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Jurisdictional challenges – the basics

An article considers a recent SC case in which litigants have been criticised for the way in which jurisdictional challenges are being conducted. The case concerned a group of some 1,800 Zambian villagers who issued proceedings against a natural resources company which has its HQ in London.
 
The villagers alleged that toxic emissions from a mine had been discharged into a local water supply since 2005, thus contaminating the supply for drinking and crop irrigation. The SC proceedings were solely concerned with whether the courts of England and Wales had jurisdiction to hear the claims. The SC concluded that the claim could be brought in England but the interesting point for practitioners is the fact that the SC criticised the disproportionate manner in which the matter had been litigated.
 
The key points to come out of the judgment are:
  • a jurisdictional challenge is a preliminary issue and, normally, a comparatively simple one;
  • commercial court judges are experienced and in most cases their judgement should be sufficient;
  • concordantly, appeals should be rare and appellate court should be slow to interfere;
  • submissions should be measured in hours, not days;
  • the issues should not involve a large volume of documents, or witness statements, detailed analysis of the issues and long argument; and
  • it is a better use of parties’ money and court time for litigants to fight the merits of the claim than preliminary procedural points.
Source: [2019] 85 Commercial Litigation Journal 12.
 

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