Islands of jurisdiction for competition damages claims in a post-Brexit world

By Naina Patel and Andrew Scott

When the UK leaves the EU, the rules governing jurisdiction in cross-border competition damages claims will likely change. Most immediately, this will impact those who had acquired pre-Brexit causes of action for breach of statutory duty under section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972, based on Articles 101 and Articles 102 TFEU. The doctrine of acquired rights would preserve such causes of action;[1] but it is unlikely to preserve EU rules of jurisdiction in relation to them. Thereafter, the changes will impact those able to establish post-Brexit causes of action based on foreign laws, as Kieron Beal QC has explained. In either case, Claimants may wish to establish English jurisdiction, including as against EU domiciled defendants. This post considers some of the issues likely to be encountered.

Currently, jurisdiction in such cases is governed by the Recast Brussels Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 (the “Recast Regulation”). Despite the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the Great Repeal Bill will convert the entirety of the ‘acquis’ into British law, it seems unlikely that the Regulation will survive without more. It is a prime example of EU legislation predicated on reciprocity and the principle of mutual trust and recognition: see e.g. Recitals (3) and (26) of the Recast Regulation. In the absence of an arrangement between the UK and the rest of the EU to maintain post-Brexit common rules on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments, the premise for the Recast Regulation falls away.

At present, there are no such arrangements in place between the EU and third states.[2] It is true that Denmark entered into an agreement with the rest of the EC in relation to the predecessor of the Recast Regulation, the Brussels I Regulation. But Denmark was and remains a Member State. Whether a similar agreement is sought by or available to the UK as a non-Member State remains to be seen.

An alternative would be for the UK to seek to accede to the Lugano Convention 2007, which applies between the EU and Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark. However, Article 70 of the Convention restricts accession to members of EFTA, members of the EU acting on behalf of non-European territories which form part of them or for whose external relations they are responsible, and those states that can satisfy the conditions in Article 72, which include the unanimous consent of the Contracting States. It is reasonable to think that a condition of any such consent would include submission in some form by the UK to the jurisdiction of the CJEU in relation to interpretation of the Lugano Convention. Even if such consent were forthcoming, it is worthwhile noting that there are important differences between the Lugano Convention and the Recast Regulation. For example, Article 31(2) of the Recast Regulation has gone some way to disarming (in exclusive jurisdiction clause cases, at least) the “Italian torpedo” which still fires under the Lugano Convention owing to its rigid “first seised” lis pendens rule.  Further, the process of recognition and enforcement of judgments under the Recast Regulation is more streamlined than that which prevails under the Lugano Convention.

Failing either of these options, there is a serious question over whether the UK remains a party to the Brussels Convention, having acceded to it in its own right in 1978.  The Recast Regulation and its predecessor make clear that these instruments superseded the Convention as between Member States, except as regards the territories of the Member States which fell within the scope of the Convention but were excluded from the Regulations pursuant to Article 299 TEC and Article 355 TFEU respectively. The UK was a Member State when these Regulations were adopted and was not excluded from their provisions superseding the Brussels Convention. Brexit will not turn the UK into a territory of a Member State excluded from the Recast by virtue of Article 355 TFEU, only into a country to which TFEU does not apply at all.  It is therefore difficult to see how the application of the Brussels Convention to the UK can be revived. In any event, as Adrian Briggs QC has underscored, no country ratified the Convention after 2001 so it would not create a framework for jurisdiction with all EU Member States.

In the absence of an agreed bilateral framework, the UK will revert to applying its domestic rules on jurisdiction. These would permit the English Court to assume jurisdiction over EU domiciled defendants based on a far broader range of factors than are presently provided for by the Recast Regulation. Defendants with a mere (including fleeting) presence in the jurisdiction would be liable to be served here, even if domiciled elsewhere. Defendants with no such presence would also be liable to service outside the jurisdiction, with the Court’s permission, based on a far broader range of territorial and other connections under CPR r. 6.37 and PD 6B than are presently available under the Recast’s jurisdictional rules.

The purpose of the Recast Regulation and its predecessors is to protect EU domiciled defendants from such national rules of jurisdiction: see Article 5(2). A post-Brexit world in which the EU refuses to agree a new bilateral arrangement on cross-border jurisdiction with the UK will result in the application of English domestic law rules against EU citizens for the first time since accession to the Brussels Convention. Depending on how the English Court’s discretionary powers to stay proceedings or permit service out on forum conveniens grounds are exercised, there is real potential for the English Courts to enlarge their effective jurisdiction over competition law claims against EU domiciled defendants.

To take a few examples:

  • At present, an EU domiciled defendant can only be sued in England in “matters relating to tort etc.” where England is the place where the “harmful event” “occurs or may occurs”: see Article 7(2) of the Recast. That requires showing in a cartel case that England is where the cartel was “definitively concluded” or that England is where “the [victim’s] own registered office is located”: see CDC (C-352/13) [2015] Q.B. 906. The equivalent common law gateway for service out in CPR PD 6B, para 3.1(9) is broader in scope, e.g. it would require only that the damage sustained results from an act committed… within the jurisdiction” (emphasis added). It would likely suffice that some substantial and efficacious aspect of the cartel could be located in England.
  • At present, an EU domiciled defendant can only be joined as a co-defendant to English proceedings where an English-domiciled anchor defendant has been sued here: see Article 8(1) of the Recast. There is no such limitation under the common law necessary or proper party gateway in CPR PD 6B, para. 3.1(3). Thus, if English jurisdiction can be established by service on an anchor Defendant – whether within or outside the jurisdiction – that suffices to expose other Defendants to the risk of joinder to English proceedings. In a cartel case, for example, the requirements of the necessary and proper party gateway will ordinarily not be difficult to satisfy.
  • At present, an applicable jurisdiction clause for another Member State court has a “trump card” status under the Recast. Even if the party able to rely on that clause is one of many sued in England, and even if the sound administration of justice would favour not giving effect to it in the circumstances, the English Court is nonetheless bound to do so under Art. 25(1) of the Recast. Not so at common law, where the Court would retain a discretion – and in an appropriate case could decline to give effect to the clause so as to ensure that the entire dispute remain in the English Court: see e.g. Donohue v Armco [2001] UKHL 64; [2002] 1 All E.R. 749.
  • On account of the common jurisdictional rules in place under the Recast Regulation and the underlying principle of mutual trust, EU law prevents English Courts from granting anti-suit relief in respect of proceedings before courts elsewhere in the EU.[3] In the absence of a similar multilateral arrangement post-Brexit, English Courts are unlikely to feel inhibited from applying ordinary principles on anti-suit relief, e.g. to restrain a party from pursuing in the EU proceedings brought in breach of jurisdiction or arbitration clauses, or proceedings which are vexatious and oppressive or otherwise unconscionable.

Perhaps then, at least in the context of competition damages claims, if the effect of Brexit is that we return to common law rules, there will be some hidden treasure.

So in what direction should clients be advised to row their boats in the run up to Brexit?  English jurisdiction and arbitration clauses are likely to remain valuable tools in dispute resolution so it will continue to make sense to include them in new contracts; it may also be prudent to review old contracts to insert such clauses or to revise those drafted by reference to EU legislation. In doing so, it will be important to pay close attention to the remarks made by Rix LJ and the CJEU respectively in Ryanair Limited v Esso Italiana Srl [2013] EWCA Civ 1450 and the CDC case. The effect of each is that (at least some) tort claims founded on breaches of competition law will not ordinarily be caught by even broadly-worded jurisdiction clauses (e.g. those providing for jurisdiction over “all disputes arising from contractual relationships”): express words will be necessary. The scope of the principles stated in these decisions is likely to be a fertile area of dispute in competition law cases, not least because some claims (e.g. those in a bid-rigging context) have a more obvious connection to contracts containing such jurisdiction clauses than others (e.g. the price-fixing cartel contexts of Ryanair and CDC).

As for litigation strategy more generally, depending on which jurisdictional framework the UK ends up embracing, there may be significant value in re-considering the torpedoes and injunctions which we have seen submerged in EU competition litigation in recent years.

[1] Subject, of course, to any transitional arrangements to the contrary.

[2] While the EU and several third states are party to the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005, it deals only with exclusive jurisdiction agreements.

[3] See, for example, the decisions in Turner v Grovit (C-159/02 [2004] ECR I-3565) and West Tankers (C-185/07).

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