UK-Spain Legal Tug-of-War

Spain - UK Courts Clash Over Oil Spill

Legal proceedings. Credit: Billion

An environmental disaster that occurred over two decades ago has still not been resolved between the UK and Spain.

On Friday, September 7,  the High Court of England and Wales delivered a verdict that challenged a previous Spanish Supreme Court decision.

The Spanish court had ordered the insurer of the Prestige disaster, London P&I Club, to compensate Spain to the tune of approximately €855 million euros for the 2002 oil spill near the Galician coast, writes OK Diario.

Clash Of Legal Judgments

The British court supported the insurer’s appeal, stating that the Spanish verdict was ‘incompatible’ with UK arbitration. The judge further elaborated that such a decision would go against the foundational principles of British law concerning adjudicated matters.

The Complexities Of Brexit

The Prestige disaster’s legal aftermath has been a maze of international litigation, with the laws of two European nations at odds. The UK’s departure from the EU, adds another layer of complexity. This makes the potential involvement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Prestige case even more intricate.

The Origin Of The Dispute

The legal wrangling began on January 16, 2012. London P&I Club launched a legal action, asserting that Spain should pursue its claim under English law. Their argument was based on the premise that the claim was contractual, governed by English conflict of laws rules, and thus, the contract should be interpreted under English law.

The root of this legal tussle is the tragic sinking of the tanker Prestige near the Galician coast. The ship was laden with 70,000 tonnes of fuel oil, which spilled, wreaking havoc on Spain’s northern coast and France’s western shoreline.

Two Courts, Two Verdicts

A legal battle ensued between Spain and the ship’s insurer, London P&I Club. This resulted in two distinct rulings from two different courts: Spain’s Provincial Court of La Coruña and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

In a twist, the UK High Court recognised the decision of the Provincial Court of La Coruña in May 2019. However, in 2022, the CJEU declared that the Spanish judgment should take precedence over the UK arbitration in the dispute between Spain and the Prestige’s insurer. This meant that compensation for the oil spill damages was mandatory.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.