As part of its second batch of “no deal” technical notices, the government has today published a guidance notice entitled: Handling civil legal cases that involve EU countries if there’s no Brexit deal.
The notice contains little that was not already obvious. If no deal is agreed, there would be no agreed EU framework for ongoing civil judicial cooperation between the UK and EU countries. The UK would retain the Rome I and Rome II rules on applicable law, which generally do not require reciprocity to operate, but the rules governing jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments between EU member states (under the Recast Brussels Regulation 1215/2012) would no longer apply to the UK. Nor would the Lugano Convention, which currently governs jurisdiction and enforcement between the UK and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – though, as the notice says, this would not prevent the UK applying to re-join the Lugano Convention in its own right at a later date (and the government has previously indicated that it would seek to do just that).
For rules in these areas, the UK would revert to the existing domestic common law and statutory rules, which currently apply in cross border cases concerning the rest of the world. The guidance adds, not very helpfully:
“Businesses, individuals and legal practitioners would need to consider how these rules interact with the domestic rules of relevant EU countries to determine how jurisdiction in cross-border disputes should be established and whether any judgments should be recognised and enforced. In certain cases, the interaction between these rules may not be clear and certain countries may not recognise judgments from UK courts. Businesses and individuals may wish to take legal advice about how these changes may affect your individual circumstances.”
The paper confirms, as previously announced, that in the event of no deal the UK would take the necessary steps to re-join the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements in its own right. This Convention currently governs jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments as between the EU, Mexico, Singapore and (as of 1 August 2018) Montenegro, where there is an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of one of the contracting states which was concluded after the Convention entered into force for that state. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would apply as between the UK and the other contracting states, including all EU member states.
There has however been some uncertainty as to (i) when the Convention would enter into force for the UK, since under its terms it enters into force on the first day of the month following three months after ratification; and (ii) whether the Convention will apply to jurisdiction agreements concluded before it enters into force for the UK in its own right, as opposed to by virtue of EU membership – though the better view would seem to be that it should.
With that in mind, the one piece of helpful information in the guidance notice is that, in the event of no deal, it is anticipated that the Convention would come in to force across the UK by 1 April 2019, though it does not explain how that will be achieved. We presume it would depend on obtaining the EU’s agreement to deposit the UK’s instrument of ratification before it exits the EU, since (as noted above) there is ordinarily a three month period between ratification and entry into force. Nor does the notice venture any guesses as to the implications of the 1 April implementation. It says, simply: “Where appropriate, individuals and businesses would need to consider what this would mean for any existing choice of court agreements made under either the Brussels regime or the 2005 Hague Convention, including the implications of any gap in coverage by the 2005 Hague Convention between 29 March and 1 April 2019.”
One obvious tip – try to avoid agreeing exclusive English jurisdiction clauses on 30 or 31 March.