One of the major misunderstandings of the Brexit is that it won’t influence London’s importance as a major place of dispute resolution in Europe. Up until now, the adverse consequences of leaving the European Judicial Area have been insufficiently discussed. A first seminar organized by the British Institute for International and Comparative Law and the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law in May illustrated that the adverse legal consequences will start immediately, even within the transitional period of two years foreseen by Article 50 of the EU Treaty. We would like to briefly summarize the main findings of this seminar which can also be found (as a video) at the websites of the MPI Luxembourg and of BIICL.
Regarding private international and procedural law, all EU instruments on common rules for jurisdiction, parallel proceedings and cross-border enforcement will cease to exist after the transitional period, not only in areas such as insolvency and family matters, but also in the core areas of civil and commercial matters. Judgments given by English courts will no longer profit from the free movement of judgments. Their recognition and enforcement will depend on (outdated) bilateral agreements which were concluded between the 1930 and 1960s. As there are only six bilateral agreements, the autonomous, piecemeal provisions of EU Member States’ regimes regarding the recognition of the judgments of third States will apply. Of course, there might be negotiations on a specific regime between the Union and the United Kingdom, but the EU Commission might be well advised to tackle the more pressing problems of the Union (i.e. the refugee crisis where no solidarity is to be expected from the UK) instead of losing time and strength in bilateral negotiations.
From the European perspective, there is now a need to carefully evaluate the benefits of a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom on issues of private international law. The main interest of the Union won’t be to maintain or to strengthen London’s dominant position in the European judicial market: EU Member States might equally provide for modern and highly-qualified legal services ready to attract commercial litigants and high-value litigation & arbitration. Examples in this respect are The Netherlands and Sweden. In addition, there is a genuine interest of the Union to see mandatory EU law applied in disputes related to the Internal Market by courts operating within its regulatory framework. A perfect example in this respect, as pointed out by Dr. Matteo Gargantini, – former senior research fellow at the MPI Luxembourg – is provided by the legal texts concerning the financial markets. Here, the so-called MiFIR provides for a dense regulatory framework where a clear distinction is made between EU Member States and third States. In the future, the United Kingdom will qualify a third State in this respect. This entails that jurisdiction and arbitration clauses providing for the jurisdiction of English courts and/or for London as a seat of arbitration cannot be agreed. The pertinent provision (Article 46 § 6) of the MiFIR reads as follows:
“Third-country firms providing services or performing activities in accordance with this Article shall, before providing any service or performing any activity in relation to a client established in the Union, offer to submit any disputes relating to those services or activities to the jurisdiction of a court or arbitral tribunal in a Member State.”
This provision only applies to professional investors. For retail investors, Member States can even mandate that the investment firm establishes a branch in their territory, which of course would impact jurisdiction (also in the light of limitations to jurisdiction agreement vis-à-vis consumers). Here, the relevant provision is Art. 39 MiFID II, which says:
“A Member State may require that a third-country firm intending to provide investment services or perform investment activities with or without any ancillary services to retail clients or to professional clients within the meaning of Section II of Annex II in its territory establish a branch in that Member State.”
These provisions entail direct and immediate consequences. Jurisdiction and arbitration clauses in contracts will apply to future controversies, and as such, their validity will be scrutinized at the moment when a dispute arises. An agreement made today to establish London as the place of dispute resolution will no longer guarantee the validity of that respective clause in two years’ time. In other words, law firms would be well advised to no longer agree to these clauses as their validity will be challenged in every civil court within the European Union. Sending anti-suit injunctions abroad won’t help either: firstly, their recognition by the courts of EU Member States is not guaranteed (and will depend on the fragmented autonomous laws of EU Member States). Secondly, mandatory EU law (the pertinent articles of MiFID II, for example) will certainly forbid any recognition within the Union. As a result, parties will lose additional money for unnecessary satellite litigation. Finally, the ratification of the Hague Choice of Court Convention or the Lugano Convention will not provide a means to overcome the problem as the MiFIR/MiFID will apply independently from any international framework. This example demonstrates that there might be much more interest on the English side in negotiating with the Union than the other way around. It also shows that there is a need to consider most carefully the immediate consequences of the Brexit.