Judgment was handed down this week by the Supreme Court of St Helena in a case concerning contested jurisdiction between St Helena and South Africa.

A claim had been brought in St Helena against the island’s Attorney General for negligent medical treatment provided to a patient. The Attorney General is responsible for healthcare on the small island, part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Whilst initially treated on the island, after complications the patient was transferred under the Medevac scheme to a hospital in South Africa, where sadly she died during surgery. The Attorney General counterclaimed against the South African hospital, and having obtained permission to serve proceedings out of the jurisdiction, sought to have the claim and counterclaim determined together in St Helena. The South African hospital contested jurisdiction and service.

Handing down judgment on 6 April 2020, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of St Helena, held that service on the Hospital had been valid, and that in all the circumstances, St Helena was the appropriate forum for determination of the counterclaim against the South African hospital. The hearing took place remotely, with the Judge located in France, the Hospital’s solicitors in South Africa, the Attorney General’s staff in St Helena, and Counsel for all parties in the UK.

As to the appropriate forum, the Judge accepted that there were factors which connected the claim to South Africa, including that the acts/omissions complained of occurred in South Africa and the hospital carries on its business there.  The Claimant (‘Plaintiff’ in St Helena) and Defendant on the other hand were resident on St Helena, the Plaintiff’s claim was properly brought on St Helena and that claim at least would have to be tried on St Helena. Whilst it was not yet clear how many witnesses other than the parties would in fact have to travel, wherever the ultimate venue the travelling parties would inevitably be put to added cost. In terms of practicality and convenience, therefore, the conflicting considerations were said to be “pretty equal”. What ultimately persuaded the Judge was the question of where the interests of justice lay, the “clear and obvious potential overlap between the Plaintiff’s claim against the Defendant and the Defendant’s claim against the Hospital”, and the risk “that a different court might reach a conclusion different to the decision reached by the St Helena Supreme Court”. Overall, he held that he was satisfied that St Helena was clearly or distinctly the proper forum.

David Manknell acted for the Attorney General of St Helena, instructed by Bianca Huggins, Crown Counsel (Civil) St Helena.