Comparison of the Traditional English Laws

Introduction: This paper endeavors to compare the traditional English law and the European Community (EC) law on jurisdictional values. 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 analyze their historical or political background, their objectives, and the basis 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 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 for the international trade or business (who may be put in an invidious position where they are unaware of the extent of their liability) and 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 continues to have a formidable place in expounding the law on several issues, mostly due to intellectuals and experts’ availability helped it in doing so.

Traditional English law (the common law) is basically the case laws that have become an authority over the period of time about the matter determined therein. Before entering the European Union (EU) by signing the accession document in 1978, in the U.K, along with the judge-made laws, even legislations played a significant role. However, 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 with relative ease compared with the legislation process.

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

Different regimes determine the jurisdiction of English courts:

1. The Brussels I Regulation (hereinafter the ‘Regulation’) (an amended version of the Brussels Convention but notwithstanding the amendments, it applies a similar system of rules on the jurisdiction);
2. The Modified Regulation which allocates jurisdiction within the U.K under certain circumstances; and
3. The traditional English rules.

There are other sets of rules on jurisdiction like the EC/Denmark Agreement on jurisdiction and those in the Lugano Convention. Still, their ambit is restricted in application to the cases where the defendant is domiciled in Denmark in a former and 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, it is more important for the EC than the basic edifice of their legal system based on a codified structure that it defends on the grounds of ease of understanding amongst other reasons. At the same time, 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 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 the 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 defendant’s 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 allow 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 of the 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 and the traditional English law may very well have their own justifications and reasons for following a particular system. Still, it is submitted that this seems to be a matter of difference in the manner of approach or attitude and 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 is, 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 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 civil and commercial matters in nature and not to those that have been explicitly excluded from its application (e.g., Cases about 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.

A. In the traditional English rules, the court has jurisdiction in three situations:

i. If the defendant is present in England (though the court may stay the proceedings on the ground that another court is a more appropriate forum). Jurisdiction under this situation depends on the defendant’s presence in the country, whereby the claim form may be served to him.

ii. If the defendant submits to the court’s jurisdiction: wherein the defendant submits by not contesting jurisdiction or arguing the case on its merits.

iii. If the claim falls within Practice Direction: (CPR PD 6B) (which is dependent on the court permitting to serve process out of its jurisdiction) where the court considering England to be the most appropriate forum (despite the absence of reasons under i. or ii. based on some connection between England and the defendant. There seems on a perusal of this provision, a functional similarity with Arts.5 & 6 of the Regulation.

B. Jurisdiction under the EC Law: Except for certain instances where the applicability of the EC law on jurisdiction does not depend on the defendant’s domicile (Art.22 Exclusive Jurisdiction and Art.23 Prorogation of Jurisdiction), the EC law on jurisdiction rests on the domicile of the defendant, and makes it mandatory for the court of a member state to determine the jurisdictional issues and other issues where the defendant is domiciled in its jurisdiction.

The Brussels Regulation does provide for instances where the defendant can be sued in another Member state though he is not domiciled in that particular state; these cases have been very explicitly outlined in the regulation leaving little or no scope for the exercise of discretion by the judge. However, Art.4 of the Regulation provides that a member state can (subject to the provisions of Articles 22 and 23 of the Regulation) exercise its traditional laws of the jurisdiction in cases where the defendant is not domiciled in any of the member states. This provision, while giving scope for the applicability of the traditional rules, has at the same time also given rise to the idea that there is now only one source of jurisdictional rules, namely the Brussels Regulation.

C. Mandatory rules under EC law v Forum Conveniens:

Forum convenient: upon bringing an action in England, the claimant has to prove that it is the forum convenient. The matter can be tried therein in the interest of justice, and the relevant factors in considering this are the same as under forum non convenient. Forum conveniens is determined in two stages, namely:
i. Where in the 1st stage, the claimant should show that England is an appropriate forum (considering, among other things, the nature of the dispute, issues involved, and in cases where relevant, the availability of witnesses.
ii. At the 2nd stage, the claimant must establish that even if there is another forum, justice will not be done there, showing that England is the more appropriate forum.

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