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British Airways Cannot Pursue Spanish Labour Dispute in English Court

In an important ruling which gives useful guidance on the extent of the international jurisdiction of the English courts, the High Court has refused to intervene in a bitter labour dispute between British Airways Plc. (BA), its parent company and a trade union representing Spanish airline pilots engaged in strike action.

jet aircraftThe claimants – BA and its parent company, International Consolidated Airlines Group S.A. (IAG), which also owns the Iberia airline – had launched English proceedings against Spanish trade union, SEPLA, and IFALPA, a federation of airline pilot associations of which SEPLA is a member.

It was submitted that strikes of Spanish pilots in response to the claimants’ plans to establish a new, low-cost, airline were unlawful under Spanish law in that they were in breach of the claimants’ rights to freedom of establishment and to provide cross-border services under articles 49 and 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The Court acknowledged that, if jurisdiction were established under EC Regulation 44/2001, it would have no discretion to refuse to hear the matter even if it viewed Spain as a more convenient forum. However, in declining jurisdiction, the Court ruled that the underlying dispute raised public law issues and could not be viewed as a ‘civil or commercial matter’ within the meaning of the regulation.

The Court observed that, even had a jurisdictional gateway been established, it would have had no hesitation in finding that it would be ‘wholly inappropriate’ for an English Court to pronounce upon the lawfulness under Spanish law of calls for strike action in Spain by a Spanish trade union where compulsory arbitration of the dispute had been ordered by the Spanish government.