Tag Archive for: conflict of laws

Traveling Judges and International Commercial Courts

Written by Alyssa S. King and Pamela K. Bookman

International commercial courts—domestic courts, chambers, and divisions dedicated to commercial or international commercial disputes such as the Netherlands Commercial Court and the never-implemented Brussels International Business Court—are the topic of much discussion these days. The NCC is a division of the Dutch courts with Dutch judges. The BIBC proposal, however, envisioned judges who were mostly “part-timerswho may include specialists from outside Belgium. While the BIBC experiment did not pass Parliament, other commercial courts around the world have proliferated, and some hire judges from outside their jurisdictions.

In a new paper forthcoming in the American Journal of International Law, we set out to determine how many members of the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts hire such “traveling judges,” who they are, why they are hired, and why they serve.

Based on new empirical data and interviews with over 25 judges and court personnel, we find that traveling judges are found on commercially focused courts around the world. We identified nine jurisdictions with such courts, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kazakhstan, and the Caribbean (the Cayman Islands and the BVI), and The Gambia. These courts are designed to accommodate foreign litigants and transnational litigation—and inevitably, conflicts of laws.

One may assume that these judges largely resemble arbitrators (as was likely intended for the BIBC). But whereas studies  show arbitrators are mostly white, male lawyers from “developed” countries that may be based in the common law or civil law tradition, traveling judges are even more likely to be white and male, vastly more likely to have prior judicial experience and common-law legal training, and are overwhelmingly from the UK and its former dominion colonies. In the subset of commercially focused courts in our study, just over half of the traveling judges were from England and Wales specifically. Nearly two-thirds had at least one law degree from a UK university.

Below is a chart showing the home jurisdiction of the judges in our study.  This includes traveling judges sitting on the BVI commercial division, Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, Qatar International Court, Cayman Islands Financial Services Division, Singapore International Commercial Court, Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Courts, and Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) Courts as of June 2021.

Figure 2: Traveling Judges by Home Jurisdiction Excluding Non-Commercial ECSC and The Gambia—June 2021

A look at traveling judges’ backgrounds suggests that traveling judges might be a phenomenon limited to common-law countries, but only half of hiring jurisdictions are in common law states. Almost all hiring jurisdictions, however, are common law jurisdictions. Moreover, almost all are or aspire to be market-dominant small jurisdictions (MDSJ). For example, the DIFC Courts are located in a common law jurisdiction within a non-common-law state that has been identified as a MDSJ.

Traveling judges are a phenomenon rooted not only in the rise of international commercial arbitration, but also in the history of the British colonial judicial service. Today, traveling judges may be said to bring their expertise and knowledge of best practices in international commercial dispute resolution. But traveling judges also offer hiring jurisdictions a method of transplanting well-respected courts, like London’s commercial court, on their shores. In doing so, judges reveal these jurisdictions’ efforts to harness business preferences for English common law into their domestic court systems.  They also provide further opportunities for convergence on global civil procedure norms, or at least common law ones. Many courts have adopted some version of the English Civil Procedure Rules, looking for something international lawyers find familiar and reliable. Judges also report learning from each other’s approaches.

Our article suggests that traveling judges are a nearly entirely common law phenomenon—only a handful of judges were from mixed jurisdictions and only one was a civil law judge. Common law courts may be especially amenable to traveling judges. In contrast to judges in continental civil law systems, common law judges are not career bureaucrats. They come to the judiciary late, usually after having built successful litigation practices. Moreover, the sociologist, and judge, Antoine Garapon observes that common law style-judging can be more personalized, with more room for individual authority rather than that of the office. All these differences are a matter of degree, with exceptions that come readily to mind. Still, as a result, common law judges are more likely have reputations independent of the office they serve. That reputation, in turn, is valuable to hiring governments eager to demonstrate their commercial law bona fides.

These efforts to harness English common law contrast with the efforts to build international commercial courts in the Netherlands or Belgium. The NCC advertises itself as an English-language court built on the foundation of the Dutch judiciary’s strong reputation. As such, it has no need for foreign judges or common law experience. The BIBC likely also would not have relied as heavily on retired English judges, both because its designers envisioned more lay adjudicators (not retired judges) and likely a greater civil law influence. In that sense, its roster of judges might have more closely resembled that of the new international commercial court in Bahrain.

The Dutch, Belgian, and Bahraini examples do share something else in common with the network of courts profiled in Traveling Judges, however. Despite their apparent similarities to arbitration, these courts are domestic courts, and they exist in significantly different political environments. The differences between Dutch and Belgian national politics influenced the NCC’s success in being established and the BIBC’s failure. In Belgium, for instance, the BIBC was maligned as a “caviar court” for foreign companies and the Belgian Parliament ultimately decided against the proposal. As one of us recounts in a related article on arbitration-court hybrids, similar arguments were raised in the Dutch Parliament, but they did not win the day. Several courts in our study, such as those established in the special economic zones in the UAE, did not face such constraints. But they may face others, such as how local courts will recognize and cooperate with a new court operating according to a different legal system and in a different language. The new court in Bahrain overcame local obstacles to its establishment, but it may face yet another set of political constraints and pressures as it proceeds to hear its first cases. Wherever traveling judges travel, local politics will affect both hiring jurisdictions’ ability to achieve their goals and traveling judges’ ability to judge in the way they are accustomed.


Conflict of Laws of Freedom of Speech on Elon Musk’s Twitter

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has been a divisive event. Commenting on the response on Twitter and elsewhere, Musk tweeted:

The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all


By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law.

I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.

If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect.

Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.

Ralf Michaels quote-tweeted perceptively: ‘But which law?’

Twitter and the conflict of laws

By their very nature, digital platforms like Twitter present a variety of conflict of laws issues.

‘Twitter’ is not a monolithic entity. The functionality of the social media platform with which readers would be familiar is underpinned by a transnational corporate group. Twitter, Inc is incorporated in Delaware, and has various subsidiaries around the world; Twitter International Company, for example, is incorporated in Ireland and responsible as data controller for users that live outside of the United States. The business is headquartered in San Francisco but has offices, assets, and thousands of staff around the world.

The platform is populated by 400 million users from all over the world. After the US, the top 5 countries with the most Twitter users are comprised of Japan, India, the UK and Brazil. The tweets and retweets of those users may be seen all over the world. Users have wielded that functionality for all sorts of ends: to report on Russia’s war in real-time; to coordinate an Arab Spring; to rally for an American coup d’état; to share pictures of food, memes, and endless screams; and to share conflict of laws scholarship.

Disputes involving material on Twitter thus naturally include foreign elements. Where disputes crystallise into litigation, a court may be asked to consider what system of law should determine a particular issue. When the issue concerns whether speech is permissible, the answer may be far from simple.

Free speech in the conflict of laws

The treatment of freedom of speech in the conflict of laws depends on the system of private international law one is considering, among other things. (The author is one of those heathens that eschews the globalist understanding of our discipline.)

Alex Mills has written that the balance between free speech and other important interests ‘is at the heart of any democratic political order’.[1] Issues involving free speech may thus engage issues of public policy, or ordre public,[2] as well as constitutional considerations.

From the US perspective, the ‘limits of free speech’ on Twitter is likely to be addressed within the framework of the First Amendment, even where foreign elements are involved. As regards private international law, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act 28 USC 4101- 4105 (‘SPEECH Act’) is demonstrative. It operates in aid of the constitutional right to freedom of expression and provides that a US ‘domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic court determines that’ the relevant foreign law would provide the same protections for freedom of speech as would be afforded by the US Constitution.[3]

Other common law jurisdictions have approached transnational defamation issues differently, and not with explicit reference to any capital-c constitutional rights. In Australia, the High Court has held that the lex loci delicti choice-of-law rule combined with a multiple publication rule means that defamation is determined by the law of the jurisdiction in which a tweet is ‘available in comprehensible form’: the place or places it is downloaded.[4] In contrast, where a claim concerns a breach of confidence on Twitter, an Australian court is likely to apply the equitable principles of the lex fori even if the information was shared into a foreign jurisdiction without authorisation.[5] In either case, constitutional considerations are sidelined.

The balance to be struck between free speech on the one hand, and so-called ‘personality rights’ on the other, is a controversial issue within a legal system, let alone between legal systems. So for example, the choice-of-law rule for non-contractual obligations provided by the Rome II Regulation does not apply to personality rights, as a consensus could not be reached on point.[6] Similarly, defamation and privacy are excluded from the scope of the HCCH Judgments Convention by Art 2(1)(k)–(l).

There is a diversity of approaches to choice of law for cross-border infringements of personality rights between legal systems.[7] But the ‘law applicable to free speech on Twitter’ is an issue that goes far broader than personality rights. It touches on as many areas of law as there are aspects of human affairs that are affected by the Twitter platform. For example, among other things, the platform may be used to:

Issues falling into different areas of law may be subject to different choice-of-law rules, and different systems of applicable law. What one system characterises as an issue for the proper law of the contract could be treated as an issue for a forum statute in another.

All of this is to say: determining what ‘the law says’ about certain content on Twitter is a far more complex issue than Elon Musk has suggested.

The law applicable to online dignity

Key to the divisiveness of Musk’s acquisition is his position on content moderation. Critics worry that a laissez-faire approach to removing objectionable content on the platform will lead to a resurgence of hate speech.

Musk’s vision for a freer Twitter will be subject to a variety of national laws that seek to protect dignity at the cost of free speech in various ways. For example, in April, the European Parliament agreed on a ‘Digital Services Act’, while in the UK, at the time of writing, an ‘Online Safety Bill’ is in the House of Commons. In Australia, an Online Safety Act was passed in 2021, which provided an ‘existing Online Content Scheme [with] new powers to regulate illegal and restricted content no matter where it’s hosted’. That scheme complements various other national laws, like our Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which outlaws speech that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people, and was done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the person or group.

When a person in the United States posts content about an Australian that is permissible under US law, but violates Australian statute, the difficulty of Musk’s position on the limits of censorship becomes clear. Diverse legal systems come to diverse positions on the appropriate balance between allowing online freedom and protecting human dignity, which are often struck with mandatory law. When your platform is frequented by millions of users all over the world, there is no single ‘will of the people’ by which to judge. Perhaps Musk will embrace technological solutions to give effect to national standards on what sort of content must be censored.

A host of other conflicts issues

Musk-era Twitter is likely to pose a smorgasbord of other issues for interrogation by conflict of laws enthusiasts.

For example: legal systems take diverse approaches to the issue of whether a foreign parent company behind a platform like Twitter can be imposed with liability, or even criminal responsibility, for content that is on the platform. While conservatives in America consider the fate of s 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a provision that means that Twitter is not publisher of content they host—other countries take a very different view of the issue. Litigation involving the companies behind Twitter is likely to engage courts’ long-arm jurisdiction.

Perhaps the thorniest conflicts problem that may emerge on Musk’s Twitter is the scope of national laws that concern disinformation. In an announcement on 25 April, Musk stated:

‘Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated’.

Recent years have shown that the future of humanity is not necessarily benefited by free speech on social media. How many lives were lost as a result of vaccine-scepticism exacerbated by the spread of junk science on social media? How many democracies have been undermined by Russian disinformation campaigns on Twitter? The extraterritorial application of forum statutes to deal with these kinds of issues may pose a recurring challenge for Musk’s vision.[8] I look forward to tweeting about it.

Michael Douglas is Senior Lecturer at UWA Law School and a consultant in litigation at Bennett + Co, Perth.


[1] Alex Mills, ‘The Law Applicable to Cross-border Defamation on Social Media: Whose Law Governs Free Speech in “Facebookistan”?’ (2015) 7 Journal of Media Law 1, 21.

[2] See, eg, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art 19(3).

[3] SPEECH Act s 3; United States Code, title 28, Part VI, § 4102. See generally Lili Levi, ‘The Problem of Trans-National Libel’ (2012) 60 American Journal of Comparative Law 507.

[4] Dow Jones & Co Inc v Gutnick (2002) 210 CLR 575.

[5] But see Michael Douglas, ‘Characterisation of Breach of Confidence as a Privacy Tort in Private International Law’ (2018) 41 UNSW Law Journal 490.

[6] Art 4(1); see Andrew Dickinson, The Rome II Regulation (Oxford University Press, 2008).

[7] See generally Symeon C Symeonides, Cross-Border Infringement of Personality Rights via the Internet (Brill, 2021) ch VI; Tobias Lutzi, Private International Law Online: Internet and Civil Liability in the EU (Oxford University Press, 2020) ch 4.

[8] See generally Matthias Lehmann, ‘New Challenges of Extraterritoriality: Superposing Laws’ in Franco Ferrari and Diego P Fernández Arroyo (eds), Private International Law: Contemporary Challenges and Continuing Relevance (Edward Elgar, 2019) ch 10.

Revised Canadian Statute on Jurisdiction

Written by Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

Many Canadian and some other conflicts scholars will know that the Uniform Law Conference of Canada (ULCC) has drafted (in 1994) model legislation putting the taking of jurisdiction and staying of proceedings on a statutory footing. This statute, known as the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (CJPTA), has subsequently been adopted and brought into force in 4 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Yukon).

The ULCC has now released a revised version of the CJPTA. It is available here and background information is available here.

Read more

Ducking the Ricochet: The Supreme Court of Canada on Foreign Judgments

Written by Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

The court’s decision in HMB Holdings Ltd v Antigua and Barbuda, 2021 SCC 44 (available here) is interesting for at least two reasons. First, it adds to the understanding of the meaning of “carrying on business” as a test for being present in a jurisdiction. Second, it casts doubt on the application of statutory registration schemes for foreign judgments to judgments that themselves recognize a foreign judgment (the so-called ricochet).

In this litigation HMB obtained a Privy Council judgment and then sued to enforce it in British Columbia. Antigua did not defend and so HMB obtained a default judgment. HMB then sought to register the British Columbia judgment in Ontario under Ontario’s statutory scheme for the registration of judgments (known as REJA). An important threshold issue was whether the statutory scheme applied to judgments like the British Columbia one (a recognition judgment). In part this is a matter of statutory interpretation but in part it requires thinking through the aim and objectives of the scheme.

Read more

HCCH Monthly Update: August 2021

Conventions & Instruments

On 23 July 2021, New Zealand deposited its instrument of ratification of the HCCH 2007 Child Support Convention. With the ratification of New Zealand, 42 states and the European Union are bound by the Child Support Convention. It will enter into force for New Zealand on 1 November 2021. More information is available here.

On 1 August 2021, the HCCH 1996 Child Protection Convention entered into force for Costa Rica. It currently has 53 Contracting Parties. More information is available here.

Meetings & Events

As announced on 3 August 2021, registration for the 12th International Forum on the electronic Apostille Programme (e-APP) is now open to the general public. The event will be hosted online on 4 October 2021. The deadline for registration is Friday, 10 September 2021, 5.00 p.m. CEST. More information is available here.

On 9 August 2021, the HCCH and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States co-hosted a webinar on international child abduction.

On 19 August 2021, the HCCH, the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices and the Malaysian Judiciary co-hosted a virtual HCCH-ASEAN Masterclass. More information is available here.


Vacancy: Applications are now open for three- to six-month legal internships from January to June 2022. The deadline for the submission of applications is 24 September 2021 (18:00 CEST). More information is available here.

Reminder: Submissions for the HCCH|Approach Essay Competition and the HCCH|Approach Media and Design Competition are due on 1 October 2021. The competitions are organised as part of the Advancing and Promoting the Protection of All Children (Approach) Initiative, launched in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the HCCH 1996 Child Protection Convention. More information is available here.


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

Defending the Rule in Antony Gibbs

By Neerav Srivastava


The Rule in Antony Gibbs[1] (‘the Rule’) provides that if the proper law of a contract is Australian, then a discharge of the debt by a foreign jurisdiction will not be a discharge in Australia unless the creditor submitted to the foreign jurisdiction.[2] The Rule is much maligned, especially in insolvency circles, and has been described as “Victorian”.[3] In ‘Heritage and Vitality: Whether Antony Gibbs is a Presumption’[4] I seek to defend the Rule.


The article begins by arguing that, in the modern context, that the Rule should be recognised as a Presumption as to party intentions.

Briefly, Gibbs was decided in the 1890s. At the time, the prevailing view was that the proper law of a contract was either the law of the place of the contract or its performance.[5] This approach was based on apportioning regulatory authority between sovereign States rather than party intentions. To apply a foreign proper law in a territory was regarded as contrary to territorial sovereignty. Freedom of contract and party intentions were becoming relevant to proper law but only to a limited extent.[6]

As for Gibbs, Lord Esher’s language is consistent with the ‘Regulatory Approach’:

It is clear that these were English contracts according to two rules of law; first, because they were made in England; secondly, because they were to be performed in England. The general rule as to the law which governs a contract is that the law of the country, either where the contract is made, or where it is to be so performed that it must be considered to be a contract of that country, is the law which governs such contract …[7]

Notice that the passage makes no reference to party intentions.

By the early 20th century, the position had evolved in that it was generally accepted that party intentions determined the proper law.[8] Even so, it was not until the late 1930s that the Privy Council stated that the position was “well-settled”.[9] Party intentions has evolved into being the test for proper law universally.[10]

Under the modern approach, party intentions as to proper law are a question of fact and not territorial. Parties are free to choose a proper law of a jurisdiction with which they have no connection.[11] As a question of fact, party intentions are better understood as a ‘Presumption’. Further, the Presumption might be displaced. The same conclusion can be reached via an implied term analysis.

The parties can also agree that there is more than one proper law for a contract. That, too, is consistent with party autonomy. Under depeçage, one law can govern a contract’s implementation and another its discharge.[12] Likewise, the Second Restatement in the US[13] and the International Hague Principles allow a contract to have multiple proper laws.[14]

Cross-border Insolvency

The second part of the article addresses criticisms of Gibbs by cross-border insolvency practitioners. In insolvency, issues are no longer merely between the two contracting parties. The body of creditors are competing for a share of a company’s remaining assets. Under pari passu all creditors are to be treated equally. If a company is in a foreign liquidation, and its discharge of Australian debt is not recognised by an Australian court, Gibbs appears inconsistent with pari passu. Specifically, it appears that the creditor can sue in Australia and secure a disproportionate return.

That is an incomplete picture. While the foreign insolvency does not discharge the debt in Australia, when it comes to enforcement comity applies. Comity is agitated by a universal distribution process in a foreign insolvency. Having regard to comity, the Australian court will treat local and international creditors equally.[15] If creditors are recovering 50% in a foreign insolvency, an Australian court will not allow an Australian creditor to recover more than 50% at the enforcement stage. Criticisms of the Presumption do not give due weight to enforcement.

Gibbs has been described as irreconcilable with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency 1997 (the 1997 Model Law),[16] which is generally[17] regarded as embodying ‘modified universalism’. That, it is submitted, reflects a misunderstanding.

Historically, in a cross-border insolvency “territorialism” applied.[18] Each country collected assets in its territory and distributed them to creditors claiming in those insolvency proceedings. In the past 200 years, universalism has been applied.[19] Under ‘pure universalism’, there is only one process for collecting assets globally and distributing to all creditors. Modified universalism:

accepts the central premise of [pure] universalism, that assets should be collected and distributed on a worldwide basis, but reserves to local courts discretion to evaluate the fairness of the home-country procedures and to protect the interests of local creditors …[20]

Modified universalism can be understood as a structured form of comity.[21] It asks that all creditors be treated equally but is a tent in that it allows States to choose how to protect the interest of creditors. A State may choose to couple recognition of the foreign insolvency – and the collection of assets in its jurisdiction – with the discharge of creditors’ debts. However, the 1997 Model Law does not require a State to follow this mechanism.[22] Under the Anglo-Australian mechanism (a) a debt may not be discharged pursuant to Gibbs (b), but creditors are treated equally at the enforcement stage. It is a legitimate approach under the tent that is modified universalism.


[1] Antony Gibbs & Sons v Société Industrielle et Commerciale des Métaux (1890) 25 QBD 399.

[2] Albert Venn Dicey, A Digest of the Law of England With Reference To The Conflict of Laws (Stevens, 1896) rule 113.

[3] Varoon Sachdev, “Choice of Law in Insolvency Proceedings: How English Courts’ Continued Reliance on the Gibbs Principle Threatens Universalism” (2019) 93 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 343.

[4] (2021) 29 Insolvency Law Journal 61. Available at Westlaw Australia.

[5] Alex Mills, Party Autonomy in Private International Law (CUP, 2018) 53, citing Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co v Shand (1865) 16 ER 103.

[6] Alex Mills, The Confluence of Public and Private International Law (CUP, 2009), 53.

[7] Antony Gibbs & Sons v Société Industrielle et Commerciale des Métaux (1890) 25 QBD 399, 405 (Gibbs).

[8] Alex Mills, Party Autonomy in Private International Law (CUP, 2018) 56, Lord Collins et al, Dicey, Morris & Collins, The Conflict of Laws (Sweet & Maxwell, 15th ed, 2017), [32-004]–[32-005].

[9] Vita Food Products Inc v Unus Shipping Co Ltd [1939] AC 277.

[10] Martin Davis et al, Nygh’s Conflict of Laws in Australia (Lexis Nexis, 2019), [19.6]; Lord Collins et al, Dicey, Morris & Collins, The Conflict of Laws (Sweet & Maxwell, 15th ed, 2017), [32-004]–[32-005], [32-042]; and Principles on Choice of Law in International Commercial Contracts promulgated by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 2015.

[11] Vita Food Products Inc v Unus Shipping Co Ltd [1939] AC 277, Martin Davis et al, Nygh’s Conflict of Laws in Australia (Lexis Nexis, 2019), [19.15].

[12] Club Mediterranee New Zealand v Wendell [1989] 1 NZLR 216, Olex Focas Pty Ltd v Skodaexport Co Ltd [1998] 3 VR 380.

[13] Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 188.

[14] Principles on Choice of Law in International Commercial Contracts promulgated by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 2015.

[15] Galbraith v Grimshaw [1910] AC 508, Chapman v Travelstead (1998) 86 FCR 460, Re HIH Casualty & General Insurance Ltd (2005) 190 FLR 398.

[16] In Australia the 1997 Model Law was extended to Australia by the Cross-Border Insolvency Act 2008 (Cth).

[17] Adrian Walters, “Modified Universalisms & the Role of Local Legal Culture in the Making of Cross-border Insolvency Law” (2019) 93 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 47, 64.

[18] Although Rares J has pointed out, “centuries earlier, maritime lawyers had developed a sophisticated and generally harmonious system of dealing with cross-border insolvencies”: Steven Rares, “Consistency and Conflict – Cross-Border Insolvency” (Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Banking & Financial Services Law Association, Brisbane, 4 September 2015).

[19] Re HIH Casualty & General Insurance Ltd [2008] 1 WLR 852, [30]; [2008] UKHL 21.

[20] Jay Lawrence Westbrook, “Choice of Avoidance Law in Global Insolvencies” (1991) 17 Brooklyn Journal of International Law 499, 517.

[21] UNCITRAL, Guide to Enactment and Interpretation of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-border Insolvency (2014) [8].

[22] Akers v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (2014) 223 FCR 8; [2014] FCAFC 57. See too Re Bakhshiyeva v Sberbank of Russia [2019] Bus LR 1130 (CA); [2018] EWCA 2802.

HCCH Monthly Update: July 2021


On 1 July 2021, Mongolia deposited its instrument of acceptance of the Statute, becoming the 89th Member of the HCCH. More information is available here.

Conventions & Instruments  

On 3 July 2021, the HCCH 1961 Apostille Convention entered into force for Jamaica. It currently has 120 Contracting Parties. More information is available here.

On 30 July 2021, the HCCH 1970 Evidence Convention entered into force for Georgia. It currently has 64 Contracting Parties. More information is available here.

Meetings & Events

From 5 to 9 July 2021, the Experts’ Group on Parentage/Surrogacy met for the ninth time, via videoconference. The Group discussed the scope of the possible draft Convention on legal parentage and the scope of the possible draft Protocol on legal parentage established as a result of an (international) surrogacy arrangement. More information is available here.

On 27 July 2021, the Permanent Bureau announced that Edition 2021 of HCCH a|Bridged will be dedicated to the HCCH 2005 Choice of Court Convention and held online on 1 December 2021. More information is available here.

On 28 July 2021, the Permanent Bureau launched the Advancing and Promoting the Protection of All Children (Approach) Initiative, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the HCCH 1996 Child Protection Convention. As part of this initiative, the Permanent Bureau is organising two competitions: the HCCH|Approach Essay Competition and the HCCH|Approach Media and Design Competition. Submissions are due on 1 October 2021. More information is available here.

Publications & Documentation

On 2 July 2021, the Permanent Bureau announced the publication of translations, in Albanian, Macedonian, and Bosnian-Serbian-Montenegrin languages, of the Explanatory Report on the HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention. These are the first available translations after the official publication of the Explanatory Report in October 2020. They were supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Open Regional Fund for South East Europe – Legal Reform (ORF – Legal Reform). More information is available here.


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

HCCH|Approach Initiative – Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the 1996 Child Protection Convention

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the HCCH 1996 Child Protection Convention, the HCCH is pleased to announce the launch of the Advancing and Promoting the Protection of All Children (Approach) Initiative!

The HCCH|Approach Initiative will consist of a series of activities and events culminating in the HCCH|Approach Event, to be held online on Tuesday 19 October 2021. Information on registration and the programme of the HCCH|Approach Event will be made available in due course.

Leading up to the HCCH|Approach Event, the Permanent Bureau of the HCCH is organising two competitions: the HCCH|Approach Essay Competition, and the HCCH|Approach Media and Design Competition. Entries can be submitted up until Friday 1 October 2021, 5.00 p.m. (CEST).

More information on the HCCH|Approach Initiative and its competitions is available here.

This post is published by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference of Private International Law (HCCH). 

Epic’s Fight to #freefortnite: Challenging Exclusive Foreign Choice of Court Agreements under Australian Law

By Sarah McKibbin, University of Southern Queensland

Epic Games, the developer of the highly popular and lucrative online video game Fortnite, recently won an appeal against tech juggernaut, Apple, in Australia’s Federal Court.[1] Fortnite is played by over three million Apple iOS users in Australia.[2] In April 2021, Justice Perram awarded Apple a temporary three-month stay of proceedings on the basis of an exclusive foreign choice of court agreement in favour of the courts of the Northern District of California. Despite awarding this stay, Justice Perram was nevertheless ‘distinctly troubled in acceding to’ Apple’s application.[3] Epic appealed to the Full Court.

On 9 July, Justices Middleton, Jagot and Moshinsky found three errors of principle in Justice Perram’s consideration of the ‘strong reasons’ given by Epic for the proceedings to remain in the Federal Court — despite the exclusive foreign choice of court agreement.[4] Exercising its own discretion, the Full Court then found ‘strong reasons’ for the proceedings to remain in the Federal Court, particularly because enforcement of the choice of court agreement would ‘offend the public policy of the forum.’[5] They discerned this policy from various statutory provisions in Australia’s competition law as well as other public policy considerations.[6] The appeal highlights the tension that exists between holding parties to their promises to litigate abroad and countenancing breaches of contract where ‘serious issues of public policy’ are at play.[7]

1          Exclusive Choice of Foreign Court Agreements in Australia

Australians courts will enforce an exclusive choice of court agreement favouring a foreign court either by granting a stay of local proceedings or by awarding damages for breach of contract. The usual approach is for the Australian court to enforce the agreement and grant a stay of proceedings ‘unless strong reasons are shown why it should not.’[8] As Justice Allsop observed in Incitec v Alkimos Shipping Corp, ‘the question is one of the exercise of a discretion in all the circumstances, but recognising that the starting point is the fact that the parties have agreed to litigate elsewhere, and should, absent some strong countervailing circumstances, be held to their bargain.’[9] The burden of demonstrating strong reasons rests on the party resisting the stay.[10] Considerations of inconvenience and procedural differences between jurisdictions are unlikely to be sufficient as strong reasons.[11]

Two categories of strong reasons predominate. The first category is where, as stated in Akai Pty Ltd v The People’s Insurance Co Ltd, enforcement ‘offends the public policy of the forum whether evinced by statute or declared by judicial decision’.[12] This includes the situation ‘where the party commencing proceedings in the face of an exclusive jurisdiction clause seeks to take advantage of what is or may be a mandatory law of the forum’.[13] The prohibition in Australian law against misleading and deceptive conduct is an example.[14] The second category justifying non-enforcement is where litigation in the forum concerns issues beyond the scope of the choice of court agreement or concerns third parties to the agreement.[15] Where third parties are concerned, it is thought that ‘the court should not start with the prima facie disposition in favour of a stay of proceedings’.[16]

2         Factual Background

The successful appeal represents the latest decision in an ongoing international legal battle between Apple and Epic precipitated by Fortnite’s removal from the Apple App Store in August last year. Epic released a software update for Apple iOS devices on 13 August 2020 making the Fortnite’s virtual currency (called V-Bucks) available for purchase through its own website, in addition to Apple’s App Store, at a 20 per cent discount. Any new game downloads from the App Store ‘came equipped with this new feature’.[17] While Fortnite is free to download, Epic’s revenue is generated by players purchasing in-app content, such as dance moves and outfits, through a digital storefront. After the digital storefront takes a commission (usually 30 per cent), Epic receives the net payment.

App developers only have one avenue if they wish to distribute their apps for use on Apple iOS devices: they must use the Apple App Store and Apple’s in-app payment system for in-app purchases from which Apple takes a 30 per cent revenue cut. Epic’s co-founder and CEO Tim Sweeney has singled out Apple and Google for monopolising the market and for their ‘terribly unfair and exploitative’ 30 per cent commission for paid app downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions.[18] While a 70/30 revenue split has been industry standard for many years, the case for an 88/12 revenue model is building.[19] Sweeney argues that ‘the 30% store tax usually exceeds the entire profits of the developer who built the game that’s sold’.[20]

3         Apple’s App Developer Agreement

Epic’s relationship with Apple is regulated by the Apple Developer Program License Agreement (‘DPLA’) under which Apple is entitled to block the distribution of apps from the iOS App Store ‘if the developer has breached the App Store Review Guidelines’.[21] These Guidelines include the obligation to exclusively use Apple’s in-app payment processing system. Clause 14.10 contains Epic’s contractual agreement with Apple to litigate in the Northern District of California:

Any litigation or other dispute resolution between You and Apple arising out of or relating to this Agreement, the Apple Software, or Your relationship with Apple will take place in the Northern District of California, and You and Apple hereby consent to the personal jurisdiction of and exclusive venue in the state and federal courts within that District with respect any such litigation or dispute resolution.

By introducing a custom payment facility, the August update breached the App Store Review Guidelines. Apple swiftly removed Fortnite from its App Store. There were three consequences of this removal: first, Fortnite could not be downloaded to an Apple device; secondly, previously installed iOS versions of Fortnite could not be updated; and, thirdly, Apple device users could not play against players who had the latest version of Fortnite.[22]

4         The Proceedings

On the same day as Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store, Epic commenced antitrust proceedings in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging Apple’s ‘monopolisation of certain markets’ in breach of the United States’ Sherman Act and other California legislation. The judgment in the US trial is expected later this year. Epic also sued Apple in United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia on competition grounds. In February, the United Kingdom’s Competition Appeal Tribunal refused permission to serve Epic’s claim on Apple in California because the United Kingdom was not a suitable forum (forum non conveniens).[23] Together with these legal actions, Epic commenced a marketing campaign urging the game’s worldwide fanbase to ‘Join the fight against @AppStore and @Google on social media with #FreeFortnite’.[24] Epic also released a video parodying Apple’s famous 1984 commercial called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite’.[25]

The Australian proceedings were brought in the Federal Court in November 2020. Epic’s complaint against Apple is the same as in the US, the EU and the UK, but with the addition of a territorial connection, ie developers of apps for use on Australian iOS devices must only distribute their apps through Apple’s Australian App Store and only use Apple’s in-app payment processing system. As a consequence, Epic alleges that Apple has contravened three provisions of Part IV of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) concerning restrictive trade practices and the Australian Consumer Law for unconscionable conduct. In addition to injunctive relief restraining Apple from continuing to engage in restrictive trade practices and unconscionable conduct, Epic seeks ancillary and declaratory relief.

Apple applied for a permanent stay of the Federal Court proceedings, relying on the choice of court agreement in the DPLA and the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Epic unsuccessfully argued that its claims under Australian law did not ‘relate to’ cl 14.10 of the DPLA.[26] More critically, Justice Perram did not think Epic had demonstrated strong reasons. He awarded Apple a temporary three-month stay of proceedings ‘to enable Epic to bring this case in a court in the Northern District of California in accordance with cl 14.10.’[27] Where relevant to the appeal, Justice Perram’s reasoning is discussed below.

5         The Appeal: Three Errors of Principle

The Full Court distilled Epic’s 17 grounds of appeal from Justice Perram’s decision into two main arguments. Only the second argument — turning on the existence of ‘strong grounds’[28] — was required to determine the appeal. Justices Middleton, Jagot and Moshinsky identified three errors of principle in Justice Perram’s evaluation of ‘strong reasons’, enabling them to re-evaluate whether strong reasons existed.

The first error was Justice Perram’s failure to cumulatively weigh up the reasons adduced by Epic that militated against the granting of the stay. Justice Perram had grudgingly granted Apple’s stay application without evaluating the five concerns he had expressed ‘about the nature of proceedings under Part IV which means they should generally be heard in this Court’,[29] as he was required to do. The five concerns were:[30]

  1. The public interest dimension to injunctive proceedings under the Competition and Consumer Act;
  2. The ‘far reaching’ effect of the litigation on Australian consumers and Australian app developers as well as the nation’s ‘interest in maintaining the integrity of its own markets’;
  3. The Federal Court’s exclusive jurisdiction over restrictive trade practices claims;
  4. ‘[D]icta suggesting that [restrictive trade practices] claims are not arbitrable’; and
  5. That if the claim in California ‘complex questions of [Australian] competition law will be litigated through the lens of expert evidence’.

The second error was Justice Perram’s ‘failure to recognise juridical disadvantages of proceeding in the US Court’.[31] The judge had accepted that litigating the case in California would be ‘more cumbersome’ since ‘expert evidence about the content of Australian law’ would be needed.[32] There was a risk that a California court ‘might decline to hear the suit on forum non conveniens grounds.’[33] Despite that, he concluded that ‘[a]ny inconvenience flows from the choice of forum clause to which Epic has agreed. It does not sit well in its mouth to complain about the consequences of its own bargain’.[34] However, the Full Court viewed the inapplicability of ‘special remedial provisions’ of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act in the California proceedings as the loss of a legitimate juridical advantage.[35]

The third error concerned a third party to the exclusive jurisdiction clause. In Australian Health & Nutrition Association Ltd v Hive Marketing Group Pty Ltd, Justice Bell observed that the default enforcement position was inapplicable in cases where ‘not all parties to the proceedings are party to an exclusive jurisdiction clause’.[36] Apple Pty Limited, an Australian subsidiary of Apple, was not a party to the DPLA. Yet it was responsible ‘for the distribution of iOS-compatible apps to iOS device users’ within the Australian sub-market in a manner consistent with Apple’s worldwide conduct.[37] Moreover, Epic’s proceedings included claims under the Competition and Consumer Act and the Australian Consumer Law against the Australian subsidiary ‘for conduct undertaken in Australia in connection with arrangements affecting Australian consumers in an Australian sub-market.’[38] In this light, the Full Court rejected Justice Perram’s description of the joinder of Apple Pty Limited as ‘ornamental and ‘parasitic on the claims Epic makes against Apple’.[39]

6          The Appeal: Strong Reasons Re-evaluated

The stay should have been refused. The Full Court found a number of public policy considerations that cumulatively constituted strong reasons not to grant a stay of Epic’s proceedings. The judges discerned ‘a legislative policy that claims pursuant to [the restrictive trade practices law] should be determined in Australia, preferably in the Federal Court’ — although it was not the only court that could hear those claims.[40] Essentially, the adjudication of restrictive trade practices claims in the Federal Court afforded legitimate forensic advantages to Epic — benefits which would be lost if Epic were forced to proceed in California. These benefits included the availability of ‘specialist judges with relevant expertise’ in the Federal Court, the potential for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to intervene, and the opportunity for private litigants (as in this case) to ‘develop and clarify the law’.[41] Indeed, the Federal Court has not yet interpreted the misuse of market power provision in the Competition and Consumer Act relied upon by Epic, which came into effect in 2017.[42] The litigation will also impact millions of Australians who play Fortnite and the state of competition in Australian markets.[43]



[1] Epic Games, Inc v Apple Inc [2021] FCAFC 122.

[2] Epic Games, Inc v Apple Inc (Stay Application) [2021] FCA 338, [7] (Perram J).

[3] Ibid, [64] (Perram J).

[4] Epic Games, Inc v Apple Inc (n 1) [48].

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, [90].

[7] Ibid, [97]. See James O’Hara, ‘Strategies for Avoiding a Jurisdiction Clause in International Litigation’ (2020) 94(4) Australian Law Journal 267. Compare Mary Keyes, ‘Jurisdiction under the Hague Choice of Courts Convention: Its Likely Impact on Australian Practice’ (2009) 5(2) Journal of Private International Law 181; Richard Garnett, ‘Jurisdiction Clauses since Akai’ (2013) 87 Australian Law Journal 134; Brooke Adele Marshall and Mary Keyes, ‘Australia’s Accession to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements’ (2017) 41 Melbourne University Law Review 246.

[8] A Nelson & Co Ltd v Martin & Pleasance Pty Ltd (Stay Application) [2021] FCA 754, [10] (Perram J) (emphasis added). See also Huddart Parker Ltd v Ship ‘Mill Hill’ (1950) 81 CLR 502, 508–9 (Dixon J); The Eleftheria [1970] P 94, 99 (Brandon J); Akai Pty Ltd v People’s Insurance Co Ltd (1996) 188 CLR 418, 427–9 (Dawson and McHugh JJ), 445 (Toohey, Gaudron and Gummow JJ).

[9] Incitec Ltd v Alkimos Shipping Corp (2004) 138 FCR 496, 505 [43].

[10] There was some argument about onus in Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [35]–[40] (Perram J).

[11] Incitec (n 9) [49]; Andrew S Bell, ‘Jurisdiction and Arbitration Agreements in Transnational Contracts: Part I’ (1996) 10 Journal of Contract Law 53, 65. See generally O’Hara (n 7).

[12] (1996) 188 CLR 418, 445 (Toohey, Gaudron and Gummow JJ). See also Marshall and Keyes (n 7) 257.

[13] Australian Health and Nutrition Association Ltd v Hive Marketing Group Pty Ltd (2019) 99 NSWLR 419, 438 [80] (Bell P).

[14] Australian Consumer Law s 18.

[15] Incitec (n 9) 506 [47], [49] (Allsop J); Marshall and Keyes (n 7) 258.

[16] Australian Health (n 13) 423 [1] (Bathurst CJ and Leeming JA), 442 [90] (Bell J).

[17] Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [6] (Perram J).

[18] @TimSweeneyEpic (Twitter, 29 July 2020, 1:29 pm AEDT) <https://twitter.com/TimSweeneyEpic/status/1288315775607078912>.

[19] See, eg, Nick Statt, ‘The 70-30 Revenue Split is Causing a Reckoning in the Game Industry’, protocol (Web Page, 4 May 2021) <https://www.protocol.com/newsletters/gaming/game-industry-70-30-reckoning?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1>.

[20] @TimSweeneyEpic (Twitter, 26 June 2019, 10.13 am AEDT) <https://twitter.com/TimSweeneyEpic/status/1143673655794241537>.

[21] Epic Games (n 1) [5].

[22] Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [7].

[23] Epic Games, Inc v Apple Inc [2021] CAT 4.

[24] ‘#FreeFortnite’, Epic Games (Web Page, 13 August 2020) <https://www.epicgames.com/fortnite/en-US/news/freefortnite>.

[25] Fortnite, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite – #FreeFortnite’ (YouTube, 13 August 2020) <https://youtu.be/euiSHuaw6Q4>.

[26] Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [11]–[12].

[27] Ibid, [66].

[28] Epic Games (n 1) [41], [47].

[29] Ibid, [57].

[30] Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [59]–[63].

[31] Epic Games (n 1) [58].

[32] Epic Games (Stay Application) (n 2) [53].

[33] Ibid, [44].

[34] Ibid, [58].

[35] Epic Games (n 1) [62].

[36] Australian Health (n 13) 442 [90] (Bell P).

[37] Epic Games (n 1) [74].

[38] Ibid, [78].

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid, [99]. The Full Court clarified that ‘other Australian courts may determine Pt IV claims, but within a limited compass and for specific reasons’: [116].

[41] Ibid, [104], [107], [122].

[42] Ibid, [107].

[43] Ibid, [97].

HCCH Monthly Update: June 2021

Conventions & Instruments  

On 31 May 2021, Georgia deposited its instrument of accession to the HCCH 1965 Service Convention and the HCCH 1970 Evidence Convention. With the accession of Georgia, the Service Convention now has 79 Contracting Parties. It will enter into force for Georgia on 1 January 2022, subject to the Article 28 procedure. For the Evidence Convention, with the accession of Georgia it now has 64 Contracting Parties. The Convention will enter into force for Georgia on 30 July 2021. More information is available here.

Meetings & Events 

On 1 June 2021, the HCCH and the Asian Business Law Institute co-hosted the webinar “HCCH 1970 Evidence Convention and Remote Taking of Evidence by Video-link”, part of the ongoing celebrations of the Evidence Convention’s golden anniversary. More information is available here.

On 1 June 2021, the HCCH participated in a virtual Regional Discussion on Children’s Rights and Alternative Care, organised by the Council of Europe in preparation to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion on this theme. More information is available here.

On 21 June 2021, the HCCH participated in the virtual inaugural event of the Nigeria Group on Private International Law. The recording of the event is available here.


Vacancy: The HCCH is currently seeking an Assistant Legal Officer. The deadline for the submission of applications is 23 July 2021 (00:00 CEST). More information is available here.


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