Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now Read a Second Time."

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, I thank Deputies for making the necessary time available to deal with the Second Stage debate on the Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015. Members will be aware that the Bill has already passed all Stages in Seanad Éireann. I hope it can be enacted speedily, given that the Hague Convention on 30 June 2005 on choice of court agreements came into force on 1 October. The purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the measures which are required to ensure that the Hague Convention of 30 June 2005 on choice of court agreements can function effectively within the Irish legal system.

While the Bill is short and technical in nature, it is of significance in terms of enabling us to fulfil our EU obligations. It is also of significance because the convention to which it relates has the potential, over time, to create a more predictable legal environment for companies that do business with third countries. That predictability should, in turn, encourage companies to be more confident in expanding their trading relationships with such countries.

The Bill contains 11 sections, all of which are technical in nature. Its key provisions are contained in sections 5, 6 and 9. Section 5 provides that an application under the convention for the recognition and enforcement in the State of a judgment shall be made to the Master of the High Court and that the Master may make an order for the recognition or enforcement of only part of a judgment.

Section 6 provides that if an enforcement order has been made in respect of a judgment, that judgment shall, to the extent authorised by the enforcement order, be of the same force and effect as a judgment of the High Court, and that proceedings for its enforcement may be taken accordingly. Section 6, as published, was amended in Seanad Éireann to make it subject to section 7. The effect of the amendment is that, when it comes to enforcement in Ireland, the interest provisions of the country where the judgment was given shall apply and not the Irish provisions.

A new section 9 was inserted in the Seanad, which has the effect of giving an explicit jurisdiction to the Master of the High Court to grant protective measures to a judgment creditor where that creditor seeks such measures in the context of applying to have a convention judgment enforced. In the absence of such a power, there would be a risk that a judgment debtor would be given the opportunity to put assets in Ireland beyond the reach of the creditor before enforcement could take place. Article 7 of the convention makes it clear that interim measures of protection are not governed by the terms of the convention, and their grant or otherwise is a matter to be regulated by national law. Under our national law, in the absence of an express provision, our courts would not have jurisdiction to grant these measures in respect of convention judgments. It would not be in keeping with the spirit of the convention if, in the context of an enforcement application, every effort was not made to ensure that enforcement would be effective. For this reason, a provision akin to that in respect of the Brussels I regulation and Lugano Convention regimes is to be introduced for Hague Convention purposes.

Other provisions are ancillary to these provisions. Section 1 contains relevant definitions which are self-explanatory. Section 2 authorises the Minister for Justice and Equality to make certain orders in respect of convention matters, most notably that a specified state is a state bound by the convention or that particular declarations or communications have been made. While such orders are in force, they will be of evidential value. This is a standard evidential provision, the rationale for which is to avoid taking up court time in proving that a particular state is a contracting state or the existence or contents of a declaration or denunciation made under the convention. Obviously, such a provision also has the beneficial effect of avoiding costs which would otherwise be incurred in proving these matters.

Section 3 states that the convention has force of law in the State, while section 4 provides that judicial notice shall be taken of the convention, the explanatory report prepared in respect of it and relevant court judgments. The latter provision is in aid of the uniform interpretation of the convention, which is important in an international agreement of this nature and is an objective of the convention.

A provision of the type set out in section 4 has been included in various legislation to come before the Houses in recent years. A recent example is the Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments Act 2011, which concerns the 2007 Lugano Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.

Section 7 deals with provisions on enforcement orders for the payment of interest on judgments and the payment of costs. Section 8 deals with the proof and admissibility of certain judgments and related documents and translations. Section 10 contains a technical provision to bring section 20A of the Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments Act 1998 into line with the provisions of section 7 of the Bill. Section 11 contains standard citation provisions.

At this stage, I will address the background to and detail of the convention. The choice of court convention, to use a convenient shorthand, was negotiated under the auspices of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The Hague Conference is a body that facilitates the development of multilateral legal instruments across a range of areas. In the past, conventions have been negotiated which touch upon commercial matters, family law matters and administrative co-operation. With 80 members, including the European Union, representing all continents, the Hague Conference on Private International Law is a global intergovernmental organisation. A melting pot of different legal traditions, it develops and services multilateral legal instruments which respond to global needs. Apart from European Union member states, the Hague Conference includes among its membership countries such as China, the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and Russia.

The convention is geared towards the promotion of choice of court agreements in international business to business contracts. Within the EU, a legal framework is already in place which ensures that choice of court agreements are honoured. However, there is no equivalent framework at the international level, and the convention will fill this gap.

Negotiations on the convention concluded in June 2005 after a negotiating period of slightly more than two years. This convention is much narrower in scope when compared to the one that was originally contemplated. It evolved from earlier work which had been ongoing within the Hague Conference for a number of years. That work was very ambitious in aim and would have resulted in a convention which prescribed a list of approved grounds of jurisdiction as well as a list of prohibited grounds of jurisdiction. Judgments based on the former list would be entitled to recognition and enforcement in other contracting states to the convention and would obviously have facilitated the circulation of a greater volume of judgments at global level. However, it became clear that it would not be possible to bring this work to a successful conclusion, and eventually it was agreed to work on a convention with a reduced scope, which would deal only with choice of court agreements in international commercial cases.

The European Commission presented a proposal for a Council decision authorising signature of the convention in September 2008. One of the reasons informing the presentation of the proposal at that time was the perception that, when in force, the choice of court convention would reduce legal uncertainty for EU companies trading outside the European Union. Following the proposal's adoption by Council, the convention was signed in April 2009. It was also signed by the United States in January of the same year.

The European Union has exclusive competence in respect of the matters governed by the choice of court convention and, therefore, Ireland will not ratify the convention in its own right. At the time of signature of the convention, the European Community, as the European Union was then known, made a declaration indicating that it exercised competence over all the matters governed by the convention and member states would be bound by the convention by virtue of its conclusion by the Community. This is a routine arrangement for international instruments for which the European Union has exclusive competence.

Several years elapsed before the Commission produced a proposal for the conclusion of the convention in January 2014. The main reason for the lapse of time was the need to bring to a conclusion to the revision work on the Brussels I regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. That work was brought to a conclusion in December 2012, and the new regulation that resulted, which has applied since January of this year, contains amendments which align the choice of court provisions that had existed at European Union level with those provided for in the Hague Convention, thereby facilitating the approval of the choice of court convention by the EU.

The proposal for a decision authorising approval of the convention was adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council at its meeting on 4 and 5 December 2014. Under its terms, the instrument of approval was to be deposited within one month of 5 June 2015, and the deposit took place on 11 June last. Mexico had already acceded to the convention in September 2007 and, under the terms of the convention, approval by the European Union triggered the entry into force of the convention on 1 October this year - that is, last Thursday. This timetable for EU approval was influenced by the fact that, as part of the negotiation process, it was agreed that member states would be given some time to make any legislative changes which were needed at the domestic level prior to the approval of the convention, which brings us to where we are today.

In general terms, a typical choice of court agreement will specify that the courts of a particular state should have jurisdiction to hear proceedings under the contract that exists between the parties. Such agreements are widely viewed as being beneficial in terms of creating a stable trading environment for international commerce. However, their value is critically dependent upon the extent to which the parties can be confident that their agreement will be upheld by a court if litigation ensues. This arises both in respect of the court chosen being willing to take jurisdiction and also in respect of other courts being willing to recognise and enforce the judgment given on foot of the choice of court agreement.

To take a concrete example, a company may be reluctant to do business with a particular state because it either mistrusts or is unfamiliar with its legal system. However, if a supplier of goods is confident that, in the event of any issues arising regarding the payment of the goods which have been delivered, a court in which it trusts will have jurisdiction to rule on the dispute, it may be emboldened to proceed with the deal. The other party, which wishes to receive the goods, may be equally happy to agree to a court in which it too has confidence. In the alternative, the fact that the state with which the supplier wishes to do business is a contracting party to the choice of court convention may encourage a feeling of security in terms of being willing to accept a choice of court agreement in favour of that country. In this regard, it is noteworthy that research exists which indicates, particularly in the case of large businesses, that significant business decisions can be influenced by uncertainty regarding the court that would resolve disputes or the law that would apply to the contract. In effect, lack of legal certainty may function as a barrier to trade.

The convention aims to ensure the effectiveness of choice of court agreements by providing guarantees that the chosen court will hear the case when proceedings are brought before it. Linked with this is a requirement that any other court before which proceedings are pending must refuse to entertain those proceedings. Provision is made to ensure that judgments given under the convention will be entitled to recognition and enforcement in those states which are contracting parties to the convention.

None of these principles is absolute but the overall aim is to find the right balance between flexibility and certainty.

I will now deal in some detail with the key provisions of the convention and highlight certain articles which are probably the most important in terms of its overall content. Article 1 defines the scope of the convention. The relevant case must be international in nature, the choice of court agreement must be exclusive and the subject matter must fall within the range of what is normally understood by the term "civil and commercial". Article 3 sets out the formal requirements that must be satisfied if a choice of court agreement is to fall under the convention. Article 5 is a key provision in that it mandates the court designated in the agreement to hear a case unless the agreement is null and void under the law of the relevant state. Article 5 is complemented by article 6 which requires a court not designated in the agreement to suspend or dismiss proceedings even if it has jurisdiction under national law. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, including, for example, circumstances in which giving effect to the agreement would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the state of the court seised or where the chosen court has decided not to hear the case. Article 8 sets out the principle that a judgment given by a court of a contracting state which is designated in an exclusive choice of court agreement must be recognised and enforced in another contracting state in accordance with the convention's provisions. By way of exception to this principle, Article 9 sets out the grounds upon which recognition and enforcement may be refused, for example, where there has been procedural fraud or where a party lacked the capacity to conclude the agreement under the law of the state where enforcement is sought.

Article 13 lists the documents which are to be produced when enforcement is being applied for. Article 16 deals with transitional arrangements and sets out the basic principle that the convention will only apply to exclusive choice of court agreements concluded after the convention comes into force for the state of the chosen court. Articles 19 to 22 contain provisions setting out the range of declarations which a contracting state may make. In this regard, Article 19 permits a contracting state to refuse to apply the convention to cases where, except for the choice of court clause, there is no connection between that state and the parties or the dispute. Article 20 allows a state not to enforce a judgment where all of the factors, other than the choice of court clause, are internal to it. Article 21 allows a state to exclude a specific matter from the scope of the convention and the EU has availed of this provision in relation to certain types of insurance contract. Article 22 allows for the making of reciprocal declarations to extend the scope of the convention to cover non-exclusive choice of court agreements. An example of such an agreement would be one which designated the courts of two or more contracting states to the exclusion of all others.

Article 26 deals with the relationship of the convention with other international instruments and is of interest because it deals with the situation where a regional economic integration organisation such as the EU becomes a contracting party to the convention. In essence, where a case is purely regional in terms of the residence of the parties, the convention gives way to any relevant regional instrument which might exist. Furthermore, it will not affect the rules governing the recognition or enforcement of judgments between the member states of the regional organisation. Within the EU the recognition and enforcement regime is much more liberal than that which exists under the convention.

I referred earlier to the fact that Mexico has already acceded to the convention. Both the USA and Singapore have signed it and it is hoped that EU approval will encourage other states to become parties to it. Ratification of the convention by as many states as possible should encourage commercial actors to avail of choice of court clauses when doing business in those states because they can be secure in the knowledge that they can rely upon its provisions. I am pleased to say that Ireland has a solid and deepening trade relationship with Mexico. In 2013, trade between the countries was of the order of €1.277 billion, constituting €928 million in the export from Ireland of goods and services and €349 million in the import from Mexico of goods and services. Ireland's principal merchandise exports to Mexico are soft drink concentrate, chemical materials and products. Ireland's main merchandise imports from Mexico are medical devices, miscellaneous plastics, stents and telecommunications and sound equipment. The value of Ireland's exports of goods to Mexico in 2014 increased by 76%, from €692 million to €1.216 billion.

Of the states which have signed the convention, the USA is Ireland's biggest goods export market, with the value of goods exported in 2014 standing at almost €20 billion. As a trading bloc, the 28 member states of the European Union traded goods worth €515 billion with the USA in the same year. The €54 billion trade between Ireland and the USA in the preceding year, 2013, can be broken down evenly between imports and exports of both goods and services. Ireland's most significant exports to the US are organic chemicals which are mainly used in the pharmaceutical industry, and medical and pharmaceutical products. Ireland's main imports from the USA are royalties and licences, and research and development services. Trade with Singapore is understandably more modest. Trade between Ireland and Singapore in 2013 was valued at a little over €2 billion, which breaks down as €1.359 billion in the export of goods and services, and €717 million in imports. The trade relationship is mainly focused on computers, computer parts and storage devices. The EU trade bloc has a healthy trade relationship with Singapore expressed in trade in goods to the value of some €47 billion in 2013.

As already stated, EU accession to the convention should have a beneficial effect in terms of encouraging other states which are members of the Hague Conference on Private International Law to become parties to it. In addition, the convention is also open to states which are not members of the conference. Even in markets where the EU is already very active, widespread adherence to the convention could have the potential to lead to further growth in trade. To take two examples where Ireland has a specific interest, Ireland's trade relationship with Australia in goods was valued at €802 million in 2013, while trade in goods between the EU as a whole and Australia in that year was valued at €33 billion. Of the EU's €59 billion trade in goods with Canada in 2013, €2.5 billion came from the exchange of goods between Ireland and Canada. Ireland's relationships with both Canada and Australia are not, of course, focused solely on trade but rather are grounded in the deeper ties of family, cultural affinities and shared democratic political traditions.

The details I have just outlined highlight the importance to all our economies of international trade. The progressive elimination of barriers to trade means that now, more than ever, predictability and certainty are vital in the area of business and commercial relationships within Europe and beyond. Business people need to be sure that they can readily enforce contracts and secure judgments for what can, in some cases, be large sums of money. Measures aimed at promoting such security have the twin effects of both protecting existing trade and encouraging new trade. In recent years, much emphasis has been placed at EU level on initiative, Justice for Growth. The Bill and the convention to which it relates are a small but practical example of the way in which justice policy can contribute towards improving the conditions for EU businesses which are active in trading with partners outside the EU.

The EU has exclusive competence in respect of the matters governed by the choice of court convention and Ireland will not be ratifying it in its own right. Nevertheless, the implementing measures which are set out in this Bill are required to ensure that the convention can be applied within our legal system. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on the Bill, which I hope can be enacted speedily given that the convention came into force on 1 October last. I commend the Bill to the House.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill, which implements a Government decision to agree to the proposals contained in the convention in 2005. The Bill will clarify the rules surrounding international agreements which outline within them which court shall hear a case in the instance of a dispute. Acceding to this convention will promote greater legal certainty for cross-border business and create a climate more favourable to international trade and investment. The increasing codification of international dispute resolution provides the Irish legal sector with an excellent opportunity to become a world centre for the hearing of legal disputes. Given that Ireland is an English-speaking, common law and stable eurozone jurisdiction with strong international relations, the Government should be exploring ways of increasing the commercial opportunities in this sector. The Minister should examine whether it would be possible to create the legal equivalent of the IFSC in Ireland for international legal disputes.

The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements of 30 June 2005, also knowns as the choice of court convention, aims to ensure the effectiveness of choice of court agreements, also known as forum selection clauses or jurisdiction clauses, between parties to international commercial transactions. In order to manage risk, parties often seek to agree in advance on how disputes arising out of transactions between them will be resolved. In some cases, the parties will refer the dispute to arbitration. In others, they will agree to litigate before a designated court. While arbitration agreements in international cases are almost universally recognised pursuant to the rules established by the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958, choice of court agreements are not always respected under divergent national rules, particularly when cases are brought before a court other than the one designated by the parties.

The choice of court convention seeks to rectify this situation, thereby promoting greater legal certainty for cross-border business and creating a climate that is more favourable to international trade and investment, as underscored by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The convention contains three basic rules that give effect to choice of court agreements: the chosen court must in principle hear the case under Article 5; any court not chosen must in principle decline to hear the case under Article 6; and any judgment rendered by the chosen court must be recognised and enforced in other contracting states except where a ground for refusal applies under Articles 8 and 9.

The convention applies to choice of court agreements "concluded in civil or commercial matters". It excludes consumer and employment contracts and certain specified matters. The reason for these exclusions is, in most cases, the existence of more specific international instruments and national, regional or international rules that claim exclusive jurisdiction over some of these matters. The convention applies to "exclusive" choice of court agreements. An agreement designating one or more specific courts in a contracting state is deemed to be exclusive unless the parties have expressly provided otherwise. In addition, a contracting state may declare that it will recognise and enforce judgments given by courts designated in a non-exclusive choice of court agreement.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill. Any measure that helps international parties to resolve disputes and assists trade, commerce and investment is to be welcomed.

Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill. It should ensure that the Hague Convention on choice of court functions smoothly in this jurisdiction. It should increase legal certainty in commercial relationships involving EU and non-EU parties. Party autonomy in a choice of forum promotes business-to-business efficiency by providing certainty and predictability in international transactions. When each party to a private transaction has the same framework within which the agreement will be understood, jurisdictional disputes should be absent, thus providing associated time and efficiency savings.

The fact that enforcement of foreign rulings should follow the adoption of this legislation should increase the confidence of parties that undertake international transactions in a commercial setting, at least with states that are party to the convention. Currently, arbitration has a monopoly in international transactions, given the worldwide enforceability of arbitral awards. The potential viability of the court system route provides competition. While large companies may prefer the arbitration route, there is some indication that small to medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, prefer the traditional judicial route. As such, this Bill is a welcome one for SMEs that trade with partners outside the EU and may encourage those that do not to explore the possibility of doing so.

Unfortunately, our country is separated into two jurisdictions. There are a number of actions that this Government could undertake to promote transactions across borders beyond the inter partes legal certainty provided by the convention, which I will address presently. However, I wish to highlight some concerns that centre on the convention itself first.

The convention mirrors that of the New York convention on arbitration in seeking a stable and predictable environment in which parties might have some predictability as to forum in the event of dispute. Since that convention has been ratified or acceded to by 158 countries, this convention has some way to go. It is important to note that enterprises must become aware of whether their trading partners have acceded to the treaty. The current legal framework is not as extensive as the New York convention. For example, although the US has signed the convention, there may be clashes between state and federal level that impede progress towards ratification. There remains the possibility of parallel proceedings or inconsistent judgments if a non-chosen court determines a choice of court agreement is invalid and a chosen court determines otherwise. The public policy ground for exception under Article 9 of the convention may be open to abuse if the grounds on which a court refuses to recognise a judgment are based on an uncharacteristically wide interpretation of public policy.

There are two further problems that I wish to address that touch on the principles underlying the Bill, the first of which is the ongoing reputational damage caused by this and the previous Governments' inaction in implementing the recommendations made by the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics almost 15 years ago. On Monday, our Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, observed that the failure to set up a judicial council was affecting the international reputation of the administration of justice in this State. While a judicial council Bill is expected to be published within the current Dáil session, I am worried that it will not take full account of Ms Justice Denham's concerns.

The adoption of the Arbitration Act 2010 was specifically geared towards attracting arbitration business to Ireland, particularly Dublin. There is an opportunity to attract legal business to the State via this Bill, but the inaction and glacial response to setting out a judicial code of conduct hampers this. Speaking on the Bill in the Seanad, the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, argued that a "company may be reluctant to do business with a particular state because it either mistrusts or is unfamiliar with its legal system". Conversely, a company that trusts a particular court system may be "emboldened to proceed". Why would parties seeking legal certainty and confidence in a legal system agree that the Irish courts should be the forum in which a dispute is heard when they cannot be confident in the training that Irish judges receive? They would not. The rational actor will avoid such fora and seek one with a better reputation.

Last week, I mentioned that it was the direct decisions of this Government that negatively influenced certain crime figures. Those decisions are damaging the reputation of the legal system and preventing innovative business activity around legal services from taking advantage of the certainty provided by the Hague Convention. Given the reputational damage the Government continues to cause, it is unlikely we can compete with other more advanced and trustworthy states in attracting legal business.

My next point is based upon the principles that underlie party autonomy in choice of court. Fundamentally, this is based on the idea that business opportunities can arise on the ground that the players involved in a market are best placed to take advantage of it. As such, they may privately order their relations to mutual advantage while taking account of mandatory law. As long as mandatory law is respected, hurdles should be removed, especially in respect of the neglected SME sector.

One of the greatest hurdles confronting Irish SMEs is the continuing operation of partition. The Government should follow the logic of the Hague Convention on choice of court and encourage commercial trade by following the advice in my party's 2014 document on encouraging SMEs. Such advice includes a Border development zone to harmonise trade and maximise returns for Border businesses and the island economy, and a trade forum to bring together SMEs to address common challenges, including finance, logistics and business support, that would make use of local and external expertise. This should include information on the credit appeals process in both jurisdictions, using InterTradeIreland as a facilitator. We must upgrade island-wide infrastructure. This means completing the A5 and the Narrow Water bridge and developing an island-wide rail network. We must ensure the Oireachtas and the Assembly agree a strategy to get credit card and mobile telephone companies to remove the Border from their roaming charge systems and cross-Border administration costs and treat the island as one entity for cost purposes. We must re-examine the regulatory barriers to doing business on the Border. InterTradeIreland has conducted studies on this suggestion and made a number of recommendations, which can be reviewed and implemented. We should remove impediments to businesses when transferring staff North and South by organising direct co-ordination between the relevant Departments, for example, the Revenue Commissioners, to make it easier for employees to work on either side of the Border.

In sum, this Bill is a logical solution to the problem of unnecessary and cumbersome cross-border jurisdictional disputes centring on international transactions. It follows the success of the New York convention on arbitration and is to be welcomed. However, the continued inaction on establishing a judicial council and the historical offence of partition act in contradiction to it. Partitionist thinking continues to harm the Irish economy. While I have much respect for the Minister of State's approach to many issues, I was disappointed by his tweet, which he has since removed. As a man with a great fondness for County Monaghan, he should have a sense of the all-Ireland economy.

I was trying to criticise Tesco and it backfired badly.

I am sure the Minister of State will agree Monaghan poultry and Tyrone poultry are equally beautiful and one must promote the all-Ireland economy.

Rather, the Government should follow the economic principles that underlie this Bill and should facilitate the numerous small and medium-sized enterprises on this island that need to respond quickly and effectively to business opportunities without worrying about or searching for ways around the unnecessary and inefficient transaction costs associated with partition. To summarise, Sinn Féin supports this Bill with the caveats I have raised.

I again thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation, the Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015. Like many colleagues, I welcome the Bill but I also welcome this debate as all Members must promote international trade and investment through judicial co-operation. The legal system is a major part in any democratic society, but it must also have the support and confidence of the people. Trust and respect are also key elements, and without them, a society or state will not survive. One must accept this reality. Criminality and corruption can never be tolerated, and all types of cronyism must be rooted out. In the case of the justice system, a person should be promoted on merit and ability and not on the basis that he or she is a member or supporter of a political party. This is something which Ireland has not faced up to recently, although everyone must support reform, as this society needs equality and a fair justice system. I raise this point on the broader issue of this Bill, the Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill.

As for the legislation's details, the purpose of the Bill is to make provide for the measures which are required to ensure the Hague Convention of 30 June 2005 on choice of court agreements can function appropriately within the Irish legal system. The European Union has exclusive competence in respect of the matters governed by the convention and therefore Ireland will not be ratifying the convention in its own right. The convention was signed by the EU in April 2009, subject to its conclusion at a later date. As I noted earlier, confidence and trust at national and international level are crucial in any debate on judicial co-operation. One must also be vigilant and ensure that states involved have respect for human rights, and if there is any doubt or lack of trust on these issues, Ireland should not be afraid to stand up and make this point at European Union and international level. I am always suspicious of consensus politics on these important matters. One always should be willing to challenge doubts about corruption or criminality. Too many states do not do so or turn a blind eye to this type of carry-on. The convention provided for in this Bill above all is about promoting trade and investment. While I will revert to the legislation's details later, if one has doubts about a judicial and justice system, confidence in that state will dwindle and it will not lead to greater investment and trade. This is an economic reality we must face.

The purpose of the choice of court Bill is to provide the necessary measures for effective co-operation in respect of the 2005 Hague Convention. The aims of the convention are to promote international trade and investment through enhanced judicial co-operation. The convention seeks to do this by setting down rules to ensure that exclusive choice of court agreements between parties which are concluded in civil or commercial matters are enforced. Closer consideration of the Bill reveals that section 2 authorises the Minister for Justice and Equality to make certain orders regarding convention matters, most notably that a specified state is a state bound by the convention or that particular declarations or communications have been made. While such orders are in force, they will be of evidential value. I also raise these issues within the legislation's details.

Earlier, the Minister of State spoke of trade with Mexico and mentioned a figure about which many Members were pleasantly surprised. He stated that in 2014, €1.216 billion worth of trade with Mexico was conducted, which included soft drinks concentrate and chemical products. This figure and the fact that Ireland has such robust trading with Mexico should be highlighted in the context of our international trade and agreements with other countries. It also should be taken further and new ideas are needed in this regard. Other Latin American countries also should be targeted with Irish products, including Argentina, which has a massive Irish diaspora. I recently met a distant cousin who turned up from Argentina, and he told me that unbelievable numbers of people of Irish descent live in Argentina and we would be pushing an open door in respect of trade. Ministers and the Cabinet in general should keep an eye on this issue as there is huge potential there for markets. Another country that has been in the news recently is Cuba. It would be fantastic to develop Ireland's relationship with Cuba now that things are opening up and the United States has opened up an embassy there. As there is a Cuban ambassador to Ireland, this relationship should be developed with particular emphasis on small businesses. In addition, Ireland should make the point at international level that it is time to end the blockade of Cuba and to give these people a break. They are wonderful people who have many ideas and talents, particularly in respect of practical health care. Anyone who has visited Cuba will know that one will never see people on trolleys, for example. One can also see a primary medical care service, despite the embargo and the hammering the country has received over the past 50 or 60 years. We can learn from one another and I raise this point in respect of the legislation.

We are discussing international trade, international justice and international confidence. When discussing issues of justice, it is important to raise the case of Ibrahim Halawa. I met his sisters yesterday protesting outside the Dáil and I urge the Minister of State and the Government to contact the Egyptian authorities again regarding Ibrahim's case, because he has now been locked up for nearly two years without trial or any sign of one. This is not acceptable in any democratic society and I urge the Government in this regard. I raise this matter in the Chamber because yesterday, at the gates of Leinster House, I gave a commitment to his sisters I would do so.

To revert to the legislation and the convention, I refer to what is an exclusive choice of court agreement. An exclusive choice of court agreement is a written agreement, such as a contract, between two or more parties that contains a clause designating one or more specific courts in a contracting state, to the exclusion of all other courts, to hear a dispute regarding the agreement. The convention seeks to remedy this situation by providing a harmonised framework to promote greater legal certainty in cross-border trade. The three key obligations in the convention are that the court designated in the agreement must, subject to certain exceptions, hear the case, any other court must decline to hear the case and any judgment given by a court must be recognised and enforced in other contracting states. This is the precise point of the convention.

As for the Bill's principal provisions, they relate to the process for making an application for the recognition and enforcement of judgments in Ireland which originate from another contracting state to the convention, the enforcement of judgments under the convention in Ireland, the payment of interest on sums of money owed in judgments under the convention, and the proof and admissibility of judgments and related documents originating from other contracting states to the convention in Irish courts.

Those are the key provisions in this legislation.

A number of my colleagues have mentioned the SME sector. On the broader issue of SMEs, coming up to the budget next Tuesday, it is important for society that the Government supports small businesses. They have had a rough couple of years but they are now beginning to re-emerge and are hoping to develop their various businesses and take on people. We should therefore all encourage them and come up with some sensible proposals to help the small business sector. Recently, I had a successful public meeting with my colleague Senator Feargal Quinn in Dublin Bay North. We listened to a group of small business representatives from across my constituency and had an interesting meeting with them. In recent weeks, I have put many of the proposals raised at that meeting to the Minister. We need to examine such proposals.

My colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, spoke of the need to break out of the current mindset and push for an all-Ireland economy in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. These are sensible proposals because an Ireland that is united on economic and social issues makes for a strong country.

The legislation before us states that the EU will apply the Hague Convention to insurance contracts in the following cases:

where the contract is a reinsurance contract; where the choice of court agreement is entered into after the dispute has arisen; where the choice of court agreement relates to a contract of insurance which covers one or more of the following risks considered to be large risks: any loss or damage arising from perils which relate to their use for commercial purposes, of, or to: seagoing ships, installations situated offshore or on the high seas or river, canal and lake vessels; aircraft; railway rolling stock; any loss of or damage to goods in transit or baggage other than passengers' baggage, irrespective of the form of transport.

While we are discussing transported goods and passengers, it is opportune to reflect on the crisis facing the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming out of Syria at the moment due to the horrific conflict there. I strongly believe that Ireland can play its part in assisting these people. There should be no fudge on this operation. Of course, neighbouring countries in that region also have responsibilities but, as a small nation, we can play our part as well. Last week, we had an interesting discussion on this matter at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, where there was cross-party support for helping those refugees. We can act in a humanitarian manner not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because of our history. Many of us have relations in America, Australia, England and elsewhere who emigrated over the years, so we know what it is like to be emigrants. We should not breed fear, as some are doing in Irish society. Young immigrant children are some of the most dedicated students one could ever meet in primary schools. Some immigrants who arrive with no money in their pockets can often become very successful people in their own right. They, in turn, will make a contribution to the Irish economy. It was interesting to note the other day that when the Tory Government in England was having a go at immigrants and refugees, and coming out with very dangerous policies, the first people to criticise the government were in the business sector. They stood up and said that the immigrants' contribution to the economy should not be ignored.

Overall, I welcome the debate on this legislation. I think the Bill is a sensible one and I will be supporting it.

I am delighted to hear that Deputy Finian McGrath has relations in Argentina. If they are handy footballers he might pass on their details, seeing as we have lost out on Jack Grealish. We also lost out on José Luis Brown, who scored the first goal in the 1986 World Cup final for Argentina. I believe he had an Irish background. We could probably do with a few such players this evening.

Absolutely. We will need them tonight.

I would like to thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate for the observations they made. I appreciate the welcoming and open atmosphere in which the discussions of this somewhat technical Bill have taken place. This reflects the fact that the legislation we are dealing with is not especially controversial in character, which is probably the reason I am speaking pretty much to myself in the Chamber.

Notwithstanding its technical nature, this Bill has a part to play in promoting and supporting Ireland as a successful trading nation. The development and maintenance of trade relations are, of course, important at any time but they are of particular importance to Ireland and the European Union as we emerge from past economic difficulties. As I said in my earlier intervention, legal certainty and predictability can contribute towards the progressive elimination of barriers to trade and can enable business and commercial relationships to flourish both within the EU and outside it. Commercial bodies need to be certain that they can readily enforce contracts and secure enforcement of judgments for what can be, in some cases, quite significant sums of money. In a small way, this Bill and the convention it implements can help to protect and promote Irish business interests abroad. Deputies will appreciate the fact that Ireland is a trade-dependent nation. The Choice of Court Convention creates legal certainty and predictability by establishing a framework for upholding choice of court agreements in cases that end up before the courts of countries bound by this convention. The guarantees offered by this framework should allow parties to trade with greater confidence than heretofore. While the legislation we are considering is mandated by our membership of the European Union, it is very much in our own interest to legislate in a progressive fashion in this area.

As Deputies may not be very familiar with the work of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, perhaps I could say a few words about that body. The Hague Conference is a body of long standing. It held its first meeting in 1893 and became a permanent intergovernmental organisation in 1955. Its 80 members are representative of all continents. In addition to the 28 member states of the European Union, and the European Union itself, its membership includes countries as diverse as China, Japan, Russia, Peru, Egypt, Monaco, South Africa and the United States of America. A melting pot of different legal traditions, it develops and provides support services for multilateral legal instruments which respond to global needs. An increasing number of non-member states are also becoming parties to the various Hague conventions and, as a result, the work of the conference encompasses more than 145 countries around the world. In addition to the type of commercial relationships encompassed by the Choice of Court Convention, personal and family disputes in more than one country are commonplace in the modern world. Faced with disputes which have an international element, courts will apply their private international law rules, and these rules may differ from country to country. The statutory mission of the Hague Conference is to work for the progressive unification of these rules. This involves finding internationally agreed approaches to issues such as jurisdiction of the courts, applicable law, and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in a wide range of areas, from commercial law and banking law to international civil procedure and from child protection to matters of marriage and personal status. Ireland is bound by eight Hague conventions and a protocol associated with one of those conventions, which cover areas as diverse as the civil aspects of international child abduction, protection of children and co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption, and the service abroad of judicial and extra-judicial documents in civil and commercial matters.

In conclusion, I would like to make the following points about the Choice of Court Convention and the regime which it applies. It is mainly intended as an optional worldwide judicial alternative to the existing arbitration system, which is also widely used by commercial parties. Its approval by the EU should reduce legal uncertainty for EU companies trading outside the EU by ensuring that choice of court agreements included in their international trading contracts are respected, and that judgments issued by the courts designated in such agreements will be eligible for recognition in the other countries that are contracting parties to the convention. The convention fills a void in the current international legal framework, as virtually no treaty relationships exist in this area between the individual member states and the EU's main trading partners. In this context, an impact assessment prepared by the Commission suggests that uncertainty regarding which court would resolve disputes was a factor taken into account when reaching significant business decisions, and the legal uncertainty in this area was identified as a potential barrier to trade. That assessment also noted that the vast majority of commercial contracts contain provisions which deal with dispute resolution and that a significant percentage of such contracts include an exclusive choice of court clause.

As I said at the outset, this Bill is largely an exercise in the promotion of legal certainty. There will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to explore these matters further. Once again, I would like to thank Members for their contributions to our discussions today.

Question put and agreed to.