There are many outstanding issues still to be negotiated as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, however one area where there shouldn’t be much disagreement is over the British government request to join the Lugano Convention.
There should be an overwhelming interest for both sides to keep the existing relations in this field. The consequences would be severe and very negative for businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel should there be no agreement to continue enforcement of civil and commercial judgments.
The Lugano Convention covers cross border enforcement of civil and commercial legal judgements. It applies between the EU and Switzerland, Norway and Iceland and sits alongside the Brussels 1 Regulation rules for the EU member states.
Although the UK will not be an EFTA member, the Convention is also open to non-members, such as the UK. In addition, the existing ETFA members (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have all supported the UK’s accession.
The decision to support the UK’s application should not be overly controversial. It eliminates the need for multiple legal actions in different countries, and the risk that companies can’t get their assets that are in other countries. As a result, the system significantly reduces the risk of doing business with someone in another country. Once a judgment is reached under the system, enforcement is rarely contested.
Without this system in place businesses will need to calculate for potentially multiple actions in different countries, especially in cases related to assets that are in another country.
Without Lugano accession enforcement of judgments will no longer happen automatically and the result is likely to lead to the other business party challenging the judgment. This can open up multiple issues, such as whether the compensation that the first court awarded is acceptable or whether the original judgment is questioned by the enforcing court. All substantive laws as to how disputes are settled are different from one European country to another and the Lugano/Brussels system is the only way to smooth these differences over and ensure that a pan-Continental dispute settlement system can work.
Most businesses aim to reduce these risks by agreeing choice of court clauses. Brussels I and Lugano reduce the risk further by setting the rules under which the choice of court clauses are respected by all. As national laws differ on this point, without the overarching framework, there is still the risk of litigation surrounding whether the choice of court clause that you have negotiated and expected to be able to rely on, is in fact valid.
If a business ends up in litigation, much more expense is needed to solve what are essentially procedural issues (such as whether you are in the right court that has the power to solve issue). Litigation also lasts longer as there are more complex issues to be solved. In addition, the end result can still be questioned by another court, costing businesses even more money.
This significantly raises the cost of doing business and this will often have bigger impact on SMEs. Smaller companies, without large legal departments, would have to budget for costs that have not existed in Europe since the 1970s, when the first Brussels convention came into force creating the system which is now applied throughout Europe.
Consumers on both sides of the channel also risk losing out, as under this system the legal system used is based on where the consumer is based, allowing consumers to easily get legal remedy. Without this, consumers buying across borders will be at a serious disadvantage and will find it far harder to enforce their rights.
The damage will not just be inflicted on UK based businesses and consumers. Those based in the EU will also suffer significantly and needlessly if there is no agreement on this point.
All trade needs a secure legal system to underpin it. We have one which already exists, and which works well. This hugely benefits businesses and if the UK does not have access to it, it will significantly increase the cost and reduce the amount of trade that will take place between the EU and UK.
The British government has recognised the benefits which comes with staying in the system. Switzerland, Iceland and Norway want the UK in the system. We urge the European Union to recognise this and ensure that the UK can swiftly accede to the Lugano Convention. In doing so cross border trade, which already faces significant challenges post Brexit, will at least be underpinned by a common legal system for civil and commercial trade.
Daniel Dalton – CEO