An open letter signed by non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) and legal experts across the United Kingdom and European Union has been published calling on the EU to allow UK accession to the 2007 Lugano Convention.
The Convention which provides a framework for the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters was originally concluded between the EU and EFTA states with the purpose of providing legal certainty to individuals and businesses operating across EU/EFTA borders. For the UK, permission to accede to the Lugano Convention would provide a similar framework to that of Brussels I Regulation Recast, ensuring the resolution of jurisdictional issues and the recognition of UK judgments across EU/EFTA states in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
The open letter, published in May 2021, follows a recent Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and Council of the European Union setting out the Commission’s view that the EU should not consent to the UK’s application to accede to the Convention.
Within the letter, the signatories set out their fears that failure to allow the UK to accede to the Convention will bring about a substantial barrier to overseas victims of corporate abuse when attempting to access a judicial remedy, and with it, a damaging blow to corporate accountability.
In particular, the letter makes reference to the so-called forum non conveniens doctrine, which requires UK courts to evaluate as to where litigation should be heard on a case-by-case basis. This doctrine has previously been used by corporate defendants to delay the progression of cases and persuade the UK courts to decline jurisdiction in favour of overseas courts, where obtaining a remedy is much more unlikely.
The letter also makes clear that no other international judicial cooperation treaty, including that of the Hague Convention 2005, offers the same protections to victims of serious human rights violations than the Lugano Convention. This calls into question the assertion of the European Commission, who in their Communication highlight that the future EU/UK relationship would be best governed by the Hague Convention.
This open letter follows on from that published by a cross-sectoral forum of business organisations representing a range of professional bodies, consumer agencies and trade associations, who in their letter to Charles Michel, President of the European Council, also conclude that the Lugano Convention is the obvious way forward in relation to access to justice and the enforceability of transactional and contractual relationships.
The intervention from NGO’s and legal experts comes at a timely period in the fight to ensure UK accession to Lugano, with the Council of the European Union yet to vote on the matter, nor set a date as to when such a vote may take place. With this in mind, the open letter has been sent to MEP’s in the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights Committee, and International Trade Committee in the hope it can prove persuasive if a vote takes place.
For the UK’s application to succeed, a qualified majority of the Council of the European Union must vote in favour of UK accession. In light of this, the signatories, alongside human rights lawyers and the Joint Brussels Office of the UK Law Societies, have continued to promote the benefits of Lugano as a central aspect of both the UK and EU’s international human rights and access to justice commitments. At present, it remains to be seen whether the Council will agree with the Commission’s recommendation or if a qualified majority will decide to support the UK’s future participation in the Convention.