Tuesday 17 March 2020

Work of the Hague Conference on Private International Law

I have been discussing the issues of private international law since this blog was started five years ago (See the posts with labels "choice of law" and "jurisdiction"). The Hague Conference on Private International Law has now turned its attention to the blockchain.

The Council on General Affairs and Policy (CGAP) of the Hague Conference met from 3 to 6 March 2020. According to its report, the Council invited the Permanent Bureau (the secretariat of the Hague Conference) to monitor developments with respect to the private international law implications of distributed ledger technology (para. 15). It is part of the work relating to possible new legislative instruments.

As a preliminary document for the CGAP meeting, the Permanent Bureau had authored (with the assistance of Prof. Matthias Lehmann) and published a proposal for the allocation of resources to this task. It sets out a list of the specific issues to be addressed with some indications of possible solutions.

The list rightly contains proprietary issues, which in my view should receive the greatest attention of any work in this field because of the theoretical difficulties involved (See my previous post here, in particular pp. 6-8 of the attached slides). In this connection, a restitutionary claim arising from a constructive trust should also be addressed. Its significance is illustrated in my paper "Implications of the Blockchain Technology for the UNCITRAL Works" in particular at p. 92 (See the post here). 

The proposal defines the Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO) as "quasi-corporate entities based on the blockchain" and asks whether the DAO should be characterised as a corporation or a contract for the sake of conflict of laws. In my idea, the DAO is nothing but a computer code, albeit of a special kind. The expression "decentralised autonomous organisation" is only an eye-catching phrase that IT people like using (another example being "smart contract"). No useful purpose will be served in legal analysis by accepting it at face value as an organisation. Thus, it would be pointless trying to sue a DAO as hardly any State would grant it locus standi. The legal issues surrounding the DAO could, and should, be resolved by targeting real-life individuals and companies (See pp. 7-8 of my paper "Blockchain and Smart Contract for Contract Management" presented at the APEC meeting).

The proposal does not mention the blockchain-based negotiable instruments. Whether and in what circumstances tokens on blockchains are deemed in law to be negotiable instruments are vital questions on which depends whether "token economy" will fly or not. In my view, these questions should be determined by the law governing the right embodied in the instrument in question (See p. 9 of the slides attached to my previous post here).

The borderless feature of a blockchain network makes it legitimate to spend resources at an international level. The Hague Conference is the obvious forum for the work on private international law.

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