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International organisation immune from registration of foreign judgment


Picken J has handed down judgment in an application by Sindicato Unico de Pescadores del Municipio Miranda del Estado Zulia, a Venezuelan fishermans’ union, to register a judgment obtained by it from the Maritime Court of Appeal of the Republic of Venezuela against the “International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund” as a judgment of the High Court: [2015] EWHC 2476 (QB). The Venezuelan claim related an oil spillage from the tanker “Plate Princess” into the waters of Lake Maracaibo in 1997.

The critical question in the claim was whether liability for the incident fell upon the International Oil Pollution Fund 1971, which ceased to exist on 31 December 2014, or the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992 (the “1992 Fund”), which continues to exist and is headquartered in London. During their period of co-existence, the two Funds formed part of an international framework for the compensation of those suffering loss as a result of oil pollution. The claim turned on the correct interpretation of the transitional provisions of the international treaty establishing the 1992 Fund, and whether it could be said that those transitional provisions were engaged in relation to an incident that occurred before the Republic of Venezuelan became a party to the treaty.

Picken J concluded that the proper construction of the treaty meant that it could only apply to incidents occurring after the Republic of Venezuela became a party to it. As a consequence, the 1992 Fund had no liability in relation to the incident. Moreover, because a claim against the 1992 Fund would not be in accordance with the treaty, the 1992 Fund was immune from the jurisdiction of the English courts pursuant to Article 5(1) of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992 (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1996. As a consequence, the registration order in relation to the Venezuelan Judgment should be set aside.

The judgment is here.

Jonathan Hirst QC and Oliver Jones appeared for the 1992 Fund.