regulation

Carmen Otero García-Castrillón, Complutense University of Madrid, has kindly provided us with her thoughts on personal data protection and international trade regulation. An extended version of this post will appear as a contribution to the results of the Spanish Research Project lead by E. Rodríguez Pineau and E. Torralba Mendiola “Protección transfronteriza de la transmisión de datos personales a la luz del nuevo Reglamento europeo: problemas prácticos de aplicación” (PGC2018-096456-B-I00).

 

The regulatory scenario

  1. In digital commerce times, it seems self-evident that personal data protection and international trade in goods and services are intrinsically connected. Within this internet related environment personal data can be accessed, retrieved, processed and stored in a number of different countries. In this context, the legal certainty for economic actors, and even the materialisation or continuation of commercial transactions requires taking into consideration both, the international jurisdiction and the applicable law issues on the one hand, and the international trade regulations covering these commercial transactions on the other hand.

Too much personal data protection can excessively restrict international trade, especially in countries with less developed economies for which the internet is considered an essential sustainable development tool. Little protection can prejudice individual fundamental rights and consumers’ trust, negatively affecting international trade also. Hence, some kind of balance is needed between the international personal data flux and the protection of these particular data. It must be acknowledged that, summarising, whilst in a number of States personal data and their protection are fundamental rights (expressly in art. 8 CFREU, and as a part of the right to private and family life in art. 8 ECHR), in others, though placed in the individual’s privacy sphere (in the light of art. 12 UDHR), it is basically associated to consumer’s rights.

 

  1. The only general international treaty specifically dealing with personal data protection is the Convention 108 + of the Council of Europe, for the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data. The Convention defines personal data as any information relating to an identified or identifiable individual (art. 2.a) without an express and formal recognition of its fundamental right character. The Convention, whose raison d’etre was justified for need to avoid that the personal data protection controls interfere with the free international flow of information (Explanatory Report, para. 9), “should not be interpreted as a means to erect non-tariff barriers to international trade” (Explanatory Report, para. 25). Its rules recognise the individual’s rights to receive information on the obtaining and the treatment of their data, to be consulted and oppose that treatment, to get the data rectified or eliminated and to count, for all this, with the support of a supervisory authority and judicial and non-judicial mechanisms (arts. 8, 9 and 12). On the basis of these common standards, member States agree not to prohibit or subject to special authorisations the personal data flows as long as the transfer does not imply a serious risk of circumventing them (art. 14). Moreover, the agreed rules can be exempted when it is a “necessary and proportionate” measure “in a democratic society” to protect individual rights and “the rights and fundamental freedoms of others”, particularly “freedom of expression” (art. 11). Presently, 55 States are parties to this Convention, including the EU but not the US, that have an observer status.

 

Along these lines, together with other Recommendations, the OECD produced a set of Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (11.7.2013; revising the 1980 version). After establishing general principles of action as minimum standards, it was concluded that the international jurisdiction and the applicable law issues could not be addressed “at that stage” provided the “discussion of different strategies and proposed principles”, the “advent of such rapid changes in technology, and given the non-binding nature of the Guidelines” (Explanatory Memorandum, pp. 63-64).

 

On another side, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) administers different Agreements multilaterally liberalising international trade in goods and services that count with its own dispute settlement mechanism. In addition, States and, of course, the EU and the US, follow the trade bilateralism trend in which data protection and privacy has begun to be incorporated. Recently, this issue has also been incorporated into the WTO multilateral trade negotiations on e-commerce.

 

CJEU Schrems’ cases

  1. Last 16 July, in Schrems II (C-311/18), the CJEU declared the invalidity of the Commission Decision 2016/1250 on the adequacy of the protection provided by the Privacy Shield EU–US, aimed at allowing the personal data transfer to this country according to the EU requirements, then established by Directive 95/46 and, from 25 May 2018, by the Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR). On the contrary, Commission Decision 2010/87 (2016/2297 version) on the authorisation of those transfers through contractual clauses compromising data controllers established in third countries is considered to be in conformity with EU law.

 

In a nutshell, in order to avoid personal data flows to “data heavens” countries, transfers from the EU to third States are only allowed when there are guarantees of compliance with what the EU considers to be an adequate protective standard. The foreign standard is considered to be adequate if it shows to be substantially equivalent to the EU’s one, as interpreted in the light of the EUCFR (Schrems II paras. 94 and 105). To this end, there are two major options. One is obtaining an express Commission adequacy statement (after analysing foreign law or reaching an agreement with the foreign country; art. 45 GDPR). The other is resorting to approved model clauses to be incorporated in contracts with personal data importers, as long as effective legal remedies for data subjects are available (art. 46.1 and 2.c GDPR). According to the Commission, this second option is the most commonly used (COM/2020/264 final, p. 15).

 

  1. In Schrems II the CJEU confirms that, contrary to the Privacy Shield Decision, the US data protection regime is not equivalent to EU’s one because it allows public authorities to access and use those data without being subject to the proportionality principle (para. 183; at least in some surveillance programs) and, moreover, without recognising data owners their possibility to act judicially against them (para. 187). It never rains but what it pours since, in 2015, a similar reasoning led to the same conclusion in Schrems I (C-362/14, 5.6.15) on the Safe Harbour Decision (2000/520), preceding the Privacy Shield one. Along these lines, another preliminary question on the Privacy Shield Decision is pending in the case La cuadrature du net, where, differing from Schrems II, its compatibility with the CFREU is expressly questioned (T-738/16). In this realm, it seems relevant noting that the CJEU has recently resolved the Privacy International case, where, the non-discriminated capture of personal data and its access by national intelligence and security agencies for security reasons, has been considered contrary to the CFREU unless it is done exceptionally, in extraordinary cases and in a limited way (C-623/17, para. 72). Given the nature of the issue at hand, a similar Decision could be expected in the La cuadrature du net case; providing additional reasons on the nullity of the Privacy Shield Decision, since it would also contravene the CFREU. Moreover, all this could eventually have a cascading effect on the Commission’s adequacy Decisions regarding other third States (Switzerland, Canada, Argentina, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Faeroe Islands, Andorra, Israel, Uruguay, New Zealand and Japan).

 

  1. As to the contractual clauses, beyond confirming the Commission analysis on their adequacy in this case, the CJEU states that it is necessary to evaluate the data access possibilities for the transferred country public authorities according to that country national law (para. 134). At the end of the day, EU Data Protection authorities have to control the risks of those authorities’ actions not conforming with EU standards, as much as the capability of the contractual parties to comply with the contractual clause as such. If the risk exists, the transfers have to be prohibited or suspended (para.135).

 

  1. The EU personal data protection norms are imperative and apply territorially (art. 3 GDPR; Guidelines 3/18 EDPB version 2.1, 7.1.2020 and CJEU C-240/14, Weltimmo). Therefore, data “imports” are not regulated and the “exports” are subject to the condition of being done to a country where they receive EU equivalent protection. In the light of CJEU case law, the measures to watch over the preservation of the EU standard are profoundly protective, as could be expected provided the fundamental rights character of personal data protection in the EU (nonetheless, many transfers have already taken place under a Decision now declared to be void).

 

Hence, once a third country legislation allows its public authorities to access to personal data -even for public or national security interests- without reaching the EU safeguards level, EU Decisions on the adequacy of data transfers to those countries would be contrary to EU law. In similar terms, and despite the recent EDPB Recommendations (01 and 02/20, 10.11.2020), one may wonder how the contracts including those authorised clauses could scape the prohibition since, whatever the efforts the importing parties may do to adapt to the EU requirements (as Microsoft has recently announced regarding transfers to the US; 19.11.2020), they cannot (it is not in their hands) modify nor fully avoid the application of the corresponding national legislation in its own territory.

 

As a result, the companies aiming to do business in or with the EU, do not only have to adapt to the GRDP, but not to export data and treat and store them in the EU (local facilities). This entails that, beyond the declared personal data international transferability (de-localisation), de facto, it seems almost inevitable to “localise” them in the EU to ensure their protection. To illustrate the confusion created for operators (that have started to see cases been filed against them), it seems enough to point to the EDPB initial reaction that, whilst implementing the Strategy for EU institutions to comply with “Schrems II” Ruling, “strongly encourages … to avoid transfers of personal data towards the United States for new processing operations or new contracts with service providers” (Press Release 29.10.2020).

 

Personal data localisation and international trade regulation

  1. There is a number of national systems that, one way or another, require personal data (in general or in especially sensitive areas) localisation. These kinds of measures clearly constitute trade barriers hampering, particularly, international services’ trade. Their international conformity relies on the international commitments that, in this case, are to be found in the WTO Agreements as much as in the bilateral trade agreements if existing. The study of this conformity merits attention.

 

  1. From the EU perspective, as an initial general approach it must be acknowledged that, within the WTO, the EU has acquired a number of commitments including specific compromises in trans-border trade services in the data process, telecommunication and (with many singularities) financial sectors. Beyond the possibility of resorting to the allowed exceptions, the “localisation” requirement could eventually be infringing these compromises (particularly, arts. XVI and/or XVII GATS).

 

Regarding EU bilateral trade agreements, some of the already existing ones and others under negotiation include personal data protection rules, basically in the e-commerce chapters (sometimes also including trade in services and investment). Together with the general free trade endeavour, the agreements recognise the importance of adopting and maintaining measures conforming to the parties’ respective laws on personal data protection without agreeing any substantive standard (i.e. Japan, Singapore). At most, parties agree to maintain a dialog and exchange information and experiences (i.e. Canada; in the financial services area expressly states that personal data transfers have to be in conformity with the law of the State of origin). For the time being, only the Australian and New Zealand negotiating texts expressly recognise the fundamental character of privacy and data protection along with the freedom of the parties to adopt protective measures (international transfers included) with the only obligation to inform each other.

 

Concluding remarks

9. As the GDPR acknowledges “(F)lows of personal data to and from countries outside the Union and international organisations are necessary for the expansion of international trade and international cooperation. The increase in such flows has raised new challenges and concerns with regard to the protection of personal data.” (Recital 101). In facing this challenge, Schrems II confirms the unilaterally asserted extraterritoriality of EU personal data protection standards that, beyond its hard and fully realistic enforcement for operators abroad, constitute a trade barrier that could be eventually infringing its WTO Agreements’ compromises. Hence, in a digitalised and globally intercommunicated world, the EU personal data protection standards contribute to feeding the debate on trade protectionism. While both the EU and the US try to expand their respective protective models through bilateral trade agreements, multilaterally -among other initiatives involving States and stakeholders, without forgetting the role of technology (privacy by design)- it will be very interesting to see how the on-going WTO negotiations on e-commerce cover privacy and personal data protection in international trade data flows.

 




A call for the wider study of Private International Law in Africa: A Review of Private International Law In Nigeria

Written by Orji Agwu Uka, Senior Associate at Africa Law Practice (ALP)*

This is the fifth and final online symposium on Private International Law in Nigeria initially announced on this blogIt was published today on Afronomicslaw.org. The first  introductory symposium was published here by Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Frimpong Oppong, the second symposium was published by Anthony Kennedy, the third symposium was published by Richard Mike Mlambe, and the fourth symposium was published by Dr Abubakri Yekini.

Private International Law in Nigeria

For too long, law students in Nigerian universities have largely considered Private International Law [or Conflict of Laws as it is more commonly known in Nigeria] as an esoteric subject. Most students avoid it because of the adverse effect they think it is sure to have on their cumulative grade points average and the seeming lack of practical benefit of the subject to their future law practices. They do not know any better. Nigerian legal practitioners have had to provide legal advice and represent clients before trial and appellate courts as well as arbitral tribunals on disputes involving private international law questions within the context of Nigerian law. Those pieces of advice and legal representations would have benefitted greatly from a comprehensive private international law treatise. On their part, Nigerian courts have had to meander through the maze of interpreting questions of private international law without the benefit of the direction that high quality academic works [available in some other subject areas] provide. I am gratified to announce that finally, a Daniel is come to judgment.

Since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, there have been significant increase in cross border trade, international business transactions and foreign investments in Nigeria. Successive Nigerian governments across all tiers have made the attraction of foreign investments a cardinal part of their economic policies and have accordingly made deliberate efforts and committed abundant resources to attract foreign investments into Nigeria.[1]This accords with the preponderance of opinion to the effect that, with the right economic policies, FDI inflow into developing economies can be a major catalyst for economic development.[2] With these activities however, have come the resultant need for increased attention to the body of laws in Nigeria that regulate transactions with multi-jurisdictional elements.

In a recent article, I called for increased study of private international law in Africa and the establishment of a harmonised private international legal regime especially in the context of the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which came into force on 30 May 2019.[3] I argued that the economic integration and the concomitant growth in international relationships that are sure to result from these integration efforts will undoubtedly lead to a rise in cross border disputes, which call for resolution using the instrumentality of private international law. That call, especially in the case of Nigeria, was significantly handicapped by the absence of a treatise length textbook on the subject.

Interestingly, I had, in that article, borrowed heavily from the writings of Professor Richard Frimpong Oppong, a renowned private international law expert in Africa, and Dr Chukwuma Samuel Okoli, a Postdoctoral Researcher at T. M. C. Asser Institute in the Hague and a prolific writer in the field of private international law in Nigeria. Writing on the importance of a private international law system that responds to the interests of Africa, Dr Okoli observed that with growing international trade with Africa comes an inevitable rise in disputes among contracting parties conducting trade on the continent.[4]According to him, when these disputes arise, questions such as what courts have jurisdiction, what law(s) should apply, and whether a foreign judgment will be recognised and enforced by the courts of African States, will need to be resolved for international trade to run smoothly.[5]

On his part, Professor Oppong, argued that a well-developed and harmonised private international law regime is an indispensable element in any economic community and can play a significant role in addressing issues such as the promotion of international trade and investment, immigration, regional economic integration, globalisation and legal pluralism.[6] It is altogether fitting that these two will join forces to produce the first treatise length textbook on private international law in Nigeria and it is against the foregoing backdrop that I wholeheartedly welcome the product of their collaboration – Private International Law in Nigeria.[7]

The book examines Nigerian law rules, principles, and doctrines for the resolution of disputes with cross-border components. The authors begin by tackling the elephant in the room which is to provide a helpful explanation of the conceptual and preliminary issues which constitute the most intricate aspects of private international law. The concepts addressed are Characterisation; Substance and Procedure; and of course, Renvoi which the authors wittingly recall has been described in the past as a subject loved by academics, hated by students and ignored by lawyers and judges. There is also a special treatment of the concept of domicile which is one of the cardinal concepts in the field of English private international law and by necessary implication that of Nigeria, and which is one of the fundamental connecting factors that indicate the law or jurisdiction that governs a dispute particularly in matters related to jurisdiction, family law, property law, and other issues affecting the legal rights and privileges of parties.

The book expertly navigates the topic of jurisdiction, a cardinal concept under Nigerian adjectival law, but which in some cases is weaponised and has now acquired exaggerated notoriety to the extent that it now constitutes a cog in the wheel of the smooth and timely determination of cases in Nigeria. To avoid the monster that jurisdiction as a concept has developed into, the book carefully focuses on a consideration of jurisdiction in actions in personam. The authors consider the rules for determining jurisdiction in actions in personam and the extent to which judges in Nigeria have succeeded or mostly failed in appreciating or applying jurisdictional rule son actions in personam especially by misapplying rules designed for international litigation in the context of interstate disputes in the unique federal system practiced in Nigeria.

The result of the authors’ analyses of Nigerian appellate courts’ cases bordering on the jurisdiction of Nigerian courts in actions in personam arising from causes of action which accrue outside the territorial jurisdiction of the courts is particularly eye-opening. The authors divide the failure of Nigerian courts in this regard into three scenarios to wit: cases where Nigerian courts reach the right decision but wrongly apply choice of venue rules to arrive at that decision; cases where Nigerian courts wrongly apply choice of venue rules and reach the wrong decision; and cases where Nigerian courts simply conflate the choice of venue provisions in the rules of the respective courts in Nigeria with the rules of private international law applicable in actions in personam in Nigeria. The reasoning of the courts in the cases treated leaves a lot to be desired and call for a dispassionate soul searching.

Private International Law in Nigeria lucidly addresses the historical controversies surrounding the requirement for leave to issue and serve a court process out of jurisdiction both in the case of interstate (domestic) disputes and in international disputes strictly so called. The book highlights the delicate balance between the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act and the various rules of court. For good measure, the authors clearly explain what the Nigerian Supreme Court got wrong in the infamous M. V. Arabella case [which the court has now thankfully moved away from].[8] In that case the Supreme Court set aside a writ of summons that was issued in the Federal High Court Lagos and served on a defendant resident in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory without the leave of court. The court relied on Order 10 rule 14 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1976[9] and discountenanced the contention of the appellant that the Federal High Court is one court and no leave of court is required to issue and serve a court process in one judicial division of the court (i.e. in one State) for service in another State. The authors however rightly highlight the reluctance of the Supreme Court to explicitly overrule cases that were obviously wrong, a trend that has been on the rise in the last two decades; and which is the subject of another day’s discussion.

What I would consider as an ambitious aspect of the book, however, is the authors’ categorical position regarding the non-binding effect of the obiter dicta of some Supreme Court decisions. For instance, while discussing a recent decision of the Nigerian Supreme Court,[10]the authors stated that the obiter dictum of Aka’ahs JSC is not binding on lower courts in Nigeria and should not be followed.[11]While this undoubtedly represents the correct position of the law in principle, it is however of doubtful practical effect given the peculiarity of the diminishing line between rationes decidendi and obiter dicta under the Nigerian version of the doctrine of stare decisis as well the attitude of Nigerian courts to decisions of higher courts.

Special consideration is also given to such procedural law concepts as ‘forum selection clauses’, ‘forum non conveniens’, ‘lis alibi pendens’ and ‘limitations on jurisdiction’ as well as the substantive law topics of Contract, Torts, Foreign Currency Obligations, Bills of Exchange, Marriage, Matrimonial Causes and Administration of Estates. Very crucially too, the book does not fail to address the critical topics of enforcement of foreign judgments and international arbitral awards, while the last two chapters, grouped under a part entitled, ‘International Civil Procedure’ are dedicated to the consideration of the procedural rules applicable in international civil disputes including domestic remedies affecting foreign proceedings, international judicial assistance in the service of legal processes and taking of evidence. Nigerian lawyers with cross border practices will find these two chapters particularly helpful. One topic that is however given a less than adequate treatment is the topic of adoption. To be fair, adoption law and procedure in Nigeria is largely covered in opacity but a more comprehensive treatment of the subject in this book would have finally afforded practitioners the long-needed reference point.

On the whole, the book draws on over five hundred Nigerian cases including [thankfully] contemporary judicial decisions touching on the subject of private international law, relevant legislations and academic writings while exploring, where necessary, comparative perspectives from other jurisdictions.

This book is without doubt, one of the most impactful legal textbooks in Nigeria in at least twenty five years. It is a refreshing addition to the legal libraries across Nigeria and beyond. Judges at all levels of courts in Nigeria, legal practitioners, arbitrators and lawmakers alike as well as law teachers, researchers and students, will find Private International Law in Nigeria a highly resourceful and practical guide that fills an intellectual void in a long neglected but increasingly critical field of law. It is a long overdue contribution to the field of private international law in particular, and to legal scholarship in Nigeria as a whole.

 

 

*Orji Agwu Uka is a Senior Associate at a top Commercial Law Firm in Lagos, Nigeria. He holds an LLM from King’s College London and an LLB from Abia State University, Uturu Nigeria.

[1]Akinlo Enisan, ‘Determinants of Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria: A Markov Regime-Switching Approach’ (2018) RIC 21.

[2] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Foreign Direct Investment for Development: Maximising Benefits, Minimising Costs (OECD 2002) 3.

[3]Orji Uka, ‘Cross Border Dispute Resolution under AfCFTA: A Call for the Establishment of a Pan-African Harmonised Private International Legal Regime to Actualise Agenda 2063’ (2020) ALP available at http://alp.company/resources/business-advisory/cross-border-dispute-resolution-under-afcfta-call-establishment-pan last accessed on 11 November 2020.

[4]Chukwuma Okoli, ‘Private International Law in Africa: Comparative Lessons’ available at http://conflictoflaws.net/2019/privateinternationallawinafricacomparativelessons/.

[5]Chukwuma Okoli, (n. 4) above.

[6] Richard Frimpong Oppong, ‘Private International Law and the African Economic Community: A Plea for Greater Attention’ The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), Cambridge University Press pp.911-928 available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/4092623.

[7]Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Frimpong Oppong, Private International Law in Nigeria Hart Publishing: Oxford, 2020.

[8]Owners of M. V. Arabella v Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (2008) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1097) 182.

[9]For similar reasons, the Court of Appeal in Nestle (Nig) Plc v. Owners of M. V. MSC Agata(2014) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1388) 270 at pp. 288-290 set aside writ while relying on Order 6 rule 12(1) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2000.

[10]Social Democratic Party v Bieman unreported decision of the Supreme Court in Appeal No. SC/341/2019 43.

[11]Chukwuma Okoli and Richard Oppong, (n. 7) above at p. 73.




The Practicality of the Enforcement of Jurisdiction Agreements in Nigeria

Written by Dr Abubakri Yekini, a Lecturer in Law at Lagos State University

This is the fourth and penultimate online symposium on Private International Law in Nigeria initially announced on this blogIt was published today on Afronomicslaw.org. The first  introductory symposium was published here by Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Frimpong Oppong, the second symposium was published by Anthony Kennedy, and the third symposium was published by Richard Mike Mlambe. A final blog post on this online symposium will be published tomorrow.

Private International Law in Nigeria

 

I. Introduction

Private international law (PIL) is not one of those fanciful subjects that command the attention of students, academics and practitioners at least in Nigeria. As important as this field, it is still largely ignored. Several legal commentators have called our attention to the poor state of PIL in Africa generally (Oppong, 2006; Okoli, 2019). So, we can say Nigeria is not standing alone here. Dr Oppong is one of those who are passionate about the development of PIL in Africa, and I may add Nigeria. In a piece titled ‘Private International Law and the African Economic Community: A Plea for Greater Attention’, he lamented the general state of neglect of PIL in the African economic integration project. What caught my attention in that article was his remark on the treatment of jurisdiction agreements in some African countries such as Angola and Mozambique. He noted that:

“This hostility to jurisdiction agreements is akin to Latin American countries’ historical disdain for similar clauses founded on their rejection of the principle of party autonomy- a principle so important in international commerce. This treatment of jurisdiction agreements can be a disincentive to international commercial relations since they are very much part of the current modes of dealing across national boundaries” (p.917)

Although Dr Oppong did not examine the attitude of Nigerian courts on this issue, his new work which he co-authored with Dr Okoli (Okoli and Oppong, 2020) gives us an insight. The book is an excellent piece. For the first time, students and practitioners can have access to an avalanche of Nigerian PIL cases and they can measure the mood of Nigerian courts on important subject matters such as jurisdiction agreements. This topic was conceived while reviewing the book.

In recent years, Nigeria has been making frantic efforts to turn around its economy. There is a consistent drive at improving the ease of doing business, and various investment promotion laws have also been enacted to that effect. However, we seem not to appreciate the nexus between PIL and the promotion of cross border commercial transactions. We agree with Dr Oppong that PIL has a role to play in making Nigeria attractive for international trade and commerce. International businesspersons are more interested in economies that enforce contracts, protect and secure property rights, and have simple and efficient dispute resolution mechanisms in place. Jurisdiction agreements are part of contractual terms. As observed from the analysis of Okoli and Oppong (2020), it is difficult to give a straight answer on whether jurisdiction agreements are enforced by Nigerian courts. This calls for great concern as a negative attitude to jurisdiction agreements can potentially disincentives the inflow of foreign direct investment or international business transactions to Nigeria generally. Even if such businesses must be done in Nigeria, the least is that the non-enforcement of jurisdiction agreements will lead to an increase in transaction cost since there are uncertainties surrounding the enforcement of contracts. Investors may envisage multiple proceedings and the cost of such proceedings are factored into the contract ab initio. They might also envisage that judgments obtained abroad may not be enforced by Nigeria courts that might have earlier exercised jurisdiction in breach of the agreement. There is also the tendency to have inconsistent judgments.  These uncertainties are drawbacks on whatever reforms the Nigerian government might have been carrying out in the area of trade and investment.

Jurisdiction agreements are otherwise called choice of court agreements. In most cases, they form part of the contract agreement. They come in various forms. They may be symmetric (exclusive or non-exclusive) or asymmetric where one party is free to choose any preferred forum and the other party is restricted to a particular venue. Jurisdiction agreement is party autonomy has been embraced in almost all jurisdictions. Like arbitration agreements, parties are allowed to contract out of certain jurisdictions. While a contract may be formed or executed in jurisdiction A and B, the parties may wish that their disputes be resolved in jurisdiction C. For instance, many international contracts choose English courts as their preferred venue for litigation. Several reasons have been offered for this. They include case management system of the English courts (procedural efficiency), expertise in English law and complex commercial transactions, the quality of the English bar, availability of varieties of interim measures, prioritisation of private justice, independence of the judiciary, pro-enforcement of contracts and judgments amongst others.

 

II. Jurisdiction agreements in Nigerian courts

What is the attitude of Nigerian courts to jurisdiction agreements? Theoretically, we may say that Nigerian courts enforce jurisdiction agreements. There are numerous precedents extolling party autonomy and the need to enforce contracts freely negotiated by parties. Nevertheless, in practice, Nigerian courts assume jurisdiction, in some cases, in breach of jurisdiction agreements. There is hardly any distinction between exclusive and non-exclusive jurisdiction agreements. From Okoli and Oppong (2020), and my assessment of reported cases, jurisdiction agreements have only been upheld in five cases: Nso v Seacor Marine (Bahamas) Inc (2008) LPELR-CA, Beaumont Resources Ltd v DWC Drilling Ltd (2017) LPELR-42814 (CA), Nika Fishing Co Ltd v Lavina Corporation (2008) 16 NWLR (Pt 1114) 509, Megatech Engineering Ltd Sky Vission Global  Networks LLC (2014) LPELR-22539 (CA) and Damac Star Properties LLC v Profitel Limited (2020) LPELR-50699 (CA).

An analysis of the reported cases on jurisdiction agreements reveals that jurisdiction agreements are jettisoned on three main grounds as presented below.

  1. The mischaracterisation of jurisdiction agreement as an ouster clause

Nigerian jurisdictional law generally lacks any coherent theoretical foundation. Okoli and Oppong’s treatment of the topic in chapter 5 attest to this fact. Credit must be given to them for an attempt to synchronise and present in an intelligible form, a body of precedents that is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. Unlike elsewhere where courts consider many factors (eg reasonableness, party autonomy, due process, proximity, foreseeability) when treating adjudicatory jurisdiction, Nigerian courts largely see it from the prisms of territorialism and power. It is no surprise that the courts are extremely protective/jealous of their power when a matter is connected to the forum. They generally frown at any attempt to divest the courts of their jurisdiction. Hence, they characterise jurisdiction agreements as ouster clauses.

This mischaracterisation can be traced to Sonnar (Nig.) Ltd. v Nordwind(1987) 4 NWLR (Pt.66) 520 where the Supreme Court imported this idea relying on The Fehmarn[1957] 1 W.L.R. 815. In this case, Oputa JSC had this to say on jurisdiction agreements:

“[A]s a matter of public policy our courts should not he too eager to divest themselves of jurisdiction conferred on them by the Constitution and by other laws simply because parties in their private contracts chose a foreign forum and a foreign law. Courts guard rather jealously their jurisdiction and even where there is an ouster of that jurisdiction by Statute It should be by clear and unequivocal words, If that is so, as indeed It is, how much less can parties by their private acts remove the jurisdiction properly and legally vested In our courts? Our courts should be in charge of their own proceedings. When it Is said that parties make their own contracts and that the courts will only give effect to their intention as expressed in and by the contract, that should generally be understood to mean and imply as contract which does not rob the court of its jurisdiction in favour of another foreign forum (p. 544 paras B-E)

While an earlier case of Ventujol v Compagnie Francaise  DeL’AfrriqueOccidentale  (1949) 19 NLR 32 mentioned an ouster clause, most recent cases rely on the above exceprt from Sonnar. Oputa’s view was recently echoed by Nweze JSC in Conoil v. Vitol S.A. (2018) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1625) 463 at 502, para A-B where his Lordship noted that: “our courts will only interrogate contracts which are designed to rob Nigerian courts of their jurisdiction in favour of foreign fora or where, by their acts, they are minded to remove the jurisdiction, properly and legally, vested in Nigerian courts.”

The Fehmarn was a 1957 English decision and may well reflect the mood of the courts in that era where party autonomy was still emerging. Two problems are identified here. First, laws should always be read in context. The Fehmarn did not treat jurisdiction agreement as an ouster clause. Rather, that case established the fact that a court which is properly seized, nevertheless, has the discretion to decline jurisdiction in deference to the parties’ jurisdiction agreement. The substance of The Fehmarn is that “where there is an express agreement to a foreign tribunal, clearly it requires a strong case to satisfy this court that that agreement should be overridden ” (p. 820). Second, many Nigerian lawyers have equally misunderstood the nature of jurisdiction agreements. In those cases where the courts have shown this combative attitude, some counsel have asked courts for dismissal on the ground that the courts lacked jurisdiction based on jurisdiction agreements.

A wrong characterisation leads to negative treatment. While ouster clauses are special statutory clauses which are meant to prevent courts from entertaining specific cases that engage state interest, jurisdiction agreements only appeal to the courts to decline jurisdiction in deference to parties’ choice. It is interesting to also note that an arbitration agreement is never treated as such and there area plethora of authorities on this point (For instance see Felak Concept Ltd. v. A.-G., Akwa Ibom State (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1675) 433; Mainstreet Bank Capital Ltd. v. Nig. RE (2018) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1640) 423). One wonders whether there is any rational or legal basis to treat a jurisdiction agreement differently from an arbitration agreement.

2. Mandatory statutes

Some Nigeran statutes confer mandatory jurisdiction over some subject matters on Nigerian courts. The reasonability or otherwise of such sweeping and exclusive jurisdiction over matters that are purely civil and commercial will not be addressed here for want of space. Examples of these statutes are the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act and the Civil Aviation Act. One can sympathise with Nigerian courts when they are asked to enforce jurisdictional agreements which fall within the scope of these statutes. No amount of judicial pragmatism would override mandatory national statutes vesting exclusive jurisdiction in Nigerian courts. It was on this basis that the courts refused to enforce jurisdictional agreements in Swiss Air Transport Coy Ltd v African Continental Bank (1971) 1 NCLR 213, for instance.

3. Forum non conveniens

Forum non conveniens(FNC) is a pragmatic procedural mechanism developed by common law judges (even though it has a Scottish origin) to advance efficiency and justice in civil litigation. Many transactions have connections with more than one jurisdiction and parties would want to commence litigation in any of those fora that can deliver maximum results for them. In some cases, it may be simply to harass the opponent. Thus, where a court has jurisdiction over a matter under its national laws, it can decline jurisdiction (by staying an action) to allow parties to litigate in a more convenient forum.

FNC test as stipulated by Brandon J in The Eleftheria[1969] 2 All ER 641 has been adopted and applied by the Nigerian Supreme Court in Sonnar (Nig.) Ltd. v Nordwind. Brandon J was merely laying down general factors that the court should consider when asked to decline jurisdiction. Brandon test supports the enforcement of jurisdiction agreement. The underlying principles are largely based on convenience and justice. The case emphasised “a strong’” cause for assuming jurisdiction in breach of a jurisdiction agreement. The strong cause has further been qualified in subsequent cases such as Donohue v Armco Inc &Ors [2001] UKHL 64 where many FNC grounds were discountenanced (see para 24-39). The US Supreme Court would also require ‘some compelling and countervailing reasons’ to allow an action to proceed in a non-chosen court if the agreement was reached “by experienced and sophisticated businessmen” (See Bremen v. Zapata Offshore Co.92 S. Ct. 1907 (1972)). This is contrary to the Nigerian courts’ approach where any FNC test no matter how weak may displace foreign jurisdiction clause. The Supreme Court recently re-emphasised the approval of any of the FNCs grounds in Nika Fishing Co Ltd. However, an application for stay was granted in that case because the party in breach did not file any counter affidavit.

In Ubani v Jeco Shipping Lines (1989) 3 NSC 500 and Inlaks Ltd v Polish Ocean Lines (1989) 3 NSC 588, jurisdiction agreements were not enforced either because the matter would be statute-barred in the chosen jurisdiction or parties and evidence were located in Nigeria. It is conceded that one of the tests of FNC is the availability of an alternative forum. It can easily be argued that these decisions are justified on the ground of justice because the Claimants would not be able to file a claim in the chosen jurisdiction. However, there is a danger in applying FNC grounds to jurisdiction agreements. As rightly suggested in Donohue where jurisdiction agreement is in issue, FNC grounds should ordinarily not apply. Non-enforcement of jurisdiction agreement should be restricted to very strong reasons such as where third parties who are not bound by the agreement are parties to the suit or where the claim falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the non-chosen forum (see Akai Pty Ltd v People’s Insurance Co Ltd [1998] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 90; Continental Bank NA v Aeakos Compania Naviera SA and Others [1994] 1 WLR 588). One can also add inability to sue in the chosen forum for reasons beyond parties’ control such as the ongoing global lockdown (RCD Holdings Ltd v LT Game International (Australia) Ltd [2020] QSC 318) or the protection of weaker parties like consumers and employees. This is the approach of the English courts and the same is followed in other commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia (FAI General Insurance Co Ltd v Ocean Marine Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association (1997) 41 NSWLR 559) and New Zealand (RCD Holdings Ltd v LT Game International (Australia) Ltd (supra); Kidd v van Heeren [1998] 1 NZLR 324). A party who agreed to litigate in a particular forum had contracted to be bound by the law and procedure of that jurisdiction. Limitation period, location of parties and evidence should not be a valid excuse without more. Put differently, inconvenience and procedural disadvantages should be discountenanced especially when those factors are forseeable when parties are negotiating the contract ()

 

III       Conclusion

Legal certainty and predictability of results are key values of modern PIL especially in the area of cross border commercial transactions. A PIL framework that is driven by these values will promote and enhance commercial activities because it is a risk management mechanism in itself. Businesspersons are interested to do business in jurisdictions where contracts are enforced. They want to make informed decisions about the governing law of the contracts, the jurisdiction in which contractual disputes are resolved, jurisdictions whose judgments can be respected and enforced abroad.

Courts ought to help parties to achieve their contractual goals. They should neither frustrate negotiated terms nor rewrite them for the parties provided it is a contract that is negotiated at arm’s length. Nigerian courts should promote party autonomy as much as practicable. With this approach, foreign businesses would take the Nigerian justice system seriously and would be confident to do business with Nigeria. It can potentially attract more FDIs to Nigeria if we earn the trust of foreign investors.

Non-enforcement of jurisdiction agreements disincentives commercial transactions because of litigation and enforcement risks. Assuming that foreign companies must do business with Nigerians nevertheless, these risks ultimately be factored into contractual negotiations as businessmen would not want to spend their profits on litigation in unfamiliar/non-chosen fora. Cost of doing business with Nigeria will invariably be higher and this will further lead to an increase in the cost of goods and services in Nigeria.

Based on the foregoing, it is only sensible that Nigerian courts should give maximum effect jurisdiction agreements. The first task is to get the legislators to review some of the extant legislation such as the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act and Civil Aviation Act which vest exclusive jurisdiction in Nigerian courts over a wide range of purely private commercial transactions. Also, the courts can learn from the developments in other jurisdictions, particularly, how “strong cause” has been redefined in the light of modern developments to admit of only genuine cases where it is either practically or reasonable impossible to litigate in the chosen forum or where non-parties are genuinely involved in the suit. Lastly, Nigeria needs to join the Hague Conference and the 2005 Choice of Court Convention. It will benefit from the rich jurisprudence and expertise available at the Hague Conference and foreign businesspersons will be assured of the commitment of Nigeria to the enforcement of jurisdiction agreements.

 

 




The Global struggle towards affordable access to justice

The Global struggle towards affordable access to justice: Dutch baby steps towards a more open legal market

 Written by Jos Hoevenaars, Erasmus University Rotterdam (postdoc researcher ERC project Building EU Civil Justice)

In a global context of civil justice in crisis (Zuckerman) and a legal professional under pressure to adjust to the rapidly changing legal landscape (Susskind), experiments, adjustments and transformations in the way justice is done are an almost daily occurrence. Last week, the Dutch Bar Association announced an experiment to (slightly) open up the legal market in the Netherlands.

Effective yet affordable legal representation

The administration of (civil) justice remains an expensive practice, both in terms of public spending on the courts and publicly funded legal aid, as well as for those seeking justice. In most jurisdictions, access to justice remains a far cry from reality for large sections of society. Effective yet affordable legal representation has long been one of the most important stumbling blocks, and it goes without saying that in cross-border cases these costs only increase, while self-presentation – even if allowed – is often illusory.[1] With high and unpredictable lawyer fees as one of the most prevalent impediments to access, there have been many attempts at transforming the market for legal representation.

On the side of the legal system, we have seen moves away from strict legal representation requirements by a lawyer towards more self-representation and ‘do-it-yourself-justice’, taking lawyers out of the equation altogether (a practice leading to some disastrous results in some places). And, in response to the resulting challenges faced by litigants in person, we see movements in the direction of permitting for different forms legal representation, such as the so-called ‘McKenzie friends’ in UK courts, or the ‘Lay Assistant Scheme’ in Singapore, that allow for non-lawyers to be present in court to assist self-representing litigants (to a limited extent).

If we add to this the growing market of private dispute resolution as well as the tectonic shifts that are to be expected from the technological innovations (in both legal aid provisions and the digitalization of court procedures) we can see how such moves are likely small steps on a long and winding road of radical transformations of the legal profession, and likely of legal markets and the justice system as a whole. In the Dutch context, we witnessed one of those small steps last week.

Burgeoning shifts in the Dutch legal market

On December 3rd the Dutch Bar Association (NOvA) announced an experiment to give more leeway to lawyers from legal assistance insurers and claims settlement offices, by letting lawyers not employed by a law firm represent clients in court. As in many other legal systems, the legal market in the Netherlands has long been a hermetically sealed bulwark. While in large parts of the Dutch legal system assistance by a lawyer is mandatory, litigation with the use of a lawyer is only allowed if that lawyer is employed firm that is owned by layers. Legal departments of service providers such as accountancy organizations and claims settlement offices are therefore sidelined in court. In this recent move, however, the bar association gave the green light to the Hague legal aid provider SRK, a company that is not owned by lawyers, to offer lawyers’ services to people who are uninsured – a practice that up until now was restricted. This move is heralded as a crucial first step to break open the strictly regulated legal market in the Netherlands.

Bar under pressure

The move does not come as a complete surprise, NOvA has been under growing pressure by the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to adjust its professional rules because they may frustrate market forces. In February of this year, rather than taking action directly, the ACM gave the bar association a last chance to adjust its rules itself, while emphasizing that it could still conduct an investigation if there was reason to do so.

This pressure resulted from a request by legal aid provider SRK. The company wants to have its lawyers provide services to clients without legal expenses insurance through its subsidiary company BrandMR. However, this would go directly against NOvA rules, which stipulate, among other things, that lawyers may provide their services only while employed by an office that is owned by lawyers. This rule is meant to prevent lawyers from being guided by business interests rather than those of their clients.

There is one exception to this rule: lawyers may be employed by a (non-lawyer owned) legal expenses insurer, provided they work exclusively for insured persons, which is the practice of SRK. However, by also catering to non-insured persons SRK would violate that principle. With BrandMR, SRK targets the market of people who earn too much for subsidized legal aid yet have no legal aid insurance. According to the legal aid provider, about 25% of the Dutch population, especially young people, avoid legal assistance because they are not insured and consider the costs of a lawyer too high and unpredictable.

Since October of this year, and in defiance of the Bar’s rules, people without insurance can turn to SRK if they have a conflict. Under the BrandMR label, SRK offers them legal assistance at a fixed price, instead of the hourly rate that law firms charge. SRK director Peter Leermakers says he ‘supports’ all the rules of the legal profession, but not this one. ‘Our lawyers have been allowed to work for people with legal expenses insurance for over 15 years. Then why not for people without insurance? Why should they suddenly no longer be independent? ‘ He argues that the independence of the lawyers at SRK is guaranteed by an internal committee, which is assisted by two lawyers who previously were acting deputies of NOvA.

Political support

There has been political support for for SRK’s attempt to stretch the rules for the legal profession in the Netherlands. Minister Sander Dekker of Legal Protection (VVD) has submitted a bill to allow experiments in the Dutch legal system. He wants to offer citizens more flexible access to justice and reduce the costs of justice through a wide range of potential changes to and shifts in the Dutch justice landscape. He has already indicated several times that he welcomes initiatives such as those of SRK, and also hinted in the House of possible measures if the bar does not seriously consider how it can help foster new business models in the legal profession.

As described here in an earlier blogpost, the Minister previously clashed with the legal profession about legal aid funding. The government pays lawyers for people who cannot afford it themselves. Lawyers will then receive compensation based on a system of fixed rates for each type of court case. According to many lawyers, these are too low, but Dekker refused to make more money available, eventually leading to a strike by lawyers at the end of 2019.

A five-year experiment

The bar association thus yields to heavy pressure from politics, cartel watchdog ACM and non-industry service providers eager to enter the legal market. Although, rather than a full-fledged rule change that would open up the legal market to a host of providers, for the time being the admission of SRK is ‘an experiment’ with a maximum duration of five years. Service providers other than SRK may also participate, under the watchful eye of the Bar. The experiment is part of a broader investigation into a possible new system of regulations around permitting alternative business structures for lawyers.

The experiment announced by the NOvA must therefore be viewed in that light. “There needs to be movement on this subject somewhere, either by the NOvA, either by the ministry or the ACM,” said General Dean of the Dutch Bar Frans Knüppe. “We think it is wise to start the experiment now, and thus gain knowledge and experience on this fundamental issue. We expect that the Minister and ACM will not have to take any steps for the time being.” Knüppe emphasized that the NOvA is open to new initiatives, as long as the core values – in this case lawyers’ independence – ??are guaranteed.

International shifts in the legal market

While the move by the NOvA is only a small step towards rule changes, in terms of corporate structures it could potentially lead to a significant shift in the character of the Dutch legal market. The opening up of commercial opportunities for legal service providers could be part of the solution for the segment of the population that earn too much for subsidized legal aid but are not wealthy enough to employ costly and often unpredictable services of a lawyer without legal aid insurance.

The changes in the Dutch context do not stand on their own, as we have seen considerable volatility in legal market globally. In the United Kingdom and the United States, established law firms have been facing competition for much longer. The 2011 Legal Services Act in England has made it possible for parties other than lawyers to become co-owners of a law firm. As a result, law firms can collect money from outside the company, at the stock exchange for example. The new law opened the door for non-lawyers such as accountants and bailiffs, as well as supermarkets, to enter the legal market.

It remains to be seen what the impact of this temporary rule change will be on the Dutch legal market. The board of representatives of the NOvA expressed concern that the experiment could potentially lead to shifts in the legal landscape that prove to be irreversible after the five-year experiment. On the other hand, the ACM has applauded the move by the NOvA, yet also questions whether the relaxing of the rules goes far enough.

On request of the Ministry of Justice and Security and the NOvA, the WODC (Research and Documentation Centre) of the Ministry is currently conducting research into the consequences of the admission of alternative business structures in the legal profession.

 

[1] Hoevenaars, J. & Kramer, X.E. (2020). Improving Access to Information in European Civil Justice: A Mission (Im)Possible? In Informed Choices in Cross-Border Enforcement. Cambridge: Intersentia




Report on Annual Conference on Consumer Law organized by ERA with specific highlights of the recent Representative Actions Directive

This report has been prepared by Priyanka Jain, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for International, European and Regulatory Procedural Law, and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Luxembourg.

 

Introduction:

 

On 8-9 October 2020, ERA – the Academy of European Law – organized its Annual Conference on European Consumer Law 2020. It provided an insight into the main priorities of the new Consumer Agenda and remarks on key topics such as the impact of Covid-19 on consumer protection, the new Digital Services Act package, and the Collective redress framework in the EU with a specific focus on the new EU Directive on representative actions for the protection of collective interests of consumers. This report starts with an introduction to several presentations given by renowned scholars, followed by an overview of the recent Representative Actions Directive.

 

Day 1: The New Consumer Law Updates, digital transition, and green transition

 

The New Consumer Agenda, which presents a vision for the EU consumer policy from 2020 to 2025, builds on the 2012 Consumer Agenda (which expires in 2020) was the focus of the first panel. Massimo Serpieri (Deputy Head of Unit, DG Justice and Consumers, European Commission, Brussels) spoke about the action plan for the next five years to empower European consumers to play an active role in the green and digital transitions. She mentioned how the Agenda also addresses the need to increase consumer protection and resilience during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought significant challenges affecting the daily lives of consumers.

Ursula Pachl (Deputy Director-General, BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation, Brussels) then expanded on the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak and the need for drawing lessons from the crisis to reshape consumer protection and accelerate the digital and green transition. The core of her presentation was the inevitability of a powerful Competition Law framework for consumer choice, higher quality, and more investments, as well as the need for protecting consumers and ensuring that they have the right to object to decisions made by machines in the arena of automated decision-making.

 

Teresa Rodríguez de las Heras Ballell (Associate Professor, Carlos III University, Madrid) started the second panel of the discussion by giving a brief background on the new Digital Services Act package, a comprehensive set of rules comprising of the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. They will create a safer and more open digital space, with European values at its core. With this, she addressed the need for updating the E-commerce Directive of the year 2000. The manner in which the E-commerce Directive has been implemented across the EU varies greatly, and national jurisprudence on online liability today remains very fragmented. This fragmentation has created uncertainty in the implementation regime, and it is, therefore, essential to revise the EU liability regime for online intermediaries.

Jan Penfrat (Senior Policy Advisor, EDRi – European Digital Rights, Brussels) proceeded then by highlighting the key issues raised by dominant platforms ahead of the adoption of the new Digital Services Act package. He addressed the main problems with centralized platforms, which dominate the online space, and work on the business model of providing free services in exchange of highly confidential personal data by analyzing Regulation (EU) 2019/1150 on promoting transparency for business users of online intermediation services.

The second half of the first day was dedicated to a discussion on the Green Transition and how to achieve sustainable consumption. Emmanuelle Maire (Head of Unit, DG Environment, European Commission, Brussels) started the discussion with a comprehensive overview of the European Commission’s New Circular Economy Action Plan with a focus on main proposals concerning consumers.

Guaranteeing sustainability at the pre-contractual stage was the focus of the presentation of Petra Weingerl (Assistant Professor, University of Maribor), in which she analyzed the Guidance on implementation of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. This was followed by the presentation of Evelyne Terryn (Professor, Catholic University of Leuven), which focused on the topic of promoting sustainable choices at the contractual stage and the “right to repair” under the Sale of Goods Directive.

A discussion was then convened on best practices of the transition to the Circular Economy, in the Member States in Belgium and France by Evelyne Terryn, Slovenia by Petra Weingerl and Sweden by Carl Dalhammar (Associate Professor, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University) on the need for minimization of waste to achieve a circular economy. The following round table discussion that ensued between Eva Dalenstam (Policy Officer, Circular Economy, DG Environment, European Commission, Brussels), Carl Dalhammar, Margreeth Pape (Programme Manager, Sustainability and Logistics, Thuiswinkel.org) offered an insight into the main challenges posed in the real world while bringing the green and digital transitions together and explained ways to achieve more sustainable e-commerce.

 

 

Day 2: Recent Case Law Update of CJEU and Collective Redress

The next day’s first panel began with a presentation from Massimiliano Puglia (Legal Secretary, Court of Justice of the European Union, Luxembourg), who provided a comprehensive overview of cases involving consumer protection at the CJEU in the past year. He spoke about several important cases involving judicial cooperation in civil matters under Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 (C-213/18, easyJet; C-343/19, Verein für Konsumenteninformation ) and protection of consumers against unfair contract terms  C?511/17, Lintner; C?260/18, Dziubak;  C?125/18, Gómez del Moral Guasch; C-779/18, Mikrokasa and Revenue; C-81/19, Banca Transilvania).

 

Christine Riefa (Reader in Law, Brunel University, London) proceeded then with an interesting discussion on the concept of ‘vulnerable consumer’ and the lack of access to justice to such a consumer who is a weaker party in the justice system.

 

Stefaan Voet (Associate Professor, Catholic University of Leuven) was then handed the floor to reflect on the final text of the proposed Directive on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, which is a part of the 2018 New Deal for Consumers. After providing some brief background, Stefaan Voet focused on four points of the Directive – scope of application, the cross-border element of representative actions, application of private international law, funding, and financing. He analyzed the standing of qualified entities and criteria for recognizing such qualified entities to bring a cross border action under the said draft directive. The Representative Actions Directive (Directive 2020/1828) has now been finalized and published on 25 November 2020.

 

Highlights of the Representative Actions Directive

 

The recent Directive on representative actions for protecting the collective interests of consumers repeals the earlier Injunctions Directive 2009/22/EC (hereinafter referred to as the Directive) and creates provisions for qualified representative entities, private or public entities to lodge cross-border claims. As per the said Directive, three types of representative entities shall have the standing to bring representative actions on behalf of consumers. These are private representative entities designated in advance by the Member States and placed in a publicly available list, representative bodies designated on an ad hoc basis for a specific action or particular consumer organization, and independent public bodies.

For domestic actions, Member States have to set out proper criteria consistent with the objectives of the Directive. Accordingly, all entities complying with the requirements of the Directive would have the right to benefit from its regime. The EU legislator offers some flexibility to the Member States regarding the possibility to designate entities on an ad hoc basis for bringing specific representative actions. The proposed Directive allows ‘qualified entities’ to bring actions against the infringement by traders before the competent court or administrative bodies in other Member Nations. This means that ‘qualified entities’ have standing before the competent courts or other administrative bodies in all Member Nations to file a representative action. In other words, Member States are bound to accept the legal standing of foreign ‘qualified entities’ who fulfil the requirements established by their national laws in order to take action, in case an infringement of the collective interests of consumers has a cross-border dimension. Article 4 of the Directive states that cross-border cases can be brought by entities that comply with the following criteria. It must at least have 12 months of activity in protecting consumer’s interests; it must be of a non-profit character; its statutory purpose demonstrates that it has a legitimate interest in protecting consumer interests. Additionally, it must be independent of third parties whose interests oppose the consumer interest, it must not be subject to an insolvency procedure or declared insolvent, and it must make public disclosure of the information demonstrating compliance of the above.

Additionally, qualified entities from different Member States can also join hands to file a claim before a single court having jurisdiction under relevant EU and national law. It is important to mention here that the requirements of the Directive entail that the statutory purpose of qualified entities demonstrates that they have a legitimate interest in protecting consumer interests. They must demonstrate that they have been functioning in the field of protection of consumer interests for about one year. At the same time, they must be able to bear the costs of the representative proceedings on their own and disclose that they are capable of doing so. The Member States, which designate qualified entities, shall verify whether they continue to fulfil these criteria every five years. If they fail to comply with these criteria, the Member States have the power to revoke their designation. Thus, the standard for determining the capacity of the qualified entity is now the ‘economic capability’ and not based on the litigant’s rights or moral agency. The display of economic capability will require the qualified entities to thrive in the field of consumer protection continuously, and it will not be long before collective redress actions become a means of survival of these entities.

Further, in the context of cross-border cases, Member States may also designate entities representing consumers from the different Member States. Article 6 of the said Directive allows mutual recognition of legal standing of qualified entities designated in advance in one Member State as per Article 4(1) to seek representative action in another Member State. However, it is important to note that it is yet to be seen how the Directive will be implemented in the Member States.

 

Finally, in the last presentation of the second day, Alexia Pato (Postdoc Research Fellow, University of McGill, Montreal) addressed the interplay between collective redress and general data protection regulation(GDPR) with a focus on the representation of data subjects under its Article 80. The said provision allows consumer associations to litigate on behalf of data subjects.  She also spoke about the said Representative Actions Directive and that data protection has been added into the scope of the Directive. She pointed out that it will be interesting to see how the Directive will be implemented in the Member States.

 

To sum up, this two-day event provided an up-to-date insight into the latest policy developments, legislative initiatives, and case law in the field of consumer protection, including related conflict-of-laws issues. The detailed presentations from renowned experts in this field generated a good understanding of several challenges faced by the consumer in the real world and the future consumer agenda to ensure effective consumer protection.




Presence as a basis for International Jurisdiction of a Foreign Court under Nigerian Private International Law

 

Written by Richard Mike Mlambe, Attorney and Lecturer at University of Malawi- The Polytechnic

This is the third online symposium on Private International Law in Nigeria initially announced on this blogIt was published today on Afronomics.org. The first  introductory symposium was published here by Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Frimpong Oppong, and second symposium was published by Anthony Kennedy. More blog posts on this online symposium will follow this week.

Private International Law in Nigeria

Introduction

The Nigerian private international law (hereinafter PIL) regime is significantly influenced by the common law. As a result, the common law plays a major role in providing the applicable rules on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.[1] Like in many other common law jurisdictions, Nigerian courts recognize and enforce foreign judgments only if, in the eyes of Nigerian PIL, the foreign court had jurisdiction to render the judgment in question.[2] The recognized bases of jurisdiction are submission, residence and presence of the defendant within the foreign country.[3] This is also the position in other common law countries such as South Africa[4], Australia[6]and Malawi.[7]

As a result of the foregoing, Nigerian courts would refuse to recognize and enforce a judgment of a foreign court where the defendant was not present/resident in the foreign country and did not submit to its jurisdiction.[8] It must be emphasized that once the court finds that none of the above grounds is established, then the foreign court is deemed not to have possessed jurisdiction regardless of any connection that the parties or the transaction in issue may have had with the foreign country.

 

Nigerian and Canadian PIL

Okoli and Oppong have observed as follows:

“It is open to question whether the existing recognised bases of international competence – residence, presence, and submission – are adequate for the current international climate of increased trade, movement of persons, and transnational relationships. From a comparative perspective, Canadian courts have applied the real and substantial connection test. This basis   requires that a significant connection exist between the cause of action and the foreign court. Such a connection could include the fact that the cause of action arose in the jurisdiction of the foreign court, or that jurisdiction was the place in which the contractual obligation was to be performed. The ‘real and substantial connection’ test has not found favour outside Canada, and the test has been the subject of academic criticism.”[9]

Under Canadian PIL, the traditional common law principles are recognized such that a foreign court will be deemed to have jurisdiction if the defendant submitted to the jurisdiction of that court[10] or where the defendant was resident[11] or present[12] in the territory of the foreign court. In addition to these bases, the foreign court’s jurisdiction will be recognized where there was a real and substantial connection between the matter and the foreign court.[13] The real and substantial connection test entails that a Canadian court can recognize and enforce a foreign judgment that was delivered in circumstances where the defendant was not physically present in the jurisdiction when served with the originating process, as long as a real and substantial connection between the case or the parties and that foreign jurisdiction exists. This is therefore an additional ground of jurisdiction to the traditional common law grounds obtaining in Nigeria and other common law jurisdictions.

While Nigerian courts insist on the physical presence/residence of the defendant in the foreign territory[14]Canadian courts will go further to determine if there was a real and substantial connection between the matter and the foreign forum. This paper discusses the differences in the two approaches in view of their impact on the interests of justice between the parties, and suggest, with reasons, that Nigeria and the rest of the common law should derive lessons from Canadian PIL.

 

Discussion

This paper acknowledges that the requirement of presence of the defendant in the territory of the foreign court at the time of service ensures that the proceedings are conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. If the defendant was not present, the necessary originating processes may fail to reach him, or at least in good time, so as to have sufficient time to defend his case.[15]

However, the fact that in Nigerian a court may be satisfied that the foreign court had jurisdiction merely by virtue of the defendant’s presence therein, without more, is not satisfactory. Firstly, such an approach enables recognition of a foreign judgment that was rendered by a court that was not connected, or at least sufficiently connected, to the case, and therefore an inappropriate court. As a result, the international jurisdiction of a court that has no connection at all with the case or the parties would be established simply because the defendant happens to have been present within that country, no matter how brief the stay may have been in that country. This may encourage forum shopping.[16] The plaintiff may deliberately institute proceedings in a court that is not connected to the case and therefore inappropriate, knowing that the resulting judgment will be accorded recognition and enforcement in Nigeria. Actually, it is this paper’s view that if this is to be followed to its ultimate logical conclusion, then any country in the world has jurisdiction to render a judgment capable of recognition in Nigeria and other common law countries as long as the originating process was served on the defendant within its territory regardless of how little, if any, is that jurisdiction’s connection to the case.[17] We do not believe that such a result is consistent with the ends of justice.[18]

 

Secondly, the insistency on the presence of the defendant in the foreign court practically means that an unscrupulous defendant is at liberty, at the first hint of a dispute, to prevent the plaintiff from getting a judgment capable of recognition in England merely by leaving the natural and appropriate jurisdiction in which the plaintiff may institute proceedings against him. Much as the plaintiff may still initiate the proceedings against the defendant and service be effected in accordance with the procedure for service out of jurisdiction, this paper’s view is that as long as the plaintiff would be unable to secure recognition and enforcement of that judgment on the ground of the defendant’s absence from the jurisdiction, the plaintiff’s right to access to justice and legal remedies would be infringed.[19]

Actually, in our view, the injustice occasioned by the insistence on the presence of the defendant as a necessary and sufficient condition as far as jurisdiction is concerned, may be suffered not only by the plaintiff but also by the defendant. The plaintiff, as stated in the preceding paragraph, may be unable to enforce a judgment that was obtained in a country that is very appropriate forum as long as the defendant was not present, notwithstanding his right to access to justice and effective remedies.[20] On the part of the defendant, a Nigerian court may recognize and enforce a foreign judgment rendered by a court that was not in any material way connected to the case.[21] It is our view that considerations such as these necessitate a revision in the common law approach to presence as a ground of jurisdiction for purposes of recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.[22]

Under Canadian PIL, a foreign judgment will be enforced against a defendant who was not present within the territory of the foreign forum provided that there was a real and substantial connection between the matter and the forum.[23] Further, it must be noted that the Canadian court will ensure that the rights of the defendant were protected and that the proceedings were conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice.[24] Put precisely, the courts will require the judgment creditor[25] to satisfy them that the defendant was aware of the proceedings against him through proof of service. The real and substantial connection test therefore enables the plaintiff to have the judgment enforced in circumstances where the court properly exercised jurisdiction even if service was not effected on the defendant within the foreign court’s territory. In this case, the plaintiff’s fundamental right to access to justice and legal remedies as well as the defendant’s right to be duly served with the originating process and to have sufficient time to defend his case are both served.[26]

There are two points that need to be made here. Firstly, under Nigerian PIL, provision is made for service outside jurisdiction if the defendant is not present within the jurisdiction and the case is sufficiently connected with Nigeria and it is the appropriate forum for hearing the case.[27] It can be argued, therefore, that if Nigerian law recognizes that there are circumstances under which courts can properly exercise jurisdiction against a defendant who is not within the jurisdiction and was actually served out of jurisdiction with originating process, why should they not accept that other courts can also exercise jurisdiction under the same circumstances and therefore be able to recognize and enforce judgments rendered by foreign courts under similar circumstances?[28]

Secondly, it must be stated that Nigerian courts are able to decline jurisdiction, when called upon to hear a case, if upon considering all relevant factors, they form the view that another forum exists with jurisdiction and is the more appropriate forum.[29] However, when a judgment is brought for recognition in Nigeria, Nigerian courts would not examine the appropriateness of the foreign court and would recognize that judgment even if the case was not in any way connected to that jurisdiction as long as the defendant’s presence is established. Why should the Nigerian courts, and indeed the courts in other common law jurisdictions, be able to recognize that jurisdiction should be exercised when it is appropriate to do so in the interest of justice when they are asked to hear a case, and then take a very different approach when it comes to recognition of foreign judgments so that they end up recognizing judgments rendered by forums that would be deemed appropriate?[30]

It is submitted that refusal to recognize and enforce foreign judgments by common law courts on the basis of the defendant’s absence from the foreign court, even when the matter was sufficiently connected to that foreign court, is an affront to the ends of justice in international litigation and is not in accordance with the realities of international commercial life. The approach of the Canadian courts through the adoption of the ‘real and substantial connection’ test is commendable. This paper laments that Nigeria and other common law jurisdictions have not joined Canada in this positive direction. An opportunity arose in Malawi, another common law jurisdiction, to modernize her international civil procedure when the Courts (High Court) (Civil Procedure) Rules (2017) were enacted. There is no provision at all with regard to recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments, which leaves the common law regime unchanged. One can only express regret at this missed opportunity.

 

Conclusion

It has been seen that presence of the defendant in the foreign jurisdiction is a basis of jurisdiction of the foreign court for a judgment rendered by that court to be recognized and enforced in Nigeria. In Canada, it is also a recognized basis of the jurisdiction of the foreign court but a foreign judgment may be recognized even when the defendant was not present in the foreign country as long as a real and substantial connection exists between the matter and the foreign jurisdiction.

This paper is of the view that the insistence of the common law on the presence of the defendant in the foreign country leads to injustices in circumstances where recognition is accorded to a judgment having been delivered in a foreign forum that was not appropriate, on one hand, or when a foreign judgment is refused recognition where it was rendered by an appropriate court merely on the basis of the defendant’s absence from the foreign jurisdiction, on the other hand. It is therefore submitted that Nigeria and the rest of the common law should join Canada in applying and developing a test that prevents presence or absence of a defendant from undermining the ends of justice in international litigation and, in particular, in the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

[1] See Richard Frimpong Oppong Private International Law in Commonwealth Africa (Cambridge University Press) 2013 p. 313.

[2] Nigeria law has both a statutory and common law regime for the enforcement of foreign judgments. In this paper, the focus is exclusively on the common law regime. Further, this paper focuses on jurisdiction as a condition of the recognition and enforcement of the foreign judgment and the other conditions (such as finality of the foreign judgment) are not addressed.

[3] Oppong (n1 ) 320.

[4] Richman vBen Tovim, SCA [2006] 148, [2007] (2) SA 283

[5] Burham vSuperior Court of California, 495 US 604; and Born, Rutledge and Kluwer International Civil Litigation in United States Courts (2011) 1120.

[6] Herman vMeallin (1891) 8 WN (NSW) 38.

[7] Malawi also has both a statutory and common law regime for the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

[8] Submission is established either through choice of forum agreements or where he defendant pleads to the merits of the case without contesting jurisdiction which the court otherwise did not have.

[9] Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Fimpong Oppong Private International Law in Nigeria (Bloomsbury publishing) 2020 p 353.

[10] Richardson v Allen (1916), 28 D.L.R. 134 (Alta S.C. (A.D.))

[11] First Hawaiian Bank v Smith, [1999] A.J. No. 643, 245 A.R. 148 (Alta Q.B.).

[12] Royal Bank of Canada v Industmarine Ltd., [1982] B.C.J. No. 2365. The constitutionality of mere presence as a ground of jurisdiction is however a controversial issue in Canada.

[13] Morguard Investment Ltd v De Savoye, [1990] S.C.J, No.135, 76 D.L.R. (4th) 256 (S.C.C.). This is a landmark and revolutionary decision that marked a departure from the refusal of recognition of foreign judgments if the defendant was absent from the jurisdiction of the court that delivered the judgment. The court felt that time had come to take a different approach to recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. Indeed the principles laid down in this case have been confirmed in the subsequent case law of the Supreme Court of Canada, most notably, in Beals v Saldanha (2003) 3 SCR 416.

[14] Assuming that the defendant did not submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court

[15] See Castel Conflict of Laws Cases, Notes and Materials (1968) 956 where the author actually states that the question of whether a court should have jurisdiction to entertain actions against absent defendants and give judgments which though effective territorially can be recognized in other jurisdictions is a policy issue not for the courts, thereby suggesting (it is submitted) that the court should be slow to render recognition to such judgments except where by legislation they are empowered to do so.

[16] See Tilbury, Davies an Opeskin Conflict of Laws in Australia (2002) 139 where the learned authors write: “A party engages in forum shopping when it seeks to litigate its case in a forum has little genuine connection with the court or the parties. Both plaintiff and defendant may influence the forum in which a case is tried, but the plaintiff is usually better able to do so”.

[17] See Collins (ed) Dicey, Morris and Collins on the Conflict of Laws (2012) 693 who seem to justify mere presence as a ground of jurisdiction on the basis of the temporary allegiance owed by the defendant to the local sovereign.

[18] See Ehrenzweig The Transient Rule of Personal Jurisdiction; The “Power” Myth and Forum Conveniens in Jurisdiction and Private International Law (2014) 565.

[19] It is therefore respectfully submitted that this may amount to a denial of the right to legal remedies and redress by preventing the plaintiff from enforcing the judgment. See generally Grosvenor Casinos Ltd v Ghassan Halaoui (2009 ) 10 NWLR 309.

[20] See TC Hartley International Commercial Litigation Texts, Cases and Materials in Private International Law (2015) 406. The learned author states that actually as far as English courts are concerned, if the defendant was absent from the jurisdiction in question, the fact that a contract was breached in that foreign country or that the tort was committed there does not suffice to confer jurisdiction on the foreign court.

[21] This means that the plaintiff may benefit from his forum shopping.

[22] Indeed the consideration of the injustices occasioned by the traditional common law principles convinced the Supreme Court of Canada to adopt the real and substantial connection test.

[23] See n 13.

[24] If the plaintiff fails to show that the principles of natural justice were adhered to the court will refuse recognition of the foreign judgment.

[25] Usually the plaintiff

[26] It is the submission of this paper that this is the approach that is in accord with the nature of private international law because it is based on the recognition that the parties will not always be physically present in the same jurisdiction when causes of action arise between them. The real and substantial connection test, in the view of this paper, is a recognition of this reality.

[27] See, for example, High Court of Kaduna State (Civil Procedure) Rules 2007, Ord. 8, r. 1)

[28] In other words, why should Nigerian court be able to exercise jurisdiction when they are not ready to recognize the judgments rendered by foreign courts under the same circumstances?

[29] The doctrine of forum non conveniens. On this doctrine in general see Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd [1987] AC 460.

[30] In other words, why should the Nigerian court recognize that there are circumstances under which they may not be the appropriate forum for the trial of certain cases and decline to do so, and fail to recognize that the same may be the case in other jurisdictions and only regard mere physical presence of the defendant in the foreign territory as conclusive, no matter how improper the exercise of jurisdiction may have been in the foreign court?

 




The Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments at Common Law in Nigeria

 

Written by Anthony Kennedy, Barrister at Serle Court

This is the second online symposium on Private International Law in Nigeria initially announced on this blog. It was published today on Afronomicslaw.org. The first  introductory symposium was published here by Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli and Richard Frimpong Oppong. More blog posts on this online symposium will follow this week.

Private International Law in Nigeria

Introduction

Authority exists for the proposition that a creditor of a foreign judgment may bring an action at common law in Nigeria, by which action he, in effect, seeks recognition and/or “enforcement” of that foreign judgment[1]. The common law action has not been abolished by statute or disapproved judicially but, sadly, it is not widely understood or used by practitioners/courts in Nigeria. This is unfortunate, especially where the statutory mechanism[2] for the enforcement of foreign judgments is certainly limited but otherwise shrouded in confusion[3]. This paper argues for a reawakening of the common law action.

 

The construction placed on the statutory regime

It is impossible properly to assess the scope for the common law action in Nigeria without first addressing the statutory mechanism for the enforcement of foreign judgments. The common law action only works in the space which has been left for it by the applicable statutory regime. Moreover, tactically, judgment creditors are likely to favour registration of the foreign judgment  under that statutory regime, where such registration is permitted, given the “better protection” which such regime affords them, at least theoretically, when compared with the common law[4].

With that in mind, the authorities yield the following propositions:

  1. the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Ordinance 1922 (the ‘1922 Ordinance’) is still in force and applies to those jurisdictions to which it was extended by Proclamation prior to the passing of the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1961[5] (the ‘1961 Act’);

 

  1. the provisions of the 1961 Act only come into effect upon the making of an order by the Minister of Justice (pursuant to Section 3 of the 1961 Act)[6] and no such order has yet been made; but

 

  1. notwithstanding proposition 2, Section 10(a) of the 1961 Act does have effect, thereby providing the time limit within which the application to register a foreign judgment in Nigeria must be made[7]. Moreover, Section 10(a) of the 1961 Act applies even where the foreign judgment is from a jurisdiction to which neither the 1922 Ordinance nor the 1961 Act has been extended[8].

 

Difficulties generated by the legal profession’s approach to proposition 1

Proposition 1 holds, it is submitted, and, of itself, generates no difficulty for the continued existence and/or growth of the common law action. That said, the legal profession’s approach (and that of the courts) to proposition 1 has been problematic.

Two points are worth making here; both are demonstrative of problems which beset the current state of the law. First, insufficient attention has been paid to the consequence of proposition 1, meaning that its import has not been fully understood. This may, of course, be the result of practitioners and judges concentrating on establishing and endorsing proposition 1 (which process is still ongoing, given the difficult relationship between proposition 1 and proposition 3[9]). Even so, difficulty remains. By way of example: Section 3(1) of the 1922 Ordinance provides that an application for registration be made “at any time within twelve months after the date of the judgment, or such longer period as may be allowed by the court…” (italics added). Where one would have expected argument as to why the court should have, in the legitimate exercise of its discretion, extended the time within which the application could be made, one finds none[10]. A chance to establish when a judgment creditor might appeal to the court’s discretion[11], and, correlatively, when he might have to fall back on the common law action, has been missed.

The second point follows from the first. While, as noted, tactically less advantageous than registration under the statutory regime, Section 3(4) of the 1922 Ordinance allows a judgment creditor to bring an action at common law on the foreign judgment, rather than have it registered under the 1922 Ordinance itself[12]. In circumstances where courts have not heard substantial argument on the Section 3(1) discretion and/or have exhibited a hostile attitude towards extending the time within which to make the application for registration[13], one would have expected a much greater role carved out for the common law action; one remains disappointed. And doubly so because, while not free from all controversy[14], the common law action may be brought within a longer period of time than the 1922 Ordinance permits (if one discounts the fact that the court may, at its discretion, extend time thereunder). At a stroke – so long as the judgment debtor could demonstrate that the other requirements had been met[15] – reliance on the common law action would remove the judgment creditor’s need to act as swiftly as the 1922 Ordinance has been made to require[16].

 

Difficulties generated directly by proposition 3

The language in which Section 10(a) of the 1961 Act is couched gives rise to similar problems as those described when dealing with the first point under the previous sub-heading. Leaving those to the side, it is the second sentence of proposition 3 which poses the most significant risk to the continued life (such as it is) of the common law action in Nigeria. If “registration” is contemplated (or somehow required) when dealing with judgments from jurisdictions to which the statutory regime has not been extended, the common law action (which has nothing at all to do with “registration” of a foreign judgment) is rendered completely useless[17].

Several cases may be cited which combine to paint a rather gloomy picture in this regard. Teleglobe America Inc v 21st Century Technologies[18]is, as far as one can tell, the judiciary’s first (and so most egregious) brushstroke but others have since been added[19]. Taken collectively, they suggest that there is no room left for the common law action, even though there is Supreme Court authority which suggests that the statutory regime was not designed to kill it off.

To be sure, the statutory regime, properly construed, applies only to foreign judgments from a narrow field of jurisdictions. If this is thought to be a problem, the answer does not lie, it is submitted, in a distorted interpretation and application of that statutory regime. Supplementing (a narrow) statutory regime by allowing a judgment creditor to resort to the common law action makes sense: it recognises that the necessary reciprocity which underpins the statutory regime is absent in the majority of circumstances while, at the same time, preserving the judgment creditor’s ability to obtain the debt which the judgment debtor is said to owe, at least in circumstances where Nigerian legal policy (as set out in the rules which govern the common law action) thinks that he should. Judgments which treat this idea with kindness, or at least do not dismiss it out of hand, are to be welcomed[20].

 

 

Difficulties generated indirectly by proposition 3

If proposition 3’s formulation is the product of perceived problems either with the statutory regime or the common law action itself, that is most unfortunate. For, rather than alleviating those problems, proposition 3 rather ensures that they will continue, at least until action on the part of the legislator (which action appears to be some way off).

Removing the common law action from view means that the rules which govern that common law action cannot be changed by the judiciary (which change might allow certain kinks within those rules to be ironed out). To be sure, the common law world has not stood still in relation to the enforcement of foreign judgments: interesting questions remain to be explored. For instance, there is ongoing debate as to the circumstances in which a foreign court should be accorded international jurisdiction over the judgment debtor[21] and different views have been expressed regarding whether the common law may be used to enforce judgments from supra-national tribunals[22]. Consideration of these questions in Nigeria has been stymied by the side-lining of the common law action.

Perhaps even more importantly, with an eye to the future, deliberately obscuring the common law action prevents one from taking a clear view of the current Nigerian legal system, insofar as it relates to the enforcement of foreign judgments, and so, in turn, prevents an assessment of the merits of signing up to international projects, like the recent (and still draft) Hague Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters. The answer to such questions is of supreme importance if Nigeria wishes to attract (legal) business from the continent as a whole. Those answers must be reached using all of the information available, which is why the common law action must somehow be revived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Alfred C Toepfer Inc v Edokpolor (1965) NCLR 89. More recently, see: Wilbros West Africa v Mcdonnel Contract Mining Ltd (2015) All FWLR 310.

[2] The overarching statutory regime for enforcement of foreign judgments comprises the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Ordinance 1922 and the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1961.

[3] Olawoyin, Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Nigeria: Statutory Dualism and Disharmony of Law (2014) 10 JIPL 129, 140.

[4]CSA Okoli and RF Oppong, Private International Law in Nigeria (Hart, 2020) 360.

[5]Macaulay v RZB of Austria (2003) 18 NWLR 282.

[6]Marine & General Assurance Company Plc v Overseas Union Insurance Ltd (2006) 4 NWLR 622; Grosvenor Casinos Ltd v Ghassan Halaoui (2009) 10 NWLR 309.

[7]Witt & Busch Ltd v Dale Power Systems PLC (2007) 17 NWLR 1.

[8]Teleglobe America Inc v 21st Century Technologies Ltd (2008) 17 NWLR 108.

[9]VAB Petroleum Inc v Momah (2013) 14 NWLR 284.

[10] By way of example, see Macaulay, supra fn. 5, and Marine & General, supra fn. 6.

[11] For a recent example of when an English court might be likely to exercise a similar discretion, see: Berhad v Frazer-Nash Research Ltd[2018] EWHC 1848 (QB).

[12] Though, where he does so, he is subject to a costs penalty where the conditions in Section 3(4) of the 1922 Ordinance are not satisfied.

[13] See the cases cited supra fn. 10.

[14] Compare, for instance, the competing views of the proper period of limitation as expressed by Olaniyan, The Commonwealth model and conundrum in the enforcement of foreign judgement regime in Nigeria, (2014) Commonwealth Law Bulletin, 40:1, 76, 88 (who seemingly advocates a standard 12 year time limit) and Okoli and Frimpong Oppong “Private International Law in Nigeria”(Hart Publishing, 2020), at 358-359 (who state that it depends on the state of Nigeria in which the action is brought).

[15] As to which, see Okoli and Frimpong Oppong, supra fn. 14 at 351-358.

[16]In this respect, Ogbuagbu JSC’s judgment in Grosvenor, supra fn. 6, at 334-335 is particularly disappointing. See: Okoli and Frimpong Oppong, supra fn. 14, at 373.

[17] See, to similar effect, Olaniyan, supra fn. 14, 88.

[18]Supra fn. 8.

[19] See, inter alia, African Reinsurance Corp v Gilar Cosmetic Store (2010) All FWLR 1194 (concerning a judgment from Liberia) and Obasi v Mikson Establishment Industries Ltd (2016) 16 NWLR 335 (concerning a judgment from Niger).

[20]Wilbros, supra fn. 1. Even there, however, Counsel took great pains to say that this was not an attempt to enforce a foreign judgment and the reasoning of the court in relation to that submission is not always easy to understand.

[21] Compare the position adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada in (originally)Beals v Saldanha 2003 SCC 72 and (more recently) Club Resorts Ltd v Van Breda [2012] 1 SCR 572 with that of the English Supreme Court in Rubin v Eurofinance SA [2012] UKSC 46.

[22] Compare the decision of the South African Constitutional Court in Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe v Fick [2013] ZACC 22 with that of the Ghanaian Supreme Court in Republic v High Court (Commercial Division) Accra, ex parte AG NML Capital and Argentina, Civil Motion No J5/10/2013. For a Nigerian perspective, see: Adigun, Enforcing ECOWAS judgments in Nigeria through the Common Law Rule on the Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (2019) 15 JIPL 130.




Book Symposium Introduction -Private International Law in Nigeria (Hart Publishing, 2020)

Written by Dr. Chukwuma Samuel Adesina Okoli, Post-Doctoral Researcher, T.M.C. Asser Institute and Dr. Richard Frimpong Oppong, Associate Professor, University of Bradford, School of Law

We earlier announced that the editors of Afronomicslaw.org invited Chukwuma and Richard to organise a symposium on Private International Law in Nigeria. The introduction to the symposium has now been published today in Afronomicslaw.org. Other posts on the symposium will be posted daily this week.

Private International Law in Nigeria

This Symposium focuses on the recent publication: Private International Law in Nigeria. For many, Nigeria needs no introduction: it is a federal country consisting of thirty-six states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. With increased cross-border transactions and investments, the significance of private international law (or conflict of laws) – the body of law that aims to resolve claims involving foreign elements – has become more accentuated than ever. Indeed, private international law rules have sometimes been invoked in resolving disputes with inter-state dimensions within the federation, especially on jurisdiction and choice of law matters. Conflict of laws has also been used to resolve disputes involving internal conflicts between various customary laws and between customary laws and the Nigerian Constitution or enabling statues, especially in the area of family law. In essence, because of its federal structure, private international law is relevant in both the inter-state and international litigation in Nigeria.

Prior to the publication of Private International Law in Nigeria, there was no comprehensive treatise on the subject in Nigeria. The Book aims to fill that academic void: drawing on over five hundred Nigerian cases, statutes, and academic commentaries, the Book examines mainly jurisdiction (in inter-state and international disputes), choice of law, and the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and international arbitral awards. It also examines remedies that affect foreign judicial proceedings such as antisuit injunction, and international judicial assistance to serve legal process and take evidence.

This Symposium brings together the reflections of four scholars on the book and explores some of the issues arising therefrom. In the Book, we examine the common law regime for enforcing foreign judgments in Nigeria and reveal the under-developed state of the law. Anthony Kennedy, a barrister at Serle Court, focuses on this aspect of the book to forcefully argue for a “reawakening of the common law action” to enforce foreign judgments. Kennedy is critical, and rightly so, of how the legal profession and the courts have treated the common law regime notwithstanding clear authority from the Supreme Court of Nigeria that the statutory regime for enforcing foreign judgments was not designed to kill off the common law regime. Kennedy argues that by not side-lining the common law regime, Nigeria may be able to partake in the judicial development of the regime that is going on in other parts of the common law world, as well as international projects such as the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters, 2019.

Richard Mike Mlambe, an Attorney and Lecturer at University of Malawi- The Polytechnic, picks up the theme of reform and judicial development of private international law, in a comparative discussion on the bases of jurisdiction in an action to enforce a foreign judgment. Mlambe commends Canada’s “real and substantial connection” basis of international competence. The real and substantial connection test promotes the liberal flow of judgments across borders. Mlambe calls on Nigeria and other common law jurisdictions to join Canada on its “lonely revolution”.

Dr Abubakri Yekini, a Lecturer in Law at Lagos State University, explores the enforceability of jurisdiction agreements in Nigeria drawing on the Book’s discussion which reveals, in the words of Yekini that “it is difficult to give a straight answer on whether jurisdiction agreements are enforced by Nigerian courts” – a state of affairs which he rightly argues creates uncertainties and is not good for international business transactions. Yekini examines three significant challenges to the enforcement of jurisdiction agreements in Nigeria, namely the courts’ mischaracterisation of such agreement as “ouster clauses”; mandatory statutes vesting exclusive jurisdiction in Nigeria courts; and the misapplication of the doctrine of forum non conveniens in cases involving breach of jurisdiction agreement, instead of the strong cause test. Yekini makes an impassioned plea for Nigerian courts to “promote party autonomy”, and a call on Nigeria to become party to the Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, 2005.

Orji Agwu Uka, a Senior Associate at Africa Law Practice (ALP), reflects on the state of private international law in Nigeria and calls for its wider study. Indeed, as Uka rightly acknowledges, for more than a decade, scholars have lamented the level of interest in private international law in Africa. Happily, private international law in Africa can hardly now be described as “the Cinderella subject seldom studied [and] little understood”. Uka undertakes a broad but careful review of the book – highlighting various topics examined in the book but focusing especially on the law on jurisdiction in international and inter-state matters. Uka commends Private International Law in Nigeria for filling a significant academic void on the Nigerian legal landscape.

It is our hope that the Book and this Symposium, in addition to being a rich legal resource for lawyers, judges and legislators would spur on further study of private international law in Nigeria, and Africa. Indeed, the Nigerian Group on Private International Law(“NGPIL”) has already been established and “set sail”. NGPIL aims to “(1) to improve the law in Nigeria in matters relating to private international law (“PIL”) (2) to persuade the Nigerian government to accede to the Hague Conventions on PIL (3) to liaise with other experts, groups, and research centres on PIL on a global level (4) to nurture, guide and develop the legal mechanism and framework for PIL in Nigeria (5) to be the collective voice of PIL experts for the Nigerian government, the judiciary, lawyers and other relevant stakeholders and, (6) to improve the links and communication between PIL experts in Africa”. The book: Private International Law in Nigeria will certainly make the work of NGPIL less daunting.