Supreme Court Judgment
On June 30 1999 the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled on the civil jurisdiction of Norwegian courts for loss or damage resulting from alleged torts happening within the Norwegian Economic Zone (NEZ)
On February 8 1997 a vessel, Leros Strength, sank in the NEZ in the North Sea. Leros Strength was owned by a Cypriot registered shipping company, Lamda Sea Shipping Co. Among the crew were 13 Polish men who all were lost in this serious accident.
The surviving spouses of the 13 Polish crew members brought an action against Lamda, claiming damages for financial and non-financial losses due to the unseaworthiness of Leros Strength and the failure of the ship owner to maintain the vessel properly. The action was brought before a local city court in Norway.
All levels of the courts dismissed the action. The Supreme Court stated that the jurisdiction of Norwegian courts to hear cases arising from torts within the NEZ is limited to certain matters regarding, for example, fishing and environmental protection. Norwegian jurisdiction does not extend to private law disputes in the NEZ between foreign parties with no connexion to Norway other than that the alleged tort took place within the NEZ.
The parties agreed that Section 29 of the Norwegian Code of Civil Procedure does not by itself authorize Norwegian courts to try alleged torts commited in the NEZ. An additional authorization is required. The plaintiff claimed that Section 26 (a) of the Norwegian Law of Courts provided such authorization. The defendant countered that the section did not authorize Norwegian courts to try the action, as it did not provide the Norwegian courts with a general jurisdiction in the NEZ. This was the issue to be decided.
The Supreme Court dismissed the action on the following grounds.
The aim behind Section 26 (a) is indeed to provide Norwegian courts with competence outside state territory. And under that section, as the parties agreed, the authority of Norwegian courts in the NEZ is not limited to devices and constructions.
However, the court looked at the preparatory works of Section 26 (a) and concluded that the aim had only been to provide Norwegian courts with a limited jurisdiction in the NEZ, for example for claims for pollution damages. Furthermore, if the purpose had been to create a general competence in the NEZ, questions would be raised as to whether such competence complies with international public law. It would have been essential to discuss this issue in the preparatory works, but it had not been raised at all.
The court concluded that the preparatory works of Section 26 (a) do not support general jurisdiction of Norwegian courts in the NEZ, but only a limited jurisdiction.
Finally, the court pointed to the practical consequences of a general jurisdiction. That would imply that Norwegian courts are authorized to try cases between foreign parties - where foreign laws would regularly apply - when there were no Norwegian interests at stake. Such competence would conflict with the authority of the flag state according to public international law.
For further information on this topic please contact Nils H Thommessen or Malin Lundgren at Wiersholm, Mellbye & Bech, by telephone (+47 210 210 00) or by fax (+47 210 210 01) or by e-mail ([email protected] or [email protected]).
(1) St. meld. no. 11 - 1999-00
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