Tag Archive for: jurisdiction

Unwired Planet v Huawei [2020] UKSC 37: The UK Supreme Court Declared Competence to Determine Global FRAND Licensing Rate


  1. Background

The UK Supreme Court delivered the landmark judgment on Unwired Planet v Huawei and Conversant v Huawei and ZTE, [2020] UKSC 37 on 26 Aug 2020. In 2014, the US company Unwired Planet sued Huawei and other smartphone manufacturers for infringing its UK patents obtained from Ericsson. Some of these patents are essential to the 2G, 3G and 4G wireless telecommunication standards set by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an international standards setting organization (SSO). Since Ericsson and Nokia are subject to various ETSI policies including patent policies, these policies continue to apply after they are acquired by Unwired Planet. The ETSI patent policy requires that holder of patents that are indispensable for the implementation of ETSI standards, referred to as standard essential patents (SEP) , must grant licence to implementers (such as the smartphone manufacturers) on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory ” (FRABD) terms. In 2017, Canadian company Conversant filed similar lawsuits against Huawei and ZTE.

Unwired Planet and Conversant proposed to grant the worldwide licence, but Huawei proposed a UK only licence. Huawei believes that the UK litigation only concerns the UK licence and the licence fees paid to resolve disputes under the UK procedure should cover only British patents and not global patents. The UK Supreme Court upheld the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments, ruling that the FRAND licence will need to be global between large multinational companies. If Huawei refuses to pay the FRAND global licence rate determined by the court, the court will issue an injunction restraining Huawei’s sale of infringing products in the UK.

  1. Legal Issues

The Supreme Court answers five legal questions: 1. Does the English court have the power or jurisdiction without the parties’ agreement to require the parties to enter into a global licence under a multinational patent portfolio? 2. Is England the proper forum for such a claim? 3. What is the meaning and effect of the non-discrimination component of the FRAND undertaking? 4. Does the CJEU’s decision in Huawei v ZTE mean that a SEP owner is entitled to seek an injunction restraining infringement of those SEPs in circumstances such as those of the Unwired case? 5. Should Court grant damages in lieu of an injunction?

Given our focus on private international law, this note only focuses on the private international law related issue, namely the English court’s “long arm” jurisdiction to grant a global licence for dispute concerning the infringement of the UK patent and to issue an injunction if the global licence rate is not complied.


  1. Territoriality of Patents and Globalisation of Telecommunication

Telecommunication industry faces the conflict between territoriality of patents and globalisation of telecom products and equipment. Products made in different countries should be able to communicate and inter-operate and keep operational in different jurisdictions. It would be unrealistic to require patent holders to defend their patent country by country. It is also harmful to the industry if SEP holders demand unreasonable licence fees and prohibit the use of its invention within a national jurisdiction. It is unreasonable for consumers if they cannot use their mobiles smartphones or other telecom devices when travel abroad. To reconcile the conflict, the ETSI policy requires the SEP holders to irrevocably license their SEP portfolios on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (“FRAND”) terms. The policy reconciles conflict of interest between SEP holders and SEP implementers but does not, at least directly, resolve the conflict between territoriality and globalisation. In terms of the later, the industry practice shows that multinational SEP holders and implementers usually negotiate worldwide licences, bearing in mind that the SEP holders and implementers cannot test validity of each patent of the portfolio in each country. The licence rate is thus based on the understanding that some patents may be invalid in some countries.

The Supreme Court confirmed the territoriality principle. English court only has jurisdiction to determine validity and infringement of the UK patent. But the English court, based on the jurisdiction on the UK patent, has the competence to grant a global licence rate.

This judgment includes a few private international law matters. Firstly, the granting of global licence rate is a matter in relation to applicable law instead of jurisdiction from the private international law perspective. The case concerns the infringement and validity of the UK patents and the English court has no problem to take jurisdiction. After ruling the defendant indeed infringed the valid UK patents the English court moved to remedy. The remedy to the infringement of SEPs is the grant of FRAND rate pursuant to the ETSI policy and industry practice. This, however, does not mean the English court directly treats business custom or ETSI policy as the governing law, which, standing alone, may not be able to acquire the status as other non-state norms under the current legal framework. (Rome I Regulation) They are applied pursuant to the contract principle. The judgment heavily relies on the ETSI policy, including its language and purpose. The court concludes that the ETSI policy creates a contractual arrangement between SEP holders and implementers and it is the intention of the policy to grant global licences for SEP portfolios taking into account of industry practices and the purpose. English courts’ power to determine a global FRAND licence rate is inherently consistent with the ETSI policy, given there is no alternative international forum available. There is no much consideration of any choice of law rules, except the clarification that the ETSI policy was governed by French law. The court nevertheless does not consider the French law principle in interpreting contracts. Instead, the court naturally applies these non-state norms as part of the contract between the parties. Relying on contract to seise the power to determine the global rate helps the court to avoid the necessity to determine the validity of foreign patents of the same patent family.

The Supreme Court also considered the forum non conveniens in Conversant case (forum non conveniens was not plead in Unwired Planet). The court refused to accept that China would be the more appropriate alternative forum. Although 64% of Huawei’s sales occur in China and only 1% in the UK and 60% of the ZTE’s operating revenue in the first six months of 2017 was from China and only 0.07% from the UK, the Supreme court held that Chinese courts might not assume jurisdiction to determine the global FRAND term. It seems possible that if China, or any other country, which maybe the most important global market for the disputed patents, follows the UK approach to grant global licence for SEP portfolios, the English court may apply forum non conveniens to decline jurisdiction. In fact, Chinese law does not prevent a Chinese court from issuing licence with broader territorial coverage, though there is not yet any case on this matter. The “Working Guidance for Trial of SEP disputes by the Guangdong Province Higher People’s Court (for Trial Implementation)” of 2018 provides in Art 16 that if the SEP holder or implementer unilaterally applies for the licence covering areas exceeding the court’s territory, and the other party does not expressly oppose or the opposition is unreasonable, the court could determine the applied licence rate with broader geographic coverage.

A more controversial point of the judgment is that the Supreme Court concludes that the ESTI policy would allow the court to issue injunction if the implementer refuses to pay the global licence rate. It is important to know that the ESTI policy does not expressly state such an effect. The UK court believes that an injunction would serve as a strong incentive for the patentee to accept a global licence. Damages, on the other hand, may encourage implementers to infringe patents until damages are applied and received in each jurisdiction. This conclusion is rather surprising as the injunction of SEPs in one jurisdiction may have the potential to disturb the whole telecommunication market for the given manufacturer. There is even argument that the purpose of ESTI is to prohibit injunction for SEPs (here; and here) The use of injunction may not “balance” the conflicting interests, but significantly favours the SEP holders to the disadvantage of the implementers

  1. Forum Shopping and Conflict of Jurisdiction

It is important to note that regardless of the current geopolitical tension between the US and China, the UK Supreme Court’s judgment should not be interpreted as one that has taken the political stance against China’s High-Tech companies. (here) It upholds the judgments of the lower courts dated back to 2017. It is also consistent with the principle of judicial efficiency, protection of innovation and business efficacy. Although the final result protects the patent holders more than the implementers, it is hard to argue anything wrong in terms of policy. Furthermore, since Huawei and Unwired Planet had already settled and the rate set by the court had been paid, this judgment will not result in additional payment obligations or an injunction. (here) Finally, although Huawei lost this case as the implementer, Huawei is also the biggest 5G SEP holder. Pursuant to this judgment, although Huawei has been banned from the UK’s 5G network, it can still require other 5G implementers for a global FRAND licence rate and apply for injunction upon a refusal.

If there is any political drive, it may be the intention to become an international litigation centre for patent disputes after Brexit. This judgment allows the English court jurisdiction to determine a global licence rate simply based on the infringement of a UK patent, no matter how small the UK market is. The one-stop solution available in the English court would be particularly welcome by patent holders, especially SEP holders, who would no longer need to prove validity in each jurisdiction. This judgment also enhances the negotiation power of the SEP holders versus implementers. It is likely that more FRAND litigation would be brought to the UK.

On the other hand, some implementers may decide to give up the UK market, especially those with small market share in the UK. Some companies may decide to accept the injunction instead of paying high global licence rate. This may also suggest that the UK consumers may find it slower and more expensive to access to some high-tech products.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s judgment does not depend on any unique domestic legislation but the ETSI contractual arrangement which applies to its members and the industry practice and custom. There is no barrier for other countries, including China, to follow the same reasoning.  It is possible many other countries may, fully or partly, follow this judgment. If the courts of multiple countries can set the global FRAND rate and they apply different standards to set this rate, forum shopping and conflict of jurisdictions may be inevitable. Anti-suit injunction and anti-enforcement injunction may be more frequently applied and issued. The China Supreme Court IP Tribunal recently restrained the Conversant from applying the German court to enforce the German judgment in a related case, which awards Conversant the FRAND rate 18.3 times of the rate awarded by the Chinese courts on the infringement of the Chinese patents of the same family. This is called act preservation in China with the similar function as the anti-enforcement injunction. ((2019) Supreme Court IP Tribunal Final One of No 732, 733 and 734) This case suggests Chinese courts would be ready to issue the similar act preservation order or injunction to prevent the other party from enforcing a global FRAND rate set by the foreign court against the Chinese implementers, whether or not Chinese court could issue the global FRAND licence. The long term impact of the Unwired Planet v Huawei may be the severer competition in jurisdiction between different courts which may require reconciliation either through judicial cooperation arrangement or through the establishment of a global tribunal by the relevant standard setting organisation.






A true game changer and the apex stone of international commercial litigation – the NILR Special Edition on the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention is now available as final, paginated volume

On 2 July 2019, the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) adopted the 2019 Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters (2019 HCCH Judgments Convention). The instrument has already been described as a true game changer and the apex stone in international commercial litigation.

To celebrate the adoption of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention, the Netherlands International Law Review (NILR) produced a special edition entirely dedicated to the instrument.

Volume 67(1) of the NILR, which is now available in its final, paginated version, features contributions from authors closely involved in the development of the instruments. The articles provide deep insights into the making, and intended operation, of the instrument. They are a valuable resource for law makers, practitioners, members of the judiciary and academics alike.

The NILR’s Volume comprises the following contributions (in order of print, open access contributions are indicated; the summaries are, with some minor modifications, those published by the NILR).

Thomas John ACIArb, “Foreword” (open access)

Ronald A. Brand, “Jurisdiction and Judgments Recognition at the Hague Conference: Choices Made, Treaties Completed, and the Path Ahead”

Ron Brand considers the context in which a Hague Convention on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments was first proposed in 1992. It then traces the history of the Hague negotiations, both from within those negotiations and in regard to important developments outside the negotiations, through the completion of the 2005 Convention on Choice of Court Agreements and the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention. The article ends with comments on whether it is advisable to now resume discussion of a separate convention on direct jurisdiction.

Francisco Garcimartín, “The Judgments Convention: Some Open Questions”

Francisco Garcimartín explores some of the open issues that were discussed in the negotiation process but remained open in the final text, such as, in particular, the application of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention to pecuniary penalties (2) and negative obligations (4), as well as the definition of the res judicata effect (3).

Cara North, “The Exclusion of Privacy Matters from the Judgments Convention”

Cara North considers on issue of particular focus in the later phases of the negotiations of the Convention, namely, what, if any, judgments ruling on privacy law matters should be permitted to circulate under the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention. Having acknowledged that privacy is an evolving, broad and ill-defined area of the law and that there are obvious differences in the development and operation of privacy laws and policies in legal systems globally, the Members of the Diplomatic Session on the Judgments Convention determined to exclude privacy matters from the scope of the Convention under Article 2(1)(l). The purpose of this short article is to describe how and why the Diplomatic Session decided to exclude privacy matters from the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention and to offer some observations on the intended scope of that exclusion.

Geneviève Saumier, “Submission as a Jurisdictional Basis and the HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention”

The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention establishes a list of jurisdictional filters, at least one of which must be satisfied for the judgment to circulate. One of those is the implied consent or submission of the defendant to the jurisdiction of the court of origin. While submission is a common jurisdictional basis in international litigation, its definition and treatment vary significantly across states, whether to establish the jurisdiction of the court of origin or as a jurisdictional filter at the enforcement stage in the requested court. This diversity is most evident with respect to the mechanics and consequences of objecting to jurisdiction to avoid submission. The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention adopts a variation on an existing approach, arguably the least complex one, in pursuit of its goal to provide predictability for parties involved in cross-border litigation. This contribution canvasses the various approaches to submission in national law with a view to highlighting the points of convergence and divergence and revealing significant complexities associated with some approaches. It then examines how the text in the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention came to be adopted and whether it is likely to achieve its purpose.

Nadia de Araujo, Marcelo De Nardi, “Consumer Protection Under the HCCH 2019 Judgments Convention”

The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention aims at mitigating uncertainties and risks associated with international trade and other civil relationships by setting forth a simple and safe system according to which foreign judgments can easily circulate from country to country. The purpose of this article is to record the historical moment of the negotiations that took place under the auspices of the HCCH, as well as to pinpoint how consumer cases will be dealt with by the Convention under Article 5(2).

Niklaus Meier, “Notification as a Ground for Refusal”

The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention provides for several grounds for the refusal of recognition, including refusal based on insufficient notification. While this ground for refusal of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention seems quite similar to those applied in other conventions, the comparison shows that there are several differences between this instrument and other texts of reference, both with respect to the context of application as well as with respect to the details of the wording. The optional nature of the grounds for refusal under the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention indicates that its primary focus is the free circulation of judgments, and not the protection of the defendant. The latter’s protection is left to the discretion of the state of recognition: a sign of trust amongst the negotiators of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention, but also a risk for the defendant. Practice will show whether the focus of the negotiators was justified.

Junhyok Jang, “The Public Policy Exception Under the New 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention”

The public policy exception is inherently a fluid device. Its content is basically left to each State. A shared public policy is an exception. Therefore, the obligation of uniform interpretation, as provided in Article 20 of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention, will have an inherent limit here. Moreover, the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention leaves some important issues, including procedure, to national rules. Each requested State retains a discretion to invoke the Convention grounds of refusal in a concrete case, and on whether to make an ex officio inquiry or have the parties prove those refusal grounds. The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention also provides for the concrete applications of the public policy exception, following the model of the 2005 Choice of Court Convention. Here, a purely grammatical reading may create some peripheral problems, especially with the specific defences of conflicting judgments and parallel proceedings. Solutions may be found in the method of purposive interpretation and some general principles, particularly the evasion of the law and the abuse of rights, before resorting to the public policy defence.

Marcos Dotta Salgueiro, “Article 14 of the Judgments Convention: The Essential Reaffirmation of the Non-discrimination Principle in a Globalized Twenty-First Century”

The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention includes a non-discrimination disposition in Article 14, according to which there shall be no security, bond or deposit required from a party on the sole ground that such a party is a foreign national or is not domiciled or resident in the State in which enforcement is sought. It also deals with the enforceability of orders for payment of costs in situations where the precedent disposition applied, and lays down an ‘opt-out’ mechanism for those Contracting States that may not wish to apply that principle. This article frames the discussion of the non-discrimination principle in the wider context of previous private international law instruments as well as from the perspectives of access to justice, human rights and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), understanding that its inclusion in the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention was an important, inescapable and necessary achievement.

Paul R. Beaumont, “Judgments Convention: Application to Governments” (open access)

The 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention makes the classic distinction between private law matters within its scope (civil or commercial matters) and public law matters outside its scope. It also follows the same position in relation to State immunity used in the Hague Choice of Court Convention 2005 (see Art. 2(5) in 2019 and 2(6) in 2005). The innovative parts of the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention relate to the exclusions from scope in Article 2 relating to the armed forces, law enforcement activities and unilateral debt restructuring. Finally, in Article 19, the Convention creates a new declaration system permitting States to widen the exclusion from scope to some private law judgments concerning a State, or a State agency or a natural person acting for the State or a Government agency. This article gives guidance on the correct Treaty interpretation of all these matters taking full account of the work of the Hague Informal Working Group dealing with the application of the Convention to Governments and the other relevant supplementary means of interpretation referred to in Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

João Ribeiro-Bidaoui, “The International Obligation of the Uniform and Autonomous Interpretation of Private Law Conventions: Consequences for Domestic Courts and International Organisations”

This article addresses the issue of the uniform and autonomous interpretation of private law conventions, including of private international law conventions, from the perspective of their Contracting States, particularly their judiciaries, and of the international organizations. Firstly, the author analyses the use of standard uniform interpretation clauses, and the origin of such clauses, in the context of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The following part the article addresses negative and positive obligations imposed on States and their judiciaries under international law regarding the uniform and autonomous interpretation of international treaties. It is argued that States are not only obliged to refrain from referring to concepts from national laws for the purpose of the interpretation of international law instruments, but also that they face certain positive obligations in the process of applying the conventions. Those include referring to foreign case law, international scholarship, and under certain circumstances, also to travaux préparatoires. Thirdly, the author discusses the role of international organizations—e.g. HCCH, UNCITRAL, UNIDROIT, in safeguarding and facilitating the uniform and autonomous interpretation of private law conventions. It does so by describing various related tools and approaches, with examples and comments on their practical use (e.g. advisory opinions, information sharing, access to supplementary material, judicial exchanges and legislative action).

The NILR’s Special Edition on the 2019 HCCH Judgments Convention concludes with a reproduction of the text of the 2019 HCCH Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters, as adopted on 2 July 2019.

Jurisdiction to Garnish Funds in Foreign Bank Account

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

Instrubel, N.V., a Dutch corporation, has been attempting in litigation in Quebec to garnish assets of the Republic of Iraq.  The difficult issue has been the nature of the assets sought to be garnished and where they are, as a matter of law, located.  The assets are funds in a bank account in Switzerland payable to the Republic of Iraq (through the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority) by IATA, a Montreal-based trade association.

The judge at first instance held the assets were not a debt obligation but in effect the property of the Republic of Iraq and located in Switzerland and so could not be subject to garnishment in Quebec proceedings.  The Court of Appeal reversed, holding the assets were a debt due to the Republic of Iraq which it could enforce against the trade association at its head office in Quebec, so that the debt was located in Quebec under the basic rule for locating the situs of a debt.

Last December the Supreme Court of Canada denied the appeal for the reasons of the Quebec Court of Appeal.  One judge, Justice Cote, dissented with reasons to follow.  On May 1, 2020, she released those reasons: see International Air Transport Association v. Instrubel, N.V., 2019 SCC 61 (available here).

As a Quebec case, the decision is based on the civil law.  Justice Cote’s dissent hinges on the view that the funds in the account are the property of the Republic of Iraq, not the IATA, and are merely being held by the latter before being remitted to the former (see para. 36).  The funds are not part of the “patrimony” of the IATA.  This is because the nature of the agreement between the Republic of Iraq and the IATA is one of “mandate” (see paras. 40-41 and 45).  As Justice Cote notes (at para. 48) “there is a general principle in the law of mandate that a mandatary’s obligation towards a mandator is not a debt”.  While the payments that went into the bank account were collected and held by the IATA, they were made to the Republic of Iraq (para. 53).  Indeed, the account “is for practical purposes equivalent to a trust account” (para. 61).

As noted, the six judges in the majority simply adopted the reasons of the Quebec Court of Appeal (available here).  So they did not directly engage with Justice Cote’s reasons.  The Court of Appeal concluded (at para. 41) that “there is no ownership of or real right to the funds … Rather, there is a creditor/debtor relationship”.  It also observed that the Republic of Iraq “never owned the debts due it by various airlines in consideration of landing at Iraqi airports.  It does not now own the funds collected in satisfaction of those debts and deposited by IATA in its bank account.  IATA’s obligation is to pay a sum of money not to give the dollar bills received from third parties” (para. 43).

The Court of Appeal noted (at para. 50) a practical rationale for its conclusion: “More significantly it seems that [Instrubel, N.V.] and others in similar positions which seek to execute an unsatisfied claim would be forced into an international “shell game” of somehow discovering (or guessing) where the mandatary/garnishee (IATA), deposited the money – a virtually impossible task.  The law, correctly applied, should not lead, in my view, to such unworkable results.  As the in personam debtor of ICAA, it matters not whether IATA deposited the money it collected and giving rise to such indebtedness in a bank account in Geneva, New York or Montreal.  The situs of its bank account does not change the situs of the debt IATA owes to its creditor.  As such, that funds were initially collected in Montreal or at an IATA branch office in another country is inconsequential.”

The case is at minimum important for what it does not do, which is authorize the garnishing of assets outside Quebec.  All judges take the position that would be impermissible.

Indigenous Claims to Foreign Land: Update from Canada

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

In 2013 two Innu First Nations sued, in the Superior Court of Quebec, two mining companies responsible for a mega-project consisting of multiple open-pit mines near Schefferville, Quebec and Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Innu asserted a right to the exclusive use and occupation of the lands affected by the mega-project. They claimed to have occupied, since time immemorial, a traditional territory that straddles the border between the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.  They claimed a constitutional right to the land under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The mining companies and the Attorney General of Newfoundland and Labrador each moved to strike from the Innu’s pleading portions of the claim which, in their view, concerned real rights over property situated in Newfoundland and Labrador and, therefore, fell under the jurisdiction of the courts of that province.

In Newfoundland and Labrador (Attorney General) v Uashaunnuat (Innu of Uashat and of Mani-Utenam), 2020 SCC 4, the Supreme Court of Canada held (by 5-4 majority) that the motion to strike failed and that the Quebec court had jurisdiction over the entire claim advanced by the Innu.

Quebec’s private international law is contained in Book Ten of the Civil Code of Quebec. Jurisdiction over the mining companies was based on their being domiciled in Quebec. However, as a special rule of jurisdiction, Division III governs what are called real and mixed actions (para. 18). The general rule is that Quebec has jurisdiction to hear a real action only if the property in dispute is situated in Quebec (art. 3152). In the case of a mixed action, Quebec must have jurisdiction over both the personal and real aspects of the matter: see CGAO v Groupe Anderson Inc., 2017 QCCA 923 at para. 10 (para. 57). These rules required the court to properly characterize the Innu’s action.

The majority held that the claim was a mixed action (para. 56). This was because the Innu sought both the recognition of a sui generis right (a declaration of Aboriginal title) and the performance of various obligations related to failures to respect that right. However, the claim was not a “classical” mixed action, which would require the court to have jurisdiction over both the personal and real aspects of the matter. Rather, this was a “non-classical” mixed action that involved the recognition of sui generis rights and the performance of obligations (para. 57).  Put another way, the nature of the indigenous land claims made them different from traditional claims to land. Accordingly, the claim did not fall within the special jurisdiction provisions in Division III and jurisdiction could simply be based on the defendants’ Quebec domicile.

The majority was influenced by access to justice considerations, being concerned about requiring the Innu to litigate in both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. It noted that “[t]he Innu have argued that separating their claim along provincial borders will result in higher — perhaps prohibitive — costs caused by “piecemeal” advocacy, and inconsistent holdings that will require further resolution in the courts. … These are compelling access to justice considerations, especially when they are coupled with the pre-existing nature of Aboriginal rights” (paras. 46-47).

The dissenting reasons are lengthy (quite a bit longer than those of the majority). Critically, it held that “Aboriginal title and other Aboriginal or treaty rights are “real rights” for the purposes of private international law, which is to say that they resemble or are at least analogous to the domestic institution of real rights” (emphasis in original) (para. 140). Labeling them as sui generis was not sufficient to avoid the jurisdictional requirement for a mixed action that the land had to be in Quebec: “the fact that Aboriginal title is sui generis in nature does not mean that it cannot be a proprietary interest or a real right strictly for the purposes of private international law” (para. 155).

In the view of the dissent, ” if Quebec authorities were to rule directly on the title that the Innu believe they hold to the parts of Nitassinan that are situated outside Quebec, the declarations would be binding on no one, not even on the defendants … , precisely because Quebec authorities lack jurisdiction in this regard” (emphasis in original) (para. 189).

On the issue of access to justice, the dissent stated that “access to justice must be furnished within the confines of our constitutional order. Delivery of efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of transboundary Aboriginal rights claims must occur within the structure of the Canadian legal system as a whole. But this is not to suggest that principles of federalism and provincial sovereignty preclude development by superior courts, in the exercise of their inherent jurisdiction, of innovative yet constitutionally sound solutions that promote access to justice” (emphasis in original) (para. 217). It went on to proffer the interesting procedural option that both a Quebec judge and a Newfoundland and Labrador judge could sit in the same courtroom at the same time, so that the proceedings were heard by both courts without duplication (para. 222).

There are many other issues in the tension between the majority and the dissent, including the role of Newfoundland and Labrador as a party to the dispute. It was not sued by the Innu and became involved as a voluntary intervenor (para. 9).

The decision is very much rooted in the private international law of Quebec but it has implications for any Indigenous claims affecting land in any legal system. Those systems would also need to determine whether their courts had jurisdiction to hear such claims in respect of land outside their territory. Indeed, the decision offers a basis to speculate as to how the courts would handle an Indigenous land claim brought in British Columbia in respect of land that straddled the border with the state of Washington. Is the court’s decision limited to cases that cross only internal federation borders or does it extend to the international realm? And does there have to be a straddling of the border at all, or could a court hear such a claim entirely in respect of land in another jurisdiction? The court’s decision leaves much open to interesting debate.

Double Counting the Place of the Tort?

In common law Canada there is a clear separation between the question of a court having jurisdiction (jurisdiction simpliciter) and the question of a court choosing whether to exercise or stay its jurisdiction.  One issue discussed in the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) is the extent of that separation.  Does this separation mean that a particular fact cannot be used in both the analysis of jurisdiction and of forum non conveniens?  On its face that seems wrong.  A fact could play a role in two separate analyses, being relevant to each in different ways.

Justice Cote, with whom Justices Brown and Rowe agreed, held that “applicable law, as determined by the lex loci delicti principle, should be accorded little weight in the forum non conveniens analysis in cases where jurisdiction is established on the basis of the situs of the tort” (para 90).  She indicated that this conclusion was mandated by the separation of jurisdiction and staying proceedings, which extends to each being “based on different factors”.  So if the place of the tort has been used as the basis for assuming jurisdiction, the same factor (the place of the tort) should not play a role in analyzing the most appropriate forum when considering a stay.  And since the applicable law is one of the factors considered in that analysis, if the applicable law is to be identified based on the connecting factor of the place of the tort, which is the rule in common law Canada, then the applicable law as a factor “should be accorded little weight”.

In separate concurring reasons, Justice Karakatsanis agreed that the applicable law “holds little weight here, where jurisdiction and applicable law are both established on the basis of where the tort was committed” (para 100).  In contrast, the three dissenting judges rejected this reason for reducing the weight of the applicable law (para 208).  The two other judges did not address this issue, so the tally was 4-3 for Justice Cote’s view.

As Vaughan Black has pointed out in discussions about the decision, the majority approach, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that if jurisdiction is based on the defendant’s residence in the forum then the defendant’s residence is not a relevant factor in assessing which forum is more appropriate.  That contradicts a great many decisions on forum non conveniens.  Indeed, the court did not offer any supporting authorities in which the “double counting” of a fact was said to be inappropriate.

The majority approach has taken analytical separation too far.  There is no good reason for excluding or under-weighing a fact relevant to the forum non conveniens analysis simply because that same fact was relevant at the jurisdiction stage.  Admittedly the court in Club Resorts narrowed the range of facts that are relevant to jurisdiction in part to reduce overlap between the two questions.  But that narrowing was of jurisdiction.  Forum non conveniens remains a broad doctrine that should be based on a wide, open-end range of factors.  The applicable law, however identified, has to be one of them.

Supreme Court of Canada: Israel, not Ontario, is Forum Conveniens for Libel Proceedings

The decision to stay proceedings under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is discretionary, which in part means that appeal courts should be reluctant to reverse the decisions of motions judges on the issue.  It comes as some surprise, therefore, that the Supreme Court of Canada has disagreed with not only the motions judge but also the Court of Appeal for Ontario and overturned two earlier decisions denying a stay.  In Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) the court held (in a 6-3 decision) that the plaintiff’s libel proceedings in Ontario should be stayed because Israel is the clearly more appropriate forum.

The decision is complex, in part because the appeal also considered the issue of jurisdiction and in part because the nine judges ended up writing five sets of reasons, four concurring in the result and a fifth in dissent.  That is very unusual for Canada’s highest court.

The case concerned defamation over the internet.  The plaintiff, a resident of Ontario, alleged that an Israeli newspaper defamed him.  Most readers of the story were in Israel but there were over 200 readers in Ontario.

On assumed jurisdiction, the court was asked by the defendant to reconsider its approach as set out in Club Resorts (available here), at least as concerned cases of internet defamation.  Eight of the nine judges refused to do so.  They confirmed that a tort committed in Ontario was a presumptive connecting factor to Ontario, such that it had jurisdiction unless that presumption was rebutted (and they held it was not).  They also confirmed the orthodoxy that the tort of defamation is committed where the statement is read by a third party, and that in internet cases this is the place where the third party downloads and reads the statement (paras 36-38 and 166-167).  Only one judge, Justice Abella, mused that the test for jurisdiction should not focus on that place but instead on “where the plaintiff suffered the most substantial harm to his or her reputation” (para 129).  This borrows heavily (see para 120) from an approach to choice of law (rather than jurisdiction) that uses not the place of the tort (lex loci delicti) but rather the place of most substantial harm to reputation to identify the applicable law.

On the stay of proceedings, six judges concluded that Israel was the most appropriate forum.  Justice Cote wrote reasons with which Justices Brown and Rowe concurred.  Justice Karakatsanis disagreed with two key points made by Justice Cote but agreed with the result.  Justices Abella and Wagner also agreed with the result but, unlike the other seven judges (see paras 91 and 198), they adopted a new choice of law rule for internet defamation.  This was a live issue on the stay motion because the applicable law is a relevant factor in determining the most appropriate forum.  They rejected the lex loci delicti rule from Tolofson (available here) and instead used as the connecting factor the place of the most substantial harm to reputation (paras 109 and 144).  Justice Wagner wrote separately because he rejected (paras 147-148) Justice Abella’s further suggestion (explained above) that the law of jurisdiction should also be changed along similar lines.

The core disagreement between Justice Cote (for the majority) and the dissent (written jointly by Chief Justice McLachlin and Justices Moldaver and Gascon) was that Justice Cote concluded that the motions judge made six errors of law (para 50) in applying the test for forum non conveniens, so that no deference was required and the court could substitute its own view.  In contrast, the dissent held that four of these errors were “merely points where our colleague would have weighed the evidence differently had she been the motions judge” (para 179) which is inappropriate for an appellate court and that the other two errors were quite minor and had no impact on the overall result (para 178).  The dissent held strongly to the orthodox idea that decisions on motions to stay are entitled to “considerable deference” (para 177) lest preliminary motions and appeals over where litigation should occur undermine stability and increase costs (para 180).

Another fundamental disagreement between Justice Cote and the dissent was their respective view of the scope of the plaintiff’s claim.  During the motion and appeals, the plaintiff made it clear that he was only seeking a remedy in respect of damage to his reputation in Ontario (as opposed to anywhere else) and that he was not going to sue elsewhere.  The dissent accepted that this undertaking to the court limited the scope of the claim (paras 162-163) and ultimately it pointed to Ontario as the most appropriate forum.  In contrast, Justice Cote held that the plaintiff’s undertaking “should not be allowed to narrow the scope of his pleadings” (para 23).  It is very hard to accept that this is correct, and indeed on this point Justice Karakatsanis broke with Justice Cote (para 101) and agreed with the dissent.  Why should the court not accept such an undertaking as akin to an amendment of the pleadings?  Justice Cote claimed that “[n]either Goldhar nor my colleagues … may now redefine Goldhar’s action so that it better responds to Haaretz’s motion to stay” (para 24).  But why should the plaintiff not be able to alter the scope of his claim in the face of objections to that scope from the defendant?

There are many other points of clash in the reasons, too many to engage with fully here.  How important, at a preliminary stage, is examination of what particular witnesses who have to travel might say?  What role does the applicable law play in the weighing of the more appropriate forum when it appears that each forum might apply its own law?  Does a subsequent proceeding to enforce a foreign judgment count toward a multiplicity of proceedings (which is to be avoided) or do only substantive proceedings (on the merits) count?  Is it acceptable for a court to rely on an undertaking from the plaintiff to pay the travel and accommodation costs for the defendant’s witnesses or is this allowing a plaintiff to “buy” a forum?

It might be tempting to treat the decision as very much a product of its specific facts, so that it does not offer much for future cases.  There could, however, be cause for concern.  As a theme, the majority lauded “a robust and careful” assessment of forum non conveniens motions (para 3).  If this robust and careful assessment is to be performed by appellate courts, is this consistent with deference to motions judges in their discretionary, fact-specific analysis?  The dissent did not think so (para 177).

Symposium Publication: Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act

The most recent issue of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal (available here) is a special issue, guest edited by Janet Walker, Gerard Kennedy and Sagi Peari, considering the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act.  This statute governs the taking of jurisdiction and both staying and transferring proceedings in civil and commercial matters in three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

The abstract to the introductory article states: “In 2016, the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (“CJPTA”) marked its tenth year in force.  Promulgated by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, and adopted in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, the CJPTA was developed to clarify and advance the law of judicial jurisdiction.  In a symposium hosted by Osgoode Hall Law School, ten leading scholars were invited to present papers on specific questions in order to assess the promise of the CJPTA to meet the needs of Canadians in the years ahead and to provide leadership for the law in other parts of Canada.  This article provides an overview of the issues discussed in the symposium; it places the papers that were presented in the larger context of developments in the law of judicial jurisdiction in Canada and internationally; and it summarizes in an appendix the drafting reforms that might be made to the Act.”

The articles about the CJPTA are:

Judicial Jurisdiction in Canada: The CJPTA—A Decade of Progress (Janet Walker)

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other? Jurisdiction in Common Law Canada (Stephen G.A. Pitel)

Jurisdiction Motions and Access to Justice: An Ontario Tale (Gerard J. Kennedy)

Has the CJPTA readied Canada for the Hague Choice of Court Convention? (Geneviève Saumier)

General Jurisdiction over Corporate Defendants under the CJPTA: Consistent with International Standards? (Catherine Walsh)

Residual Discretion: The Concept of Forum of Necessity under the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (Michael Sobkin)

Three Objections to Forum of Necessity: Global Access to Justice, International Criminal Law, and Proper Party (Sagi Peari)

Cross-Border Transfers of Court Proceedings (Vaughan Black)

The Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act and the Hague Conference’s Judgments and Jurisdiction Projects (Joost Blom)

New Article: Jurisdiction Clauses in Canada

Tanya Monestier (Roger Williams University School of Law) has published an article (available here) addressing the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Douez v Facebook, Inc. (available here).

The abstract reads: Every day, billions of people use the online social media platform, Facebook.  Facebook requires, as a condition of use, that users “accept” its terms and conditions — which include a forum selection clause nominating California as the exclusive forum for dispute resolution.  In Douez v. Facebook, the Supreme Court of Canada considered whether this forum selection clause was enforceable, or whether the plaintiff could proceed with her suit in British Columbia.  The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately decided that the forum selection clause was not enforceable.  It held that the plaintiff had established “strong cause” for departing from the forum selection clause.  The Court premised its decision on two primary considerations: the contract involved a consumer and was one of adhesion, and the claim involved the vindication of privacy rights. The Court’s analysis suffers from several major weaknesses that will undoubtedly cause confusion in this area of law.  This Article will examine those weaknesses, and argue that the Supreme Court of Canada actually abandoned the strong cause test that it claimed to be applying.  The consequence of the Douez decision is that many forum selection clauses — at least in the consumer context — will be rendered unenforceable.  While this may be a salutary development from the perspective of consumer protection, it will undoubtedly have an effect on companies choosing to do business in Canada.

UKSC on Traditional Rules of Jurisdiction: Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated

Shortly before Christmas the UKSC released its decision on jurisdiction in Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated (available here). Almost all the legal analysis is obiter dicta because, on the facts, it emerges that no claim against the British Columbia-based holding corporation could succeed (para 15) and the appeal is allowed on that basis. I suppose there is a back story as to why it took a trip to the UKSC and an extraordinary step by that court (para 14) for the defendant to make those facts clear, but I don’t know what it is. On the facts there are other potential defendants to the plaintiffs’ claim and time will tell whether jurisdictional issues arise for them.

The discussion of the value of the place of making a contract for jurisdiction purposes is noteworthy. In para 16 two of the judges (Sumption, Hughes) are critical of using the traditional common law rules on where a contract is made for purposes of taking jurisdiction. This has been the subject of debate in some recent Canadian decisions, notably the difference in approach between the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada in Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP v Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, 2016 SCC 30 (available here). The SCC was fine with using the traditional rules for this purpose. In Brownlie, I do not think it is clear as to what view the other three judges take on this point.

Even more interestingly, the UKSC judges split 3-2 on how to understand the idea of damage in the forum as a basis for jurisdiction. Three judges (Hale, Wilson, Clarke) retain the traditional broad common law view – the position in many Canadian provinces prior to Club Resorts Ltd v Van Breda, 2012 SCC 17 (available here) – that ongoing suffering in the forum in respect of a tort that happened abroad is sufficient. Two judges (Sumption, Hughes) reject that approach and adopt a more narrow meaning of damage in the forum (it must be direct damage only).

This 3-2 split is closer even than it might first seem, since Lord Wilson (para 57) suggests that in a different case with fuller argument on the point the court might reach a different result.

Canadian law does not get a fair description in the UKSC decision. The court notes twice (para 21 and para 67) that Canada’s common law uses a broad meaning of damage for taking jurisdiction. Club Resorts, and the change to the law it represents on this very issue, is not mentioned. This is yet another illustration of the importance of being careful when engaging in comparative law analysis.

Conflicts – Between Domestic and Indigenous Legal Systems?

In Beaver v Hill, 2017 ONSC 7245 (available here) the applicant sought custody, spousal support and child support. All relevant facts happened in Ontario. Read more