The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered judgment on Case C-641/18 (LG and Others v Rina SpA and Ente Registro Italiano Navale) on 7 May 2020. It was found that the victims of the sinking of a vessel, which sailed under the flag of Panama, may bring an action for damages before the Italian courts against the Italian organisations which classified and certified that vessel. Those organisations could rely on immunity from jurisdiction only in so far as their activities constituted an expression of the public powers of the Panamanian State.
The CJEU held, first, that an action for damages, brought against private-law corporations engaged in the classification and certification of ships on behalf of and upon delegation from a third State, falls within the concept of ‘civil and commercial matters’, within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 (‘the Brussels I Regulation’) and, therefore, within the scope of that regulation, provided that that classification and certification activity is not exercised under public powers, within the meaning of EU law. Secondly, the CJEU held that the principle of customary international law concerning immunity from jurisdiction does not preclude the national court seised from exercising the jurisdiction provided for by that regulation in a dispute relating to such an action, where that court finds that such corporations have not had recourse to public powers within the meaning of international law.