Cornwall Renewable Developments v Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie. A right rigmarole on forum contractus for legal advice.

Cornwall Renewable Developments Ltd v Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP [2022] EWHC 3259 (Ch) is the appeal against [2022] EWHC 441 (Ch) which I flagged here. The jurisdictional challenge concerns the allocation of jurisdiction within the UK. However by statutory instruction in the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (CJJA), account must be taken of the Brussels Regime and CJEU authority on same.

The question is essentially what the ‘place of performance of the obligation in question’ is for legal advice, in this case provided by a Scottish law firm with no place of business yet near-inevitably some dual qualified Scots-E&W lawyers, introduced by an intermediary to an England (Cornwall in fact)-based client viz a development in Cornwall. I have before flagged the difficulty of the ‘obligation in question’ part of the question in light of the unclear, if any, remaining authority of CJEU De Bloos (an issue which unfortunately will not be entertained soon by the CJEU now that the Sao Paolo Panels case has been withdrawn).

Of note (as the judge also does [75] is that the CJJA does not in relevant section have the benefit of the additional clarification in Brussels Ia’s Article 7(1)b: ) ‘for the purpose of this provision and unless otherwise agreed, the place of performance of the obligation in question shall be:…in the case of the provision of services, the place in a Member State where, under the contract, the services were provided or should have been provided;’, although in the case of legal services essentially submitted by phone and e-mail, this might have created its own discussion as the judge’s discussion here also shows.

The result is exactly the kind of rigmarole which forum contractus often leads to, with the principles listed by Smith R [45] ff. The judge confirms [63] after consideration that the first judge was not wrong (this is an appeal, not a de novo assessment) to conclude that the principal “obligation in question” was to provide advice and agreements to the Claimant for negotiation and execution by parties in England, with the intention that they would satisfy Cornwall Council’s planning rules so that planning permission would be granted, and the development could proceed; and that the place where this obligation was to be performed, despite research etc being done from Scotland, was indeed England.

The judgment is (probably too, for a jurisdictional issue) lengthy and I am sure one can find fault with some of the applications of the authorities yet all of this emphasises the urgent need for law firms to include choice of court in their standard retainer agreements.

Best wishes for 2023!

Geert.

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