Enforcing Foreign Judgments in England – High Court Guidance

Foreign judgments that are registered in England can be enforced against assets in this country in just the same way as domestic judgments. However, as a High Court ruling showed, such registration is not automatic and will only be permitted where it is just and convenient to do so.

The case concerned the breakdown of a joint venture to develop, manufacture and sell electric vehicles in Malaysia. A Malaysian company had, in 2008, obtained from a Malaysian court judgments worth about £30 million against its former joint venture partners, two English companies. In 2018, the Malaysian company successfully applied to a judge in London under the Administration of Justice Act 1920 to register the judgments in England.

In challenging that decision, the English companies argued that registration was inappropriate in that their appeal against the judgments was pending before the Federal Court of Malaysia. Alternatively, it was submitted that they were entitled to lodge such an appeal and intended to do so. It was also argued that the application for registration had been made so late as to be an abuse of process.

In dismissing those arguments, however, the High Court noted that the English companies had not yet obtained permission to appeal to the Federal Court. There was, in those circumstances, no entitlement to make such an appeal nor could such an appeal be said to be pending.

The High Court also noted that ten years had elapsed between the Malaysian judgments being entered and the application to register them in England. Although the Malaysian company had put forward reasonable explanations for much of the time that had elapsed, it had been guilty of some periods of inordinate and inexcusable delay.

However, the English companies were not blameless and, in the absence of proper evidence that the delay had caused them prejudice, the judge had been entitled to exercise his discretion in favour of registration. The Court did, however, grant a stay on enforcement of the judgments in England pending the Federal Court’s decision on whether or not to entertain the English companies’ appeal.