Miller's Marine War Risks

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Civil war

Civil war

7.1 In the Pesquerias 1 case, the House of Lords saw no essential difference between “war” and “civil war” (other than the obvious one that wars are fought between nations and civil wars between the citizens of a State). Lord Porter regarded the matter as settled by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Curtis and Son v. Mathews. 2 7.2 In Curtis the premises insured were in Dublin. On 24 April 1916, some 2,000 men, describing themselves as the armed forces of the self-styled Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, occupied the Post Office and other buildings in Dublin in an event known to history as the “Easter Rising”. The British armed forces attempted to suppress the insurgents and there was some vigorous street-to-street fighting. The Post Office itself was shelled by artillery. This started a fire which spread through several intervening buildings until it destroyed the plaintiff’s premises. The fire brigade was unable to put it out because of the shooting by the insurgents. The court noted with approval the finding of Roche J. when giving judgment for the plaintiffs: “I am satisfied that Easter week in Dublin was a week not of mere riot but of civil strife amounting to warfare waged between military and usurped powers and involving bombardment.” 7.3 There is now confirmation of the position apparent in the Pesquerias case in the more recent case of National Oil Company of Zimbabwe and Others v. Sturge [1991] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 281. There, Saville J., applying the principle that in commercial documents words must be given their ordinary everyday meaning said: “In this context ‘civil war’ means a war with the special characteristic of being civil—i.e. being internal rather than external.”

Spinney’s (1948) Ltd. and Others v. Royal Insurance3

The facts

7.4 The most authoritative case on “civil war” is Spinney’s (1948) Ltd. and Others v. Royal Insurance. The facts were complicated in the extreme, and they received a thorough and exhaustive analysis from Mustill J. It is worth rehearsing them in some detail. No easy assumptions could be made about whether any of the separate parties had de facto or de jure status.

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7.5 The court found that Lebanon’s population consisted of about 3.5 million people (the exact figure was not known) made up by about 1.6 million Christians and 1.6 million Muslims (plus 350,000 Palestinians). The Christians consisted of several individual religious persuasions, the Maronites (the majority), Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and some other smaller sects, all of whom were divided by deep and divisive doctrinal differences. The Muslims also were similarly divided by equally deep and divisive doctrinal differences and here the court felt able to give proportions. Of every 11 Muslims five were Sunnis, four were Shi’ites and two were Druze. 7.6 In order to govern the country, the National Pact of 1943 had divided the centres of power so that the President of the Republic was a Maronite Christian, the President of the Chamber of Deputies was a Shi’ite Muslim, the Prime Minister was a Sunni Muslim and the Commander in Chief was a Maronite Christian. The Chamber of Deputies was divided so that there were six Christian to five Muslim seats. The arrangement worked quite efficiently if not to the entire satisfaction of all concerned, and Lebanon became a very prosperous and fairly peaceful country. By 1975, however, the increase in the Muslim proportion of the population to that of the Christians led to an expectation of a rearrangement in the Muslim’s favour, and the Muslim population was not immune to the tide of Arab nationalism which swept the Middle East during the 1960s and 1970s. This expectation and the demands which accompanied it were resisted by the Christians in a way which ensured that trouble was bound to ensue, as it indeed did. 7.7 Spinney’s ran a retail supermarket business selling mostly food. Their business in West Beirut (a Muslim enclave) was conducted from two shops and a tower block which seems to have contained their Head Office and a considerable quantity of food awaiting distribution to retail outlets. Their property was insured with the Royal Exchange Assurance under conditions of great complexity. The perils, whether as insured or excepted perils, which the High Court was called upon to consider were: Civil War, Usurped Power, Invasion, Rebellion; Insurrection, Hostilities; Warlike Operations, Civil Commotion, and the specific exclusion which read:

… Any act of any person acting on behalf of or in connection with any organisation with activities directed towards the overthrow by force of the government de jure or de facto or to the influencing of it by terrorism or violence.

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