Comparison of the Traditional English Laws & European Community (EC) Laws on Jurisdictional Values

Introduction: This paper endeavours to compare the traditional English law and the European Community (EC) law on jurisdictional values, in that, it seeks to understand and elucidate why the former set of jurisdictional rules value flexibility and justice while the latter values certainty and predictability vis-à-vis the other. It shall analyse their historical or political background, their objectives and bases for assuming jurisdiction. It shall highlight the areas of differences between these jurisdictional regimes with the assistance of authorities like significant Court cases and books that have besides explaining or simplifying the law have also helped its evolution.

Definition: The word ‘Jurisdiction’ can have several meanings, but if understood in context with the Court of law it generally means the ability or authority law. of a particular Court to determine the issues before it on which a decision is sought. The rules on Jurisdiction play a pivotal role in determining the Court’s ability to address the issues in a given matter.

Jurisdictional issues become complex on the involvement of more than one Court having jurisdiction. This is certainly an area of concern not only for the international trade or business (who may be put in an invidious position where they are unaware of the extent of their liability) but also the sovereign states that seek to trade with each other without having to spoil their amicable relationship.

The English Law: The English legal system (having the common law at its core) has had and still continues to have a formidable place in expounding the law on several issues, mostly due to the availability of intellectuals and experts that have helped it in doing so.

Traditional English law (the common law) is basically the case laws that have over period of time become an authority with regard to the matter determined therein. Prior to entering the european union (EU) by signing the document of accession in 1978, in the U. K, along with the judge made laws, even legislations played a significant role though it may have been more or less remedial in nature. However, it seems logical to allow the judge made law to test the legislation whenever it is so required by the change in circumstances which can be given effect to with relative ease as in comparison with the legislation process.

Before the advent of the Brussels/Lugano system and the Modified Regulation the traditional rules were applied in all cases, and it is their historical roots that make it appropriate to refer to them as the traditional English law/rules.

There are other sets of rules on jurisdiction like the EC/Denmark Agreement on jurisdiction and the those contained in the Lugano Convention; but their ambit is restricted in application to the cases where the defendant is domiciled in Denmark in case of the former and in an EFTA member state in case of the latter. There is also the Brussels Convention which applies to Denmark alone.

The EC law: In contrast to the traditional English law, the European Community seems to place more importance on the legislative work than the judge made laws. Apparently, for the EC, it is more important that the basic edifice of their legal system should be based in a codified structure which it defends on the grounds of ease of understanding amongst other reasons. Whereas, English laws seem to put more emphasis on having a common law or judge made law background. On this anvil, one begins to understand the differences that exist between the respective legal systems and their values, that is, a basic difference in the manner of approaching the issues even in cases where their objectives may be same.

The EC law on jurisdiction is more inclined towards the importance of predictability and certainty in the rules than towards matters like justice and flexibility as can be understood upon reading the 11th recital of the Regulation that states: ‘The rules of jurisdiction must be highly predictable and founded on the principle that jurisdiction must generally be based on defendants domicile and jurisdiction must always be available on this ground save in few defined situations… ‘

Whereas, the only mention of flexibility in the Regulation is contained in the 26th recital wherein it provides that the rules in the regulation may be flexible only to the extent of allowing specific procedural rules of member states.

According to the EC law on jurisdiction, it seems that this particular requirement of predictability is necessary for parties to a dispute to know exactly within which jurisdiction(s) they can sue and be sued. The EC law gives priority to the primary objective of harmonizing the laws on jurisdiction within the territory of its member states and therefore makes it mandatory to uphold the strict accuracy to its principle while giving secondary status to the objective of justice for the parties. The EC law as well as the traditional English law may very well have their own justifications and reasons for following a particular system; but it is submitted that this seems to be not only a matter of difference in manner of approach or attitude but also a matter of prioritization of the objectives by both the EC law and traditional English law on jurisdiction. The list of cases mentioned hereinafter for the benefit of elucidating the topic under discussion are, as shall be evident, decided under the Brussels Convention which can be used for interpreting the rules under the Regulation.

Comparison of EC Law v English Law:
1. Bases of Jurisdiction: The most significant difference that exists between the traditional English laws and the EC law on jurisdiction is the element of discretion that the respective body of law gives to the judges in determining the jurisdictional issues. Under the Regulation the assumption of jurisdiction is largely mandatory with the court not being free to decline jurisdiction; whereas under the English traditional rules the assumption of jurisdiction is discretionary.

The Regulation applies only to matters that are civil and commercial in nature and not to those that have been explicitly excluded from its application (for e. g. Cases pertaining to arbitration, succession, wills and bankruptcy have been excluded from the application of the Regulation). Whereas, the traditional English rules apply not only to cases that fall outside the scope of Art. 1 of the Regulation but also to those that fall within its scope where the defendant is not domiciled in any member state and the jurisdiction is not allocated by any of the rules which apply, regardless of domicile.

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