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The International Obligation of the Uniform and Autonomous Interpretation of Private Law Conventions: Consequences for Domestic Courts and International Organisations

Abstract

This article addresses the issue of the uniform and autonomous interpretation of private law conventions, including of private international law conventions, from the perspective of their Contracting States, particularly their judiciaries, and of the international organizations. Firstly, the author analyses the use of standard uniform interpretation clauses, and the origin of such clauses, in the context of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The following part the article addresses negative and positive obligations imposed on States and their judiciaries under international law regarding the uniform and autonomous interpretation of international treaties. It is argued that States are not only obliged to refrain from referring to concepts from national laws for the purpose of the interpretation of international law instruments, but also that they face certain positive obligations in the process of applying the conventions. Those include referring to foreign case law, international scholarship, and under certain circumstances, also to travaux préparatoires. Thirdly, the author discusses the role of international organizations—e.g. HCCH, UNCITRAL, UNIDROIT, in safeguarding and facilitating the uniform and autonomous interpretation of private law conventions. It does so by describing various related tools and approaches, with examples and comments on their practical use (e.g. advisory opinions, information sharing, access to supplementary material, judicial exchanges and legislative action).

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Notes

  1. Dörr (2018a), para. 2.

  2. Dörr (2018a), para. 1. See also Tzanakopoulos (2016), p. 72; Schwarzenberger (1968): ‘Any application of a treaty, including its execution, presupposes […] a preceding conscious or subconscious interpretation of the treaty’.

  3. See Aust (2016), p. 335: ‘What would be left of the promise of universality if domestic courts in different jurisdictions give diverging meanings to the contents of international law?’.

  4. Gebauer (2000), pp. 686–687. See also De Ly (2003), p. 339; Ferrari (1994), p. 200; Roth and Happ (1997), pp. 700, 702–703.

  5. Viscasillas (2017), pp. 4, 6.

  6. See Bonell (1987) pp. 65, 66.

  7. Art. 17 ULIS. See Felemegas (2000–2001), Chapter 3, Section 2 ‘Legislative History of Article 7(1) CISG’, Subsection (b) ‘The “need to promote uniformity” in the Convention’s application’ (on-line document); Viscasillas (2018), para. 6.

  8. Viscasillas (2018), para. 6.

  9. See also the well-known expression of this concern by Viscount Simonds in Scruttons Ltd v. Midland Silicones [1962] AC 446, 471: ‘It is (to put it no higher) very desirable that the same conclusions should be reached in whatever jurisdiction the question arises. It would be deplorable if the nations should after protracted negotiations reach agreement as in the matter of the Hague Rules [of 1924] and that their several courts should then disagree as to the meaning of what they appeared to agree upon’.

  10. See HCCH (1987), pp. 197, 143, 211, 215, 345, 361, 367.

  11. Art. 13 of the Convention.

  12. Art. 23 of the Convention.

  13. Art. 53 of the Convention.

  14. Art. 20 of the Convention.

  15. See Ferrari (1999), p. 245; Munday (1978), p. 450; Gebauer (2000), p. 684.

  16. De Ly (2003), p. 344. See also the survey by Witz (2003), p. 279.

  17. See the Preamble to the Convention, fourth paragraph.

  18. Von Mehren (1987), para. 157.

  19. See HCCH (1987), pp. 197, 747; von Mehren (1987), para. 157.

  20. HCCH (1987), p. 483.

  21. Ibid., p. 747.

  22. The proposal was made by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference. See HCCH (2006), p. 153.

  23. Ibid., pp. 153 and 521.

  24. Ibid., p. 521.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Ibid.

  27. The ‘Judgments Project’ refers to the work undertaken by the Hague Conference since 1992 on two key aspects of private international law in cross-border litigation in civil and commercial matters: the international jurisdiction of courts and the recognition and enforcement of their judgments abroad. See https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/specialised-sections/judgments.

  28. See Preliminary Draft Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters adopted by the Special Commission and Report by Peter Nygh and Fausto Pocar, August 2000, Preliminary Document No. 11, p. 124, at https://assets.hcch.net/upload/wop/jdgmpd11.pdf (hereinafter, ‘Nygh/Pocar Report’). The Report is reproduced in HCCH (2013), pp. 206–313.

  29. Synthesis of the Work of the Special Commission of June 1997 on International Jurisdiction and the Effects of Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, November 1997, Preliminary Document No. 8 (hereinafter, ‘Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 8’), para. 89, at https://www.hcch.net/en/publications-and-studies/details4/?pid=3491&dtid=35.

  30. See also the Document Submitted by the Co-Reporters on the Uniform Interpretation of the Proposed Convention on the Jurisdiction, Recognition and the Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, 10 November 1998, Working Document No. 94 E (hereinafter, ‘Work. Doc. (1998) No. 94 E’), p. 1, at https://assets.hcch.net/docs/219a266b-9b58-403c-9394-c742dbe507a4.pdf.

  31. See Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28).

  32. Arts. 38–40 of the 1999 Draft Convention, and pp. 124–125 of Nygh/Pocar Report.

  33. See Judgments Convention: Revised Draft Explanatory Report by F. Garcimartín and G. Saumier, December 2018, Preliminary Document No. 1 (hereinafter ‘Prel. Doc. (2018) No. 1’), at https://assets.hcch.net/docs/7d2ae3f7-e8c6-4ef3-807c-15f112aa483d.pdf.

  34. [1981] AC 251.

  35. Ibid., p. 273 (Lord Wilberforce); p. 281 (Lord Diplock); p. 291 (Lord Scarman).

  36. Ibid., p. 278 (Lord Wilberforce); pp. 282–283 (Lord Diplock); pp. 294–295 (Lord Scarman).

  37. Ibid., pp. 274–275 (Lord Wilberforce); pp. 283–284 (Lord Diplock); pp. 294–295 (Lord Scarman); p. 300 (Lord Roskill).

  38. Ibid., pp. 275–276 (Lord Wilberforce); p. 284 (Lord Diplock); pp. 294–295 (Lord Scarman); p. 300 (Lord Roskill).

  39. Ibid., pp. 281–282. On the importance of the case, see also Honnold (1999), para. 90.

  40. See Dörr (2018b), para. 28.

  41. As of 17 October 2019; see the status table provided by the UN at https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXIII-1&chapter=23&Temp=mtdsg3&clang=_en.

  42. See Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal, ICJ Reports 1991, p. 53, para. 48; Dörr (2018a), para. 6. See also Ferrari (2017), pp. 245–247; Viscasillas (2018), para. 68.

  43. HCCH (1987), p. 521.

  44. Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 125.

  45. While only States are directly bound by international treaties, their obligations naturally extend to their courts, be it because they are organs of the State, be it by virtue of the ratification and/or implementation of the treaty in question (see Aust (2016), p. 340).

  46. The consequences of a potential breach of this obligation are beyond the scope of this article. While the refusal of a court to give effect to a standard uniform interpretation clause should theoretically be able to trigger that State’s responsibility, it seems clear that such a refusal would have to (a) be intentional and systematic and (b) actually lead to a result that is irreconcilable with the obligation of uniform interpretation (see in more detail Nollkaemper (2016)). It is also worth noting that there does not seem to be any precedent for State responsibility ever having been seriously considered with regard to the application of an international convention in the field of civil or commercial law.

  47. See Honnold (1999), para. 89; De Ly (2003), p. 343; Graffi (2003), pp. 305, 307–308; Karton and de Germiny (2009), pp. 71–72; Roth and Happ (1997), p. 702. See also, Explanatory Report on the 2005 Hague Choice of Court Agreements Convention by T. Hartley and M. Dogauchi, at https://assets.hcch.net/upload/expl37final.pdf, para. 256.

  48. Ferrari (1994), pp. 200–202.

  49. See Schwenzer (2012), pp. 46, 47.

  50. Ferrari (2017), pp. 244, 251–253.

  51. Oberlandesgericht Koblenz, 24.2.2011, BeckRS 2012, 21660, sub. 8.a).

  52. See above, Sect. 2.

  53. As far as uncertainties as to the Convention’s substantive scope are concerned, Art. 7(2) CISG does, of course, merely shift the debate towards the question of which aspects are subject to ‘general principles’: see e.g. the debate about the applicable interest rate under Art. 78 CISG (see CISG Advisory Council, Op. No. 14, at http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/CISG-AC-op14.html, 3.24–3.44, with references).

  54. But not from recognition and enforcement under national law: see Art. 15 and Revised Draft Explanatory Report by F. Garcimartín and G. Saumier (n. 33), para. 240.

  55. See the Revised Draft Explanatory Report by F. Garcimartín and G. Saumier (n. 33), para. 242.

  56. See above, Sect. 3.

  57. De Ly (2003), pp. 343–344; Munday (1978), p. 459; Schwenzer and Hachem (2009), pp. 457, 468. See also Roth and Happ (1997), pp. 708–710, on deriving this obligation from customary international law.

  58. See also Witz (2003), p. 283.

  59. See Graffi (2003), p. 308; Rosett (1984), pp. 445, 448.

  60. Graffi (2003), pp. 308–309.

  61. Veneziano (2003), p. 325.

  62. See below, under Sect. 4.2.1.

  63. Veneziano (2003), p. 326; Ferrari (2003), pp. 63, 68.

  64. Dörr (2018a), paras. 3–4.

  65. Thomson v. Thomson [1994] 3 SCR 551, 6 RFL (4th) 290.

  66. See De Ly (2003), p. 345; see also below, Sect. 4.3.2.

  67. See Dörr (2018a), paras. 62–63.

  68. Viscasillas (2018), para. 3.

  69. Sundberg (1966), pp. 223–224.

  70. See also Gebauer (2000), p. 684.

  71. See Work. Doc. (1998) No. 94 E (n. 30), pp. 1–2.

  72. Protocol on the Interpretation by the Court of Justice of the Convention of September 27, 1968 on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, done 3 June 1971 [1975] OJ L 204/28.

  73. Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 8 (n. 29), para. 89.

  74. See also Gebauer (2000), p. 684.

  75. See United Nations Economic and Social Council, Report of the Committee on the Enforcement of International Arbitral Awards, 28 March 1955, UN Doc. E/2704, at http://undocs.org/E/2704.

  76. Ibid., para. 64 (Art. XIII).

  77. Ibid.

  78. See Work. Doc. (1998) No. 94 E (n. 30), pp. 1–2.

  79. Ibid., p. 2.

  80. See Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 8 (n. 29).

  81. See https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/the-old-conventions/1931-protocol#status.

  82. ICJ, Netherlands v. Sweden (the Boll case), ICJ Reports 1958, p. 55.

  83. See International Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, Preliminary Document No. 7, April 1997 (hereinafter, ‘Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 7’), at https://assets.hcch.net/upload/wop/jdgm_pd7.pdf, para. 200.

  84. Ibid.

  85. Ibid.

  86. Ibid.

  87. Ibid.

  88. Ibid.

  89. See Work. Doc. (1998) No. 94 E (n. 30), pp. 2–3.

  90. Ibid., p. 2.

  91. Ibid.

  92. See Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 126.

  93. Ibid.

  94. Several criticisms seem to have contributed to the deletion of the clause. One delegation at the 1997 meeting ‘expressed doubts about the “democratic” nature of such a process’ (see Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 8 (n. 29), para. 89), a concern that was later rejected as being unconvincing (see 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, July 1998, Preliminary Document No. 9 (hereinafter, ‘Prel. Doc. (1998) No. 9’), para. 118, at https://assets.hcch.net/upload/wop/jdgm_pd9.pdf. Another criticism was that in some States, requesting opinions from expert panels outside the national judiciary may be unconstitutional, as this may offend the principle of judicial independence and amount to contempt of court (see Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 126). Although this issue undoubtedly needs further discussion, one solution would consist of exempting Contracting States for which this mechanism would present constitutional issues from participating in interpretative panels. (Ibid.) For this reason, delegations expressed the view that opinions of interpretative panels could not be binding, having a mere consultative nature, given that the jurisdictional authority of State Courts cannot be derogated from by a decision of a non-jurisdictional authority (see Prel. Doc. (1998) No. 9 (n. 94), para. 118).

  95. See https://www.cisgac.com.

  96. See Schwenzer (2012), p. 46; Karton and de Germiny (2009), p. 71.

  97. See https://www.cisgac.com/case-law/.

  98. See the Explanatory Report by Fausto Pocar on the Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, signed in Lugano on 30 October 2007 (hereinafter, ‘Pocar Report on the 2007 Lugano Convention’), para. 205, at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52009XG1223%2804%29.

  99. See Art. 5(3) of Protocol 2 to the 2007 Lugano Convention.

  100. See the relevant section of the website of the Swiss Government, https://www.bj.admin.ch/bj/en/home/wirtschaft/privatrecht/lugue-2007.html.

  101. See for example, United Nations (2017).

  102. See Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 125.

  103. See also De Ly (2003), pp. 350–356.

  104. See also Roth and Happ (1997), pp. 709–710; Graffi (2003), p. 309.

  105. See https://www.incadat.com/en/about-incadat.

  106. See HCCH (2003).

  107. See https://www.incadat.com/en/contributors.

  108. See https://www.uncitral.org/clout/.

  109. UNICTRAL, Facts about CLOUT: Case Law On Uncitral Texts, at http://www.uncitral.org/pdf/english/clout/brochure/Facts_about_Clout_eng_Ebook.pdf.

  110. The CLOUT database includes case law on the following texts: Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958); Convention on the Limitation Period in the International Sale of Goods (New York, 1974), and as amended (Vienna, 1980); United Nations Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Sea (Hamburg, 1978); United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (Vienna, 1980); UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (1985); UNCITRAL Model Law on International Credit Transfers (1992); United Nations Convention on Independent Guarantees and Stand-by Letters of Credit (New York, 1995); UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce (1996); UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency (1997); United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts (New York, 2005).

  111. See UNCITRAL (n. 109), p. 3.

  112. For earlier criticism, see De Ly (2003), p. 351.

  113. See http://www.uncitral.org/uncitral/en/case_law/national_correspondents.html.

  114. See UNCITRAL (n. 109), p. 4.

  115. See HCCH (2006), p. 521.

  116. See Veneziano (2003), pp. 325–331. For some early examples of such databases being used by domestic courts in order to interpret the CISG, see Ferrari (2003), pp. 71–72.

  117. See https://www.iicl.law.pace.edu/cisg/cisg.

  118. See http://www.cisg-online.ch/.

  119. See http://www.unilex.info/instrument/cisg.

  120. As of September 2019, the latest reported case is a decision from early 2018.

  121. See https://www.ali.org/about-ali/how-institute-works/.

  122. See the functions of Restatements described by the ALI, at https://www.ali.org/publications/frequently-asked-questions/#differ.

  123. Keynote Address of The Honourable the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at the Conference Doing Business Across Asia: Legal Convergence in an Asian Century, 21 January 2016, para. 31.

  124. See Council of Europe (1969), p. 28, para. 50.

  125. Ibid.

  126. Ibid., para. 51; See, for example, the American Law Institute that drafts restatements of the law.

  127. See https://uncitral.un.org/en/library/publications.

  128. See also De Ly (2003), p. 354.

  129. See also Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 125, speaking of the needs of a ‘continuing Convention’ (in the context of the 1999 Draft Convention).

  130. Ibid.

  131. See Pocar Report on the 2007 Lugano Convention (n. 98), para. 199.

  132. See https://eur-lex.europa.eu/collection/n-law/jure.html.

  133. Pocar Report on the 2007 Lugano Convention (n. 98), para. 200.

  134. See https://www.hcch.net/en/publications-and-studies/publications2/proceedings-of-the-diplomatic-sessions.

  135. HCCH (2010).

  136. De Ly (2003), p. 345.

  137. See for example the translations of the 2005 HCCH Choice of Court Convention: https://www.hcch.net/en/publications-and-studies/details4/?pid=5998.

  138. Borrás and González Campos (1996).

  139. Ellinger (2000), p. 38.

  140. HCCH, Working proposal No. 2 REV from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay for the Commission on General Affairs and Policy (2019), at https://assets.hcch.net/docs/7bb78b13-7c05-4dec-92c4-8adb762042be.pdf.

  141. Ibid.

  142. Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (2014).

  143. See for example, Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (2012a); Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (2003); Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (2012b).

  144. See http://newyorkconvention1958.org/.

  145. UNCITRAL (2016).

  146. For example, the Asia Pacific Regional Office of the HCCH organised the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Workshop on the Ease of Doing Business through the Hague Conventions in collaboration with the Department of Justice of Hong Kong in Beijing in 2014.

  147. See http://uncitralrcap.org/en/conference-category/asia-pacific-judicial-summit/?ckattempt=2.

  148. See https://www.insol.org/judicialgroups/.

  149. See https://www.hcch.net/en/news-archive/details/?varevent=426.

  150. See https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/isupport1.

  151. See also Veneziano (2003), pp. 331–332.

  152. Janssen and Meyer (2009), p. 289.

  153. Ibid., pp. 288–289. See also Mayer (1998), pp. 583–599.

  154. See Art. 3 of the Hague Principles on Choice of Law in Commercial Contracts.

  155. Commentary on Hague Principles on Choice of Law in Commercial Contracts, para. 3.5, pp. 40–41.

  156. See Art. 39 of the 1999 Draft Convention and Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), p. 126. See also Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 7 (n. 83), paras. 202–203; Prel. Doc. (1997) No. 8 (n. 29), para. 89.

  157. See Part IV of the Vienna Convention.

  158. Similar wording can be found in: Convention of 30 June 2005 on Choice of Court Agreements; Convention of 5 July 2006 on the Law Applicable to Certain Rights in Respect of Securities held with an Intermediary. Not including amendments: Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults; Convention of 19 October 1996 on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children; Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

  159. See also Art. 42 of the 1993 HCCH Intercountry Adoption Convention; Art. 56 of the 1996 HCCH Child Protection Convention; and Art. 52 of the 2000 HCCH Adults Convention.

  160. Nygh/Pocar Report (n. 28), pp. 125–126.

  161. Ibid., p. 125.

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Correspondence to João Ribeiro-Bidaoui.

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João Ribeiro-Bidaoui is First Secretary (Diplomat Lawyer) at the Permanent Bureau (PB) of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH). His portfolios span commercial and financial law, civil and procedural litigation, and international legal cooperation. He has primary responsibility over the HCCH 2005 Choice of Court and HCCH 2019 Judgments Conventions, the Jurisdiction Project, as well as the HCCH 1961 Apostille Convention. He had charge at the PB over the final phases of the Judgments Project, which resulted in the adoption, at the 22nd HCCH Diplomatic Session, of the Convention of 2 July 2019 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters. The author wants to thank Hana Mian, Jan Ciaptacz, Olga Kubyk and Tobias Lutzi, interns at the PB, who provided valuable comments and research findings that greatly assisted the drafting of this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the HCCH.

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Ribeiro-Bidaoui, J. The International Obligation of the Uniform and Autonomous Interpretation of Private Law Conventions: Consequences for Domestic Courts and International Organisations. Neth Int Law Rev 67, 139–168 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40802-020-00166-3

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Keywords

  • Standard uniform interpretation clauses
  • Judicial interpretation
  • Uniform interpretation
  • Autonomous interpretation
  • Private international law
  • International organizations
  • Hague Conference on Private International Law