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Enforcement of a Foreign Judgment: High Court Upholds Public Policy Defence - Helen Coates, DWF

03/11/16. Helen Coates, who acted for the successful appellant in Laserpoint Ltd v Prime Minister of Malta & Others, looks at this rare example of the High Court in England upholding the public policy defence to prevent enforcement of a judgment of a court in another EU member state.

Laserpoint had appealed against registration in England & Wales of a judgment of a Maltese court which had held Laserpoint jointly liable for fire damage at a conference centre in Malta in 1987, on the basis it would be manifestly contrary to public policy to recognise the judgment. The High Court, allowing the appeal, held that this was an exceptional case where Laserpoint had been denied a fair trial by reason of, amongst other things, inordinate delay in the completion of the Maltese proceedings and failure of the court appointed curator to establish contact with Laserpoint and obtain instructions.

Background

In March 1987, the appellant, Laserpoint Ltd (‘Laserpoint’) had been preparing a laser lighting display for a vehicle launch at a conference centre in Malta. A fire broke out, causing extensive damage to the conference centre.

The respondents, being the Prime Minister of Malta and others, issued proceedings in Malta in April 1987 alleging a laser had caused the fire and claimed damages in excess of €6m. On 5 May 1987, a copy of the writ was sent to Laserpoint at its registered address in London. Laserpoint had by then changed its registered address, but Companies House did not alter the Register until 18 May. Laserpoint claimed not to have received the writ or to have been aware of the proceedings against it. The Maltese court appointed curators (legal representatives) for Laserpoint as it was not represented in Malta. Laserpoint was dissolved in 1997. On at least two occasions (in 2001 and 2003), the curator informed the Maltese court of that fact. The curator then ceased to act for Laserpoint from around 2004 but the Maltese proceedings resumed in 2007 after a period of inactivity. With no attempt having been made to contact Laserpoint prior to judgment being entered, judgment was given by the First Civil Court of Malta in January 2013 in which Laserpoint and the organiser of the vehicle launch were held jointly and severally liable to pay damages in excess of €3.3m...

Image ©iStockphoto.com/okanmetin

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