Developments in PIL Journals Scholarship

First Issue of 2020’s Revue Critique de Droit International Privé

Rev CritThe most recent issue of the Revue Critique de Droit International Privé is out. It contains three articles and numerous case notes.

In the first article, Roxana Banu (Western Law, Canada) discusses the scholarship of J. Jitta  (L’idéalisme pragmatique de Josephus Jitta (1854-1925)).

 Jitta occupied a very specific intellectual space between universalism and particularism and between state-centric and individualistic theoretical perspectives. His scholarship formed a different, quite radical alternative to the dominant private international law theory and methodology of his time. He rejected the conventional understanding of Savigny’s method of localizing transnational legal matters, fundamentally contested the premise that one could choose a law in disregard of its content, and refused to center private international law’s theory on the concept of state sovereignty. Yet his initially radical ideas evolved in a more pragmatic direction on contact with the great socio-political transformations following the First World War. This progression of his thought provides us with much to learn, while calling at the same time for a critical approach.

In the second article, Vincent Heuzé (University of Paris I) challenges the soundness of the doctrine of overriding mandatory provisions and argues that it is illogical and useless (Un avatar du pragmatisme juridique : la théorie des lois de police).

Pragmatism, as a legal theory, revolves around the refusal “to let itself be enclosed” in any given “system”. Such theory refutes giving in to a model of logical thinking. The triumph of legal pragmatism is best illustrated in private international law by the theory of the overriding mandatory provisions. The latter concept –to the extent its outcome was held as a genuine method– in fact only served as to legitimate a pragmatic legal vision. Indeed, such legal pragmatism theory is necessarily false, not to say useless, to that extent that it is incapable of upholding the solutions she inspired.

Finally, in the third article, Ilaria Pretelli (Swiss Institute of Comparative Law) explores some of the consequences of the Feniks case of the CJEU (case C-337/17).

Four CJEU judgements have up to now clarified the applicability of the Uniform European jurisdiction rules – the Brussels I system – to the modern versions of actio pauliana: the two Reichert cases (cases C-115/88 and C-261/90) had said what the pauliana is not; the recent obiter dictum in Reitbauer (case C-722/17) and, more substantially, Feniks (case C-337/17) have said what it is. In essence, the CJEU confirms that actio pauliana is a claim related to a contract with the consequence that the defendant may be sued both at his domicile – under art. 4-1 Brussels I a – and, alternatively, at the forum of the “obligation in question” – – under art. 7-1 Brussels I a. These two decisions have been discussed and mainly criticized by legal scholars (see for instance these posts here and here). who have voiced the inherent dangers of accepting the risk for the defendant of being attracted in an unpredictable forum. The 2018 decision on Feniks has seemed to open the path to an even greater uncertainty since, of the two contractual relations giving the cause of action to the claimant, the CJEU seem to have given relevance to the one between the creditor and the debtor, thus a relation to which the defendant is formally excluded.

The need to scrutinise the substantial – instead of the purely formal – relation between the defendant and the claimant is at the core of an analysis of Feniks appeared in the first issue of this year’s Revue critique de droit international privé. The circumstances of the case show in an unequivocal manner how involved the defendant appeared to be in the tactical sale operated by the debtor. In this respect, the Spanish forum of the domicile of the defendant might have well created complications suitable for the fraud against the creditor to succeed. The particular structure of the pauliana, constructed to unmask apparently legitimate operations, justifies a departure from a strict and formal interpretation of “predictability”.

The first consequence drawn by the author of the comment concerns the potential comprehensiveness of the alternative fora described in art. 7 Brussels Ia.

The author sees no reasons to discriminate claimants because of the subject of their claim. If an alternative is given in most of civil and commercial matters, why shouldn’t it be given to one or two of these. What is essential, and what the CJEU constantly underlines, is the existence of a narrow connection between the claim and the forum. In Feniks, many elements testified of the narrowness of the connection (the identity of the parties, the language of their pacts etc.).

The second topic of the comment addresses the core problem of trilateral situations that arise from two distinct legal (bilateral) relations: the difficulty of choosing ex ante the “obligation in question” for the effects of art. 7-1 Brussels I a.

As the majority of scholars has rightly pointed out, whenever the defendant is in good faith, it is absolutely unfair to give to the claimant the possibility of suing him or her in front of an unpredictable judge, such as the judge of the unperformed contract to which the defendant has never been part.

Since the pauliana consists in the reaction to a fraudulent, albeit apparently legitimate, contract, its transposition in private international law commands to avoid an aprioristical choice and suggests to give to the judge in question the power to decide which “obligation in question” needs to be taken into account in order to avoid, on the one hand, to manipulate the system in order to uphold the fraud and, on the other hand, that the defendant is sued in a forum for him truly unpredictable.

This solution promotes “good faith” to a connecting factor in line with the existing series of content-oriented and result-selective conflicts rules.

In sum, despite the laconicism of the decisions and the understandable reticence of scholars to accept them, Feniks and Reitbauer have eventually opened the right path for a uniform European jurisdictional rule for the national versions of actio pauliana.

The full table of contents is available here.