When will the English Court agree to be a “forum of necessity” for foreign litigants?

I. Introduction

This paper considers the English Courts’ approach to the following hypothetical: All traditional connecting factors point to a foreign jurisdiction being the most natural place to hear a dispute but, that notwithstanding, the forum court ultimately decides the foreign jurisdiction is an unacceptable place to litigate and accepts jurisdiction in the interests of justice, i.e., it is a “forum of necessity” in its purest form.

International practitioners and academics have widely debated the “forum of necessity” concept and reached little consensus beyond recognizing the need for a doctrine simultaneously consistent with “comity” and “justice”; two fundamental (and generally uncontroversial) international dispute resolution doctrines.[1]  It has also provoked a range of judicial approaches.  While the Canadian Court of Appeal, for example, recently revisited the doctrine and continued its recognition of the theoretical possibility that a court may assume jurisdiction over a claim with no “real and substantial” connection with the forum,[2] other countries have reached different conclusions, requiring at least some connecting factor to the forum.[3]

Unlike many civil law jurisdictions, English courts do not directly employ the term “forum of necessity.”[4]  Instead, they consider issues such as the availability and suitability of alternative fora within the wider common law forum non conveniens doctrine.  Given the rapidly increasing number of international disputes being litigated in London, a more globalized approach to business resulting in substantive disputes arising in countries with less developed judicial traditions, and a (sadly) deteriorating worldwide security situation, jurisdiction challenges of this variety are likely to become increasingly frequent in English courts.

Given London’s status as a major international dispute resolution hub, this paper will hopefully be of interest to international practitioners generally, while offering some comparative value in respect of the English approach compared with other jurisdictions around the world.

II. The Jurisdictional Framework

The Brussels Regulation regulates jurisdiction amongst EU member states and gives primary importance to the domicile of the defendant.[5]  This restricts the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine (and thus the debate regarding “forum of necessity”) to jurisdictional disputes falling outside of the Brussels Regulation.[6]  In such cases (i.e., where the defendant is non-EU domiciled and the alternative forum is outside of the EU), the English courts retain a discretion to apply the forum non conveniens doctrine.  In Spiliada, the seminal English case on forum non conveniens, Lord Goff stated that the court has to identify the forum in which the case can be most suitably tried in the interests of the parties and for the “ends of justice”.[7]

III. Categories of “Forum of Necessity” Arguments

Parties before the English courts seeking to raise “forum of necessity” arguments have seized upon the second limb of Lord Goff’s test arguing that forcing claimants to litigate in unacceptable foreign jurisdictions deprives them of justice, so they should be allowed to proceed in England (notwithstanding the lack of connecting factors).  Such arguments fall broadly into two categories: (i) where the forum is “unavailable”, i.e., unacceptable risks to personal safety or ineffective state infrastructure; and (ii) where the forum is technically “available” (under category (i)) but the court directly attacks that forum’s integrity, i.e., arguing the relevant foreign court is untrustworthy.

(i) “Unavailable” Forum:  The forum non conveniens doctrine presupposes a functioning court system exists in the alternative forum, otherwise the English court is the only available court and, de facto, the most convenient forum.  English courts have (albeit in rare cases) rejected an alternative forum, where civil administration has so broken down that no effective judicial process exists, and permitted proceedings in England, regardless of any connecting factors.  In Katanga, for example, the court ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo (the “DRC”) unavailable as civil justice had entirely broken down.[8]  In his judgment, Tomlinson J. suggested a forum is unavailable if there is an “absence of a developed infrastructure within which the rule of law can be confidently and consistently upheld” and “[t]he normal infrastructure of a State does not exist in the DRC.”[9]  The judgment demonstrates the willingness of English courts to act as “forum of necessity” in such rare cases as war, lack of infrastructure or even barbarism in the alternative forum.[10]  Such cases are arguably uncontroversial as comity and justice can be reconciled (justice is served as the action only proceeds if the English court accepts jurisdiction and comity is essentially irrelevant given such states are unlikely to have functioning judicial infrastructure, thus negating any damage such a decision might inflict on legal reciprocity). Indeed, a limited transnational consensus on how to deal with this scenario has arguably begun to develop.[11]

(ii) Attacks on the Foreign Court’s Integrity:  A far more contraversial contention is that a foreign court, whilst functioning, is little better than no court at all, due to corruption or partiality.  Such holdings unavoidably strike at the heart of judicial comity and English courts have wrestled timidly with how to justify such holdings.

Historically, English courts were reluctant to even entertain disparaging comparisons between English and foreign legal systems, upholding only extreme examples.[12]  As Lord Diplock noted in the Abidin Daver, “judicial chauvinism has been replaced by judicial comity.”[13]  However, in a section of his judgment that would be seized upon by later courts, Lord Diplock also said that a plaintiff seeking to resist a stay on these grounds must at least support his allegations with “positive and cogent evidence.”[14]  Since 2008 a raft of decisions have either upheld direct attacks on a foreign court’s integrity (and accepted jurisdiction) or at least seriously considered such challenges, signifying a dramatic changing tide in the English court’s approach. [15]  These decisions provide guidance on the current English courts’ approach to this issue.

First, English Courts (adopting Lord Diplock’s wording) will require “positive and cogent” evidence to support such allegations.  This is clear from the infamous, Deripaska v. Cherney case in 2008, in which Mr. Cherney alleged he would not receive a fair trial in Russia of his claim against Mr. Deripaska (purported to be part of Putin’s close circle of advisors and one of the richest and most influential men in Russia).[16]

Second, courts will more reluctantly accept allegations of general endemic corruption than targeted criticism specific to the case at issue.  In Deripaska, the court carefully grounded its concerns in the specific facts of the case avoiding, to some extent, overly broad dispersions about Russian courts.[17]  In Kyrgyz Mobil, the Privy Council held that in endemic corruption cases (i.e., where the system itself is criticized) comity requires extreme caution before finding that justice might not be done by a foreign court although “there is no rule that the English court . . . will not examine the question whether the foreign court or the foreign court system is corrupt or lacking in independence.  The rule is that considerations of international comity will militate against any such finding in the absence of cogent evidence.”[18]

Third, although far from clear, the “cogent evidence” test requires more than general academic studies about a jurisdiction.  While the “cogent evidence” test is easily stated, commentators criticized it as difficult to apply in all but the most extreme cases.[19]  Potentially in response to such criticisms, the court in Ferrexpo, sought to clarify the “cogent evidence” concept.[20]  It rejected Transparency International studies and press articles, noting that while they indicated general concerns about Ukraine’s judicial system “[l]ooking at the material as a whole, it is too fragmentary, too vague and often too unreliable in its nature to justify such a conclusion.”[21]  Ferrexpo, thus made clear that general disparaging studies are not sufficient and evidence must be “sufficiently detailed and focused” to justify such allegations. [22]

IV. Conclusion and Observations

English law has not expressly endorsed a “forum of necessity” doctrine but its courts have plainly demonstrated a willingness to function as such when no alternative forum exists.  Notably, in accepting jurisdiction in such cases, English courts do not require a connection to England whereas many civil law systems do.[23]  The reason for this, particularly in commercial matters, can perhaps be traced to remnants of a historical entrenched idea of the English court, as the great commercial court of the trading world, able to accept jurisdiction provided parties are willing to submit.[24]  Whatever its roots, the removal of the requirement to show a connection to the jurisdiction negates a significant barrier to true recognition of the “forum of necessity” doctrine in England which persists in those civil law countries.

Recently, English courts have been more willing to accept or at least consider accepting jurisdiction based on criticisms of a foreign forum’s integrity (provided there is “cogent evidence”).[25]  The reason for this change of approach is unclear.  Briggs and Rees suggest the enactment of the 1998 Human Rights Act, requiring English courts to address claims that a party’s human rights will not be respected by a foreign judicial system, is significant.[26]  I would submit that another factor is the recent efforts by the English legal community and judiciary to promote London as a dispute resolution hub for international commercial parties.[27]  This willingness to welcome international cases has potentially, whether directly or indirectly, resulted in a greater openness to hearing the type of challenges to the integrity of a foreign forum that were previously taboo.

It is also worth highlighting two differences in the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine in England versus the United States (the other major common law dispute resolution forum), that theoretically renders England more amenable to the “necessity” doctrine.  First, U.S. jurisprudence contains a longstanding recognition that forum non conveniens should consider the public interest and weigh it against the parties’ private interests.  For example, a judge is required to consider the long queue of cases before him when deciding to stay proceedings, essentially respecting a U.S. claimant’s wish to sue in U.S. courts above a non-U.S. claimant’s desire to invoke U.S. jurisdiction.[28]  In stark contrast, this idea was expressly rejected in England where only the parties’ private interests are relevant in the forum non conveniens test.[29]  Second, the U.S. forum non conveniens doctrine operates within a wider jurisdictional regime fundamentally concerned with the affiliations between defendant and forum and is thus geared towards protecting defendants from litigation in inconvenient forums.[30]  Incorporating a (pro-plaintiff) “forum of necessity” concept into such a defendant-oriented system is understandably contentious.[31].  However, in the arguably more neutral English law interpretation (as espoused by Lord Goff in Spiliada) “forum of necessity” receives a more hospitable welcome.

This area will undoubtedly be subject to further development. Whatever the result, unless the English Parliament adopts statutory guidance or even a “black list” of inappropriate fora, uncertainty is an inevitable consequence of an overlap between the powers of the legislature and judiciary as this area impacts not only comity but also international policy and relations.  Indeed, a more comprehensive test than “cogent evidence”, without statutory intervention, could be deemed to further blur the lines between the separate powers.


Shaun Palmer

The author is a Class of 2015 LL.M. student in the International Business Regulation, Litigation and Arbitration program at the New York University School of Law. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Balliol College, Oxford University, in 2008, after which he completed his legal training in London, qualifying as a Solicitor in 2012.


[1] See e.g., C. Kessedjian, Synthesis of the work of the special commission of March 1998 on international jurisdiction and the effects of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters, Hague Conference on Private International Law, Prel. Doc. No. 9, July 1998, p. 37 (To propose an agreed position in the Hague Preliminary Draft Convention on International Jurisdiction, various approaches were weighed up with no consensus reached).

[2] See, West Van Inc. v. Daisley, 2014 ONCA 232, ¶ 20 (“[a]ll jurisdictions in Canada that have recognized the forum of necessity [doctrine] have incorporated a ‘reasonableness’ test” and in Ontario, a plaintiff must establish “there is no other forum in which the plaintiff can reasonably seek relief”).  This built on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Van Breda v. Village Resorts Ltd., 2010 ONCA 84.  The Canadian Supreme Court affirmed this decision without directly addressing the “forum of necessity” doctrine but left room for its “possible application” in the future (2012 SCC 17, ¶ 100).

[3] See e.g., Art. 3 of the Swiss Federal Act on Private International Law: “When this Act does not provide for jurisdiction in Switzerland and proceedings in a foreign country are impossible, or cannot reasonably be required, the Swiss judicial or administrative authorities at the place with which the case has a sufficient connection have jurisdiction” (emphasis added); thus recognizing a codified limited application in cases where there is “sufficient connection” to the Swiss forum. In the French Courts, the forum of necessity doctrine is accepted but infrequently used (See A. Huet, Jurisclasseur Droit Civil, Art. 14 and 15, Fasc. 21 (Dec. 2001), n. 85 et seq.;presenting a detailed review of French case law on the subject).

[4] See B. Ubertazzi, “Intellectual Property Rights and Exclusive (Subject Matter) Jurisdiction: Between Private and Public International Law” (2011) 15:2 Marq Intell Prop L Rev 357 at 387-88 (Noting that Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, and Turkey expressly adopt the doctrine of “forum of necessity” either statutorily or via case law).

[5] European Council Regulation No 2201/2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments (the “Brussels Regulation”). The revised Brussels Regulation (European Council Regulation No 1215/2012, “Brussels Recast”) takes effect from January 10, 2015 but the changes are not relevant to this paper.  Interestingly, the European Commission considered adding a forum necessitatis provision in the Brussels Recast (see Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (Recast), at 3 COM (2010) 748 final (Dec. 14, 2010)) but no consensus was reached and the proposal was removed from the final version.

[6] Owusu v. Jackson and Others (Case C-281/02) [2005] QB 801 (where a member state has jurisdiction via the Brussels Regulation, English courts do not retain forum non conveniens discretion even with respect to non-member state courts).

[7] Spiliada v. Maritime Corp v. Cansulex, [1986] 1 AC 460 at 478.

[8] Alberta Inc v Katanga Mining Ltd, [2008] EWHC 2679. Tomlinson, J. in fact upheld the English court’s jurisdiction as he deemed the primary defendant domiciled in London (and hence open to suit in England under the Brussels Regulation); his comments on the suitability of the DRC as a forum were responsive to the plaintiffs’ arguments in the alternative.

[9] Id., ¶ 33.

[10] See e.g., Oppenheimer v Rosenthal [1937] 1 All ER 23 and Ellinger v Guinness Mahon & Co [1939] 4 All E.R. 16 (English courts permitted Jewish litigants to bring cases where the alternative forum was Nazi Germany).

[11] See e.g., Article 6 of the 2005 Hague Choice of Court Convention which provides an exception to recognition of choice of court agreements where proceedings before the chosen court are impossible.  T. Hartley and M. Dogauchi’s accompanying report explained the exclusion covered “exceptional” scenarios, i.e., war or non-functioning courts.  This evidences a limited consensus on the “forum of necessity” doctrine amongst the signatory states.

[12] See e.g., A/S D/S Svendborg v. Wansa [1997] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 183, 189 in which the English Court upheld its jurisdiction on the basis that the defendant openly boasted that he could manipulate the courts in Sierra Leone.

[13] The Abidin Daver, [1984] AC 398, ¶411 (the English court declined jurisdiction and rejected insinuations that the courts of Turkey were so corrupted by military pressure that they would not do justice in the case).

[14] Id. at 411.

[15] See Deripaska v Cherney [2009] EWCA Civ 849; Pacific International Sports Club Ltd v Igor Surkis and others, [2010] EWCA Civ 753; AK Investment CJSC v Kyrgyz Mobil Tel Ltd and others [2011] UKPC 7 (privy council case); Ferrexpo AG v Gilson Investments Ltd & Ors  [2012] EWHC 721 (Comm).

[16] Deripaska, ¶ 27 (“…so far as establishing that there are factors that make England an appropriate forum despite another forum being natural, one factor, that justice cannot be achieved in that natural forum, requires “cogent evidence” and the reason for that was spelt out by Lord Diplock in The Abidin Daver”).  Applying the “cogent evidence” test, the Court of Appeal concluded that, because of the unusual circumstances of this specific case, in particular, risks of: assassination in Russia, prosecution on trumped-up charges, and state interference by Russia in the judicial process, England was the most suitable jurisdiction for the interests of all the parties and the ends of justice (Id. ¶¶ 64-67).

[17] Id. ¶ 67; See also, Pacific Sports Club (it was not enough to show that there were inherent problems with the Ukrainian judicial system (it was accepted that there was general evidence of corruption and impropriety), the Court of Appeal held that the claimant had to show that he personally was unlikely to obtain justice in relation to the specific claims brought).

[18] AK Investment v. Kyrgyz Mobil, ¶101.  The Privy Council upheld the jurisdiction of the Isle of Man court noting: “There can be no doubt that Kyrgyzstan is the natural forum for claims under Kyrgyz law that the KFG Companies have been deprived of their shares in a Kyrgyz company through a conspiracy wholly or mainly carried out in Kyrgyzstan. But the fundamental point in this case is that, if there is no trial in the Isle of Man, there will be no trial anywhere.”

[19] See e.g., Briggs and Rees, Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (5th Edition, 2009) at 4.83 (“[T]he standards by which an English Court may make such an assessment in cases, in less extreme cases, in advance of any hearing of the foreign court are elusive . . . In truth, some such cases may be examples of a case in which the claimant, fearing that he will lose before the foreign court, seeks to cloak that irrelevant fact in allegations of unjudicial behavior by foreign judges.”)

[20] Ferrexpo, ¶ 35.

[21] Id., ¶ 96.

[22] Id., ¶ 44.

[23]  The only requirement is that the relevant defendant is served in accordance with English law; cf. fn. 3 supra.

[24]  See e.g., Unterweser Reederei G.m.b.H. v. Zapata Off-Shore Company [1968] 2 Lloyd’s L. Rep. 158. (English Court of Appeal upheld  jurisdiction on the basis of a forum selection clause over two non-English parties in a dispute concerning a breach of contract off the coast of Florida; there was no other connecting factor to England).

[25]  See e.g., Deripaska.

[26] Briggs and Rees, Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments at 4.29.

[27]  See e.g., http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=5dbd1c44-27d2-4568-8dfb-5a61287ac7db (“We have good Commercial and Chancery judges coupled with a sound and robust system of law. Further, there is a substantial amount of case law relating to litigation cases in England which makes it very appealing for litigants to bring cases here, even more so if the rule of law in their own countries is unpredictable or if judges are inexperienced in handling these types of cases.” (comments attributed to Katie Papworth, commercial disputes solicitor)).

[28] See Piper Aircraft v. Reyno (1981) 454 US 235 at 256.

[29] See Lubbe v. Cape Plc [2000] 1 WLR 1545, ¶ 33, holding that considerations of public interest were irrelevant to the Spiliada, forum non conveniens analysis.

[30] L. Silberman, “A Comparative Look at Judicial Jurisdiction in Transnational Cases.” 63 S.C. Law Review (2011).

[31] See e.g., Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984) at 416 (U.S. Supreme Court held Texas had no jurisdiction because the defendant did not have “continuous and systematic contacts” with the forum.)

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