The High Court has held that there is no power under the recast Brussels Regulation to stay English proceedings against an English domiciled defendant in favour of proceedings in a non-EU court commenced pursuant to an exclusive jurisdiction agreement in favour of that court, unless the foreign proceedings were commenced before the English proceedings: Gulf International Bank BSC v Aldwood  EWHC 1666 (QB).
In a number of High Court cases decided under the Brussels I Regulation, which preceded the recast Brussels Regulation, the court held that the English court had a power to stay in favour of a non-EU court in some circumstances, including where there was an exclusive foreign jurisdiction clause in favour of the foreign court (see our posts here and here). This was on the basis that the provisions in the Brussel I Regulation could be applied by analogy, or reflexively. In other words, as an EU court had to stay its proceedings in favour of another EU court where there was an exclusive jurisdiction court in the other court’s favour, the same should apply where the chosen court was in a non-EU country.
The recast Brussels Regulation introduced new express powers in articles 33 and 34 giving an EU court the discretion to stay its proceedings in favour of identical or related proceedings in a non-EU country where the foreign proceedings were first in time. That left open the question what powers, if any, the court had where the foreign proceedings were second in time but there was an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the foreign court.
The High Court has now held that there is no power to stay outside of the express provisions of articles 33 and 34 of the recast Brussels Regulation. The court commented that some aspects of reflexive effect have been incorporated into the recast Regulation; finding that there is a discretionary power outside of these provisions would conflict with the principles underpinning the interpretation of the Regulation, such as legal certainty and predictability.
This is a first instance decision, and it would not have been necessary for the judge to decide the point as he found the jurisdiction clause to be non-exclusive rather than exclusive. However, the decision potentially casts doubt on the effectiveness of English exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the event of a no deal Brexit where proceedings are commenced first in an EU member state court and where the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005 is found not to apply – either because the clause was agreed before the Convention came into force for the UK (whether that is taken to be 1 October 2015, or 1 November 2019 when the UK is due to rejoin the Convention in its own right – see this post) or because of the domicile of the parties (if for example all parties are EU-domiciled, the rules in the recast Brussels Regulation will take precedence over the Convention for jurisdiction purposes). In those circumstances, if the approach taken in the present case is correct, an EU27 court will only be able to stay proceedings commenced in breach of an English exclusive jurisdiction clause where the English proceedings were commenced first in time.
It is also worth noting that the decision is consistent with the High Court judgment in UCP Plc v Nectrus Ltd  EWHC 380 (Comm) (considered in this post), which similarly found – though in a very different context and without such a detailed analysis of the arguments relating to reflexive effect – that the court’s powers to stay proceedings in favour of a non-EU court under articles 33 and 34 are exhaustive. Continue reading