English Court of Appeal refuses Micula Appeal against stay of ICSID Award but orders Romania to provide £150m Security

In Micula & Ors v Romania [2018] EWCA Civ 1801 the English Court of Appeal (the “Court”) dismissed an appeal against the High Court’s stay of enforcement of a 2013 ICSID award in favour of Swedish investors Ioan and Viorel Micula (the “Appellants” or “claimants“) against Romania (the “Award“), but allowed an appeal against the High Court’s refusal to order Romania to provide security.

The Court’s judgment is interesting because although it reaches the same conclusion as the High Court in respect of staying enforcement of the Award, it does so for different reasons. In particular, the Court found (by majority) that:

  1. The High Court was correct to find that an ICSID award is res judicata under English law from the time of the award.
  2. Although the English Arbitration (International Investment Disputes) Act 1966 (the “1966 Act“), which implements the ICSID Convention into English law, requires that ICSID awards be treated in the same way as judgments of the High Court, this does not mean that EU law applies in the same way as it would apply to domestic judgments simply because the UK is a member state at the date of registration of the award.
  3. The principle of res judicata cannot be used to circumvent or significantly obstruct state aid rules (per the CJEU case of Klausner).
  4. Only operative terms (and not, for example, recitals) of EU Commission decisions are legally binding.

The Court’s decision is the latest in the long-running Micula saga, which began as a dispute arising out of Romania’s abolition of certain tax incentives in 2005 in order to comply with EU rules on state aid. Please see here for our blog post on the ICSID award.

The Award has been the target of decisions of the European Commission. In its final decision of 30 March 2015 (the “Final Decision“), the Commission found that payment of the Award by Romania would constitute new state aid incompatible with EU law, and was therefore prohibited. Please see here for our blog post on the Final Decision. The claimants have applied to the General Court of the European Union (the “GCEU“) to annul the Final Decision. The GCEU heard the application in March 2018 and a judgment is awaited.

In 2017, the High Court refused Romania’s application to set aside registration of the Award, but granted a stay of enforcement pending the decision of the GCEU on the annulment application. The Commission intervened in those proceedings. The High Court refused the claimants’ application for security in the meantime on the basis that it would itself risk breaching the Final Decision. The Appellants appealed against both the stay of enforcement and refusal to make the stay conditional upon payment of security. Please see here for our blog post on the High Court’s judgment, which was the subject of the present appeal.

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EU launches consultation on multilateral reform of the investor-state dispute resolution system

The EU Commission (the Commission) has launched a public consultation on the multilateral reform of the investment dispute settlement system.  The survey is found here and responses are due by 15 March 2017.  The consultation is the next step in furtherance of the Commission's objective to develop a multilateral system for the resolution of international investment disputes and, amongst other things, seeks to explore views on its proposal to develop a permanent multilateral investment court system.

The development of the Commission's position over the last couple of years and the Commission's introduction to the consultation both suggest a determination to pursue wholesale change to the system of resolution of investor-state disputes, rather than a more nuanced approach in evaluating the perceived flaws in the current system under which investor-state disputes are largely resolved by ad hoc arbitration (often under the auspices of ICSID, part of the World Bank).  However, notwithstanding its clearly stated objective, the Commission's survey also countenances in the alternative the establishment of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal which would consider appeals from the decisions of ad hoc investment arbitration tribunals established under the current system. 

The responses to the consultation will be significant in terms of the future of the Commission's objective to establish a Multilateral Investment Court. In particular, it will be crucial that a constructive and positive response is received from the third party states who are asked to partner with the Commission in developing the Multilateral Investment Court system.  However, it remains to be seen whether the survey will elucidate clear responses which will assist the Commission in considering further its proposals for the future of investor-state dispute settlement: the majority of the survey questions treat as interchangeable the two different approaches (the establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court system and the establishment of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal) and the survey does not seek responses on the development of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal alongside reform of the current system of ad hoc arbitration.  It is not clear whether this option continues to be considered by the Commission.

The issues and controversies surrounding the resolution of investor-state disputes are complex and any changes to the system pursued by the Commission would ideally be based on clearly expressed views from a range of stakeholders.  It is to be hoped therefore that respondents to the survey take the opportunity offered by the Commission to clarify their responses by way of uploading a position paper. 

With unprecedented growth in foreign direct investment, issues concerning substantive investment protection and the way in which investor-state disputes are resolved both now and in the future are significant for both states and investors.  If you would like to discuss these issues or the Commission's consultation, please contact: Larry Shore, Partner, Dominic Roughton, Partner, Christian Leathley, Partner, Andrew Cannon, Partner, Iain Maxwell, Of Counsel, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant, Hannah Ambrose, Professional Support Consultant or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact. 

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Investment protection and ISDS in the TTIP: the discussion continues with more consultation around the corner

Yesterday afternoon, the EU Commission issued its Report on the outcome of the public consultation on the inclusion of investment protection and investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the EU and the US. As discussed in our blog post here, the public consultation was launched against the backdrop of vociferous debate about the nature of ISDS and investment protection more generally and in relation to the TTIP. The controversy surrounding investment protection and ISDS in connection with the TTIP is described in our recent podcast.

It is no surprise that the Report reveals strong opposition to, and concerns about, ISDS in the TTIP. It is also no surprise that the discussion as to both the content of the investment protections (including any “right to regulate”, as it is known), and the nature of the mechanism by which these can be enforced, will continue. In its Report, in response to the criticisms of inclusion of ISDS in the TTIP, the Commission refers back to the fact that the consultation takes place in specific circumstances in which the Council (and therefore, to all intents and purposes, each Member State) has unanimously entrusted the Commission to negotiate high standards of investment protection and ISDS within the TTIP, providing the final outcome corresponds to EU interests.   Further, whilst the negotiating directives include an element of conditionality and make clear that a decision on whether or not to include ISDS is to be taken during the final phase of negotiations, it cannot be ignored that the US position is also that investment protection and ISDS should feature in the TTIP.

Whilst the consultation received an extremely high proportion of pre-populated responses organised by NGOs (which generally opposed the inclusion of ISDS), it also solicited responses from a broad cross-section of stakeholders which has allowed the Commission to identify a number of key points areas (or “core issues”) to develop. These are:

  • The protection of the right to regulate
  • The supervision and functioning of arbitral tribunals
  • The relationship between ISDS arbitration and domestic remedies
  • Review of ISDS decisions for legal correctness through an appellate mechanism

The Commission has committed to further consultation in the first quarter of 2015.  However, at this stage it is not clear how the next consultation on these “core issues” will put the Commission in a better position to develop the investment chapter. For example, the “right to regulate” is the flip-side of the guarantee to an investor of fair and equitable treatment. Any re-consideration of the right to regulate will be deficient if it does not take into account the positive rights of investors which impact on the state’s right, as well as the sectors in which such right should exist without limitation. Again, the relationship between ISDS arbitration and domestic remedies depends on the balance struck between investment protections and the rights of states.  A holistic approach is needed.

The Commission’s Report on the responses to the Consultation is found here, and the accompanying Commission Memo is found here. Aspects of the Report are considered in further detail below. You may also wish to hear Herbert Smith Freehills public international law partner Matthew Weiniger QC discussing these issues on the Today programme on Radio 4 on 14 January 2014 (at 18.55 mins into the broadcast).

For further information, please contact Matthew Weiniger QC, partner, Christian Leathley, partner, or Andrew Cannon, partner, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

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