Monday, 17 January 2011

Hillside (New Media) Ltd v Baasland & Ors [2010] EWHC 3336: jurisdiction race

Remember the Slavia Prague case below?  This quick case shows how you can ensure English jurisdiction without any of the messy battles that took place in that one. 

Hillside is a subsidiary of bet365, and English.  Mr Baasland is a Norwegian with a gambling problem.  The others were other bet365 subsidiaries in the Netherlands Antilles and Gibraltar and brought in to avoid any loopholes.  The dispute was not really a dispute.  Mr Baasland had spent shedloads of money on bet365 and had had a winning streak like the Harlem Globetrotters’ opponents.  His bets were placed with bet365 in Norway, Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic; bet365 processed those bets in England and Gibraltar.   So lots of international law there.

Having lost nearly £1.5m, Mr Baasland apparently had second thoughts about his gambling spree.  Not only had he blown his own assets, but loads of money his parents had borrowed.  So in 2008 he instructed Norwegian lawyers.  They wrote to bet365, stating that they would sue bet365 for negligence.  In Norway.

So bet365 decided to sue instead.  In England.  They issued proceedings early in 2009 for a declaration that it was not liable to Mr Baasland.  You can see how that works.  Once it’s in the English system, it’s up to Mr Baasland to challenge it – in England.  The Norwegian courts could not touch it, because Norway (as a member of EFTA) has signed up to the various conventions that ensure the Court first seised deals with the matter fully first. 

Mr Baasland was therefore at a huge disadvantage.  He challenged jurisdiction in England but never carried it through.  So bet365 proceeded to ask for summary judgment, on the basis that Mr Baasland had no chance of succeeding.  After some to-ing and fro-ing about whether England was the right place for the whole thing, the judge agreed to grant that summary judgment. 

The advantage of this is that Mr Baasland cannot now sue in Norway.  The matter has been considered and dealt with.  Any Norwegian proceedings would be a breach of European law and unenforceable in England.  (Or Gibraltar.)  Bet365’s tactic of being active, rather than passive, ensured that it was able to have a hearing on its home turf, in a legal system where its lawyers would know how things worked, where it's mightily difficult to get your money back from the bookie.  Saving costs and money; no need for bet365 personnel to head to Norway to give evidence, no need for the extra expense of interpreters and whatnot.  And getting the right result.  Although the Courts encourage people to avoid rushing off to issue claims, in this case bet365 did exactly the right thing.  Had Mr Baasland issued in Norway rather than writing to bet365 the matter might still be before the Norwegian court.  You snooze, you lose.  A familiar feeling for Mr Baasland.

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