Carry on suing in England – at least if you’re suing a non-European

In matters of tort foreign defendants domiciled in the EEA are reasonably well-protected from the exorbitant jurisdiction of the English courts. Both Brussels I Recast and Lugano II limit jurisdction to cases where where the act leading to liability, or the harm done by it, happened in England: furthermore, Euro-law makes it clear that the reference to harm here is fairly restrictive, referring only to direct harm and not to the financial effects of it, such as the straitening of an English widow’s circumstances following a wrongful death abroad.

By contrast, there is no such luck for defendants domiciled outside the EEA. For some time conflicts lawyers have remarked that English claimants, especially personal injury claimants, find it remarkably easy to establish jurisdiction against them. This is because CPR, PD6B 3.1(9), allows service out not only where damage results from an act “committed … within the jurisdiction” but also in all cases of damage “sustained …within the jurisdiction.”, and in a series of cases such as Booth v Phillips [2004] 1 WLR 3292 and Cooley v Ramsey [2008] ILPr 27 this has been held to cover almost any loss, even consequential, suffered in the jurisdiction. And in Four Seasons Holdings Inc v Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80 the Supreme Court by a majority (Lords Wilson and Clarke and Lady Hale vs Lords Sumption and Hughes) has now weakly upheld this distinction.

International law enthusiasts will know that this case arose out of a car accident in Egypt in which the late Prof Ian Brownlie was tragically killed and his widow was injured. The actual decision was in the event a foregone conclusion: by the time the case reached the Supreme Court it was clear that the defendants, the franchising company behind the Brownlies’ Egyptian tourist hotel which had organised the fatal car ride, had never contracted with the Brownlies and was not liable in tort for the acts of the hotel itself. Nevertheless, the majority in the Supreme Court, doubting the decision of the Court of Appeal on this point, made it clear that, while not finally deciding the issue, they were not prepared to condemn the older authorities. It seems likely that future cases will follow their lead.

One further point. Lord Sumption and Lady Hale made the point that the decision whether a contract was made in England, another of the “gateways” in non-EEA cases (see CPR, PD6B 3.1(6)), was in the light of cases like Entores v Miles Far East Corpn [1955] 2 QB 327, pretty arbitrary and could do with a look from the Rules Committee. They were right. Let’s hope something gets done.

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