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A European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision in a personal injury case on 1 March could have wide-ranging implications for commercial disputes, said one of the lawyers involved.
The court was ruling on questions from the Court of Appeal from July 2002 in the case of Owusu v Jackson.
Richard Plender QC of 20 Essex Street Chambers, who acted for Andrew Owusu, said the case will impact on several pending commercial disputes. Plender added that the rigid rules of civil law have won out over more flexible common law rules.
Owusu, a UK citizen, had rented a private holiday villa in Jamaica from Nugent Jackson in 1997. But he suffered spinal injuries after diving into the sea from the villa's private beach and hitting his head on a submerged sandbank.
He launched proceedings against Jackson, his company and other companies, including the property's owner Mammee Bay Resorts.
In the High Court in 2001, Judge Bentley QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, found that Owusu had the right to sue in England under the Brussels Convention, Article 2 of which says: "Subject to the provisions of this convention, persons domiciled in a contracting state shall, whatever their nationality, be sued in the courts of that state."
However, in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justices Brooke and Latham and Mr Justice Hart questioned that interpretation and turned to the ECJ, which found that an EU member state cannot decline jurisdiction over a defendant domiciled in its jurisdiction, even if the case has no other connection to a state that is party to the convention.
Terry Regan of Wake Smith instructed Plender for Owusu; Bernard Doherty and Colin Thomann of 39 Essex Street acted for Jackson, instructed by Myers Fletcher & Gordon partner Michael Toohig; while Patrick Sherrington of Lovells acted for the other defendant companies.
Representations were made by the European Commission and the German and UK governments, which instructed Brick Court Chambers' David Lloyd Jones QC.