Conflict of Laws in Labour and civil cases
In a conflict of law case, a court is expected to address three basic issues:
- Determining the presence judicial jurisdiction
- Determining the applicable law to solve the dispute
- Determining whether a foreign judgment should be given recognition by domestic courts
Before these three issues are addressed, the court is primarily tasked with determining whether the case is really a conflict of law case or not?
So, how does a case become a conflict of law case? A short to the question is that it becomes a conflict of law case, it contains a foreign element. What then is a foreign element?
“When a case is said to contain a foreign element, the reference(s) may be of three natures __ personal, local, or material __ in that, respectively illustrated, if one of the parties of the case is a foreigner (including one from another federating unit) or the transaction of any nature took place, totally or partially, abroad (outside the forum state) or, finally, the object of the dispute (property, esp. immovable property) is situated in another state (including a member of federation); the case is said to contain a foreign element.” (Araya Kebede and Sultan Kasim, Conflict of laws teaching material, sponsored by Justice and Legal System Research Institute)
The draft conflict of rules also defines foreign element in the following way.
Art.4. Foreign Element
Foreign element refers to:
- A personal nature and may pertain to nationality, domicile or residence of the interested parties; or
- A local nature and may pertain to the place where facts occur or contracts are made from which the juridical situation arises; or
- A material nature and may pertain to the place where the property to which the juridical situation applies is situated.
According to article 11 sub article 2 (a) of Federal Courts Proclamation No. 25/1996, when a case is related to private international law, the Federal High Court will have first instance jurisdiction to solve the dispute. This article is not a conflict of law rule regarding judicial jurisdiction in conflict of law cases. It simply gives exclusive material jurisdiction to the Federal High Court, to address the above three questions of conflict of law disputes. What follows is a brief summary of the way this article is understood by lower courts and the cassation bench.
1. Conflict of laws in labour cases
1.1. Determining the governing law by the agreement of the parties
Applicant: Foundation Africa
Respondent: Ato Alemu Tadesse
Cassation File Number: 50923
Date: 19-9-2003 (E.C.)
An employment contract between the employee and employer made in Ethiopia, for a work to be performed in Ethiopia, stipulating a foreign law to govern any dispute arising between them is invalid. The presence of such contract does not oust the ordinary material jurisdiction of first instance court in labour disputes.
In a similar case, [C.A.S. Consulting engineers salezgiter GMBH vs. Ato Kassahun Teweledeberhan Cassation File Number 54121 Date 1-3-2003 (E.C.)] where the parties indicated German Law to be the applicable law to solve their disputes, it was held that such contractual provision is not valid. The case by its nature is not a case “regarding private international law” as provided in article 11 sub article 2 (a) of Federal Courts Proclamation No. 25/1996. As a result, it is the Federal First Instance Court not the Federal High Court who has jurisdiction over such matter.
1.2. Employment contract made in a foreign country
Applicant: Ato Bezabeh Eshetu
Respondent: Salini construction
Cassation File Number: 60685
Date: 21-6-2003 (E.C.)
When the employment contract is made in a foreign country, it is a case regarding private international law. Hence, the Federal High Court will have first instance jurisdiction as per article 11 sub article 2 (a) of Federal Courts Proclamation No. 25/1996. But, it should be noted that, this does not imply Ethiopian courts will assume judicial jurisdiction merely because the contract was made in a foreign country. The fact that a certain case is a ‘case regarding private international law’ only confers a power on the Federal High Court to determine whether Ethiopian courts have judicial jurisdiction and if yes to determine the applicable law. In short, article 11 sub article 2 (a) of Federal Courts Proclamation No. 25/1996 simply gives material jurisdiction exclusively to the Federal High Court.
2. Conflict of laws in civil cases
2.1. Extra-contractual liability (foreign company not registered in Ethiopia)
Applicant: Ethiopian Electric Light Corporation
Respondent: Dragados Construction
Cassation File Number: 42928
Date: 12-5-2002 (E.C.)
This case relates an action by applicant for compensation for damage caused by respondent while doing business in Ethiopia. Respondent argued that it a foreign company registered according to the law of Greece and domiciled in Athens. It also stated that it is not registered in Ethiopia. Based on these facts, respondent challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal First Instance Court, because the conflict of law rules apply to determine courts having jurisdiction and the applicable law. The Federal Instance Court accepted this argument and ruled that it does not have jurisdiction over the case. On appeal, the ruling of the lower court was affirmed by Federal High Court on the ground that the mater falls within its first instance jurisdiction.
The cassation bench reversed both decisions of the lower courts. The bench in its reasoning stated that damage was caused in Ethiopia while respondent was doing business in Ethiopia. The case was brought to the court where the damage caused. Therefore, the Federal First Court should exercise jurisdiction according to article 27(1) of the Civil Procedure Law.
2.2. Contract made in Ethiopia with a foreigner
Applicant: Global Hotel Private Limited Co.
Respondent: Mr. Nicola As Papachar Zis
Cassation File Number: 28883
Date: 26-3-2000 (E.C.)
The fact that one of the parties in litigation is a foreigner does not automatically make the case ‘a case regarding private international law.’ The defendant should necessarily challenge the jurisdiction of the court on the ground that Ethiopian law is inconsistent with the law of his nationality or domicile. If the foreign party does not invoke lack of jurisdiction of Ethiopian courts, the case is not a private international law case.