QC urges Brussels action

Nick Hilborne

A LEADING QC is calling for urgent reform of the Brussels Convention on European Union jurisdictional disputes.

Michael Briggs QC wants to end the "disgrace" of the current system where international litigants are forced to wait years for disputes to be settled, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

He also fears that English lawyers are losing lucrative cross-border litigation work to their continental rivals as a result of a Court of Appeal decision.

"It is nothing short of a disgrace that purely procedural squabbles as to which of two courts should have priority in the resolution of a given dispute should take as much as four years, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of parties' money, to resolve," he said at a Chancery Bar Association seminar in Birmingham.

He also criticised the Court of Appeal for applying a stricter test of when proceedings become "pending" under the Brussels Convention, than that used by other countries in the European Union.

The court has held that proceedings are set in motion by service of a writ rather than issue, often some weeks before.

This leaves England and Wales lagging behind France, where proceedings are regarded as pending the moment they are screened by the court and before they are passed to the relevant official for service.

"The result may be to lighten the over-burdened trial lists in the English courts," "But the prospect of cross-border litigation being grabbed by our community partners is hardly one to gladden the heart of English lawyers.