Deane v Barker. Foreign law is fact leads to interesting comparative discussion on statutory interpretation (and the Spanish language).

In Deane v Barker & Ors [2022] EWHC 1523 (QB) concerns the frequent and upsetting scenario of falls in rented holiday accommodation. Claimant is habitually resident in England, proceedings were issued in December 2019, and subject therefore to Brussels Ia. Any jurisdictional challenge would have been tricky (but not impossible, seeing as 2 of the defendants are based in Spain; one of them one presumes is sued in E&W on the basis of BIa’s insurance title, the other (the Spanish company which manages the property) on the basis of the anchor mechanism or perhaps forum contractus). At any rate, there is no jurisdictional objection.

The owners of the villa, like the claimant, are domiciled in England and they are being sued on the tort of negligence which, per A4(2) Rome II, makes English law in principle the applicable law to most of the claim (there is also an additional contractual claim against the property manager, said to be subject to Spanish law per the cascade of A4 Rome I; and a claim in tort subject to Spanish law per A4(1) ).

Issues such as the standard of care and breach of duty viz the main claim will be informed by whether the staircase complied with Spanish law safety standards – CTE: that is the result of A17 Rome II. The issues for this preliminary discussion, are [21]

Issue 1 Whether the works conducted at the villa and/or on the staircase were refurbishment works (such as to trigger the application of the CTE) or merely maintenance works (such as not to trigger the application of the CTE)? Issue 2 Whether the villa (and the staircase within it) was for general or public use (such that the material provisions of the CTE would presumptively apply) or for restricted use (such that the same provisions would not apply)? Issue 3 Whether, if the material provisions of the CTE apply, this would in principle give rise to a breach of duty in English and Spanish law?

Issue 1 and 2 depend on the interpretation of foreign law which, in common law courts, is fact and must be proven. The discussion here seems to have turned on lengthy debate on the exact meaning of definitions. That this should be discussed so intensely does not surprise me (unlike the judge who suggested it was unusual): if a definition is of great relevance to the outcome of the case, why should it not be extensively discussed.  The debate also engages the methods of interpretation by the Spanish courts: this leads [38ff] to expert views and discussion that are  interesting with a view to comparative statutory interpretation, and will be of relevance to those with an interest in languages and law.


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