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Can I argue that my contract has been frustrated?

It could be possible depending on your contract. If there is no force majeure clause in a contract, it may be possible that the contract may have been “frustrated” by emergency legislation. In legal terms, a contract can be frustrated where an event occurs after it is entered into which was not contemplated by any party at the outset, is not due to the fault of any party, and which makes the performance of the contract impossible.

If this is the case, the contract could be “discharged”, meaning that the parties’ obligations under the contract are no longer binding.

It is possible that a contract could be frustrated within this particular legal doctrine by a change in the law that makes performance of a contract illegal. However, if it simply becomes more difficult, or more expensive, then the legal tests for frustration might not be satisfied. There are also limits to the application of the rule if the frustrating event was already known about at the time the contracted was entered into.

Again, careful legal advice will be required at an early stage. The rules about force majeure or frustration might help businesses that find themselves unable to perform a contract because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Any new contracts that are concluded should expressly deal with the possibility that performance might become more difficult, more costly, or impossible to perform.

Related FAQs

What will happen to patent, trade mark and design registration applications that are currently being processed or which I want to file?

In recognition of the problems that the current situation is causing, the UK IPO classed the 24th March and all subsequent days as “interrupted days” which means that deadlines that fall within this period will be extended until the UK IPO declares that the interrupted days have ceased. As lockdown has begun to be eased, the IPO has now reviewed its position and has confirmed that the “interrupted days” period will come to an end on the 29 July 2020. This means that Thursday 30 July 2020 will be the first normal day of operation, therefore all “interrupted days” deadlines will expire on this day. Similarly, if your deadline falls after the period of interruption ends, this deadline will not be automatically extended.

The IPO is conscious that many businesses may still be in challenging positions when the period of “interrupted days” end. They will endeavour to continue to provide flexibility and support to assist businesses with their applications. They hope to temporarily remove fees for requests for extensions of deadlines, and will give further updates when this fee exemption is in place.

The IPO continues to encourage applicants to meet original deadlines where they are able.  As their offices are closed, the UK IPO is not currently processing paper forms (i.e. hard copy) and faxes. However, they are processing forms which have been submitted electronically, or via email and have made a new email address available for the submission of forms.

Intellectual Property Offices covering other territories have made their own announcements about the extension of deadlines. The EUIPO’s period of extension of deadlines came to an end on the 18th May. However, they have published a Guidance Note and accompanying webinar on the EUIPO website, detailing options for parties who may struggle to meet deadlines and remedies for those who may have missed deadlines.

If an employee has had a coronavirus test, can we require them to disclose evidence of their test results?

Obtaining an employee’s Covid-19 test result will amount to processing personal data for the purposes of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and information about an employee’s health is a special category of data (sensitive personal data under the Data Processing Act 2018 (DPA)).

In accordance with the GDPR and DPA, there must be lawful grounds for processing such information. Most employers rely on employees’ consent to obtain medical information and process sensitive personal data and if the employee is unwilling to give consent, you will not normally be entitled to the information.

Special category data can be processed lawfully if it is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the data controller. Employers may be able to require an employee to disclose their Covid-19 test if there is a substantial public interest, such as ensuring that the employee self-isolate if they have a positive test. However, there is a risk that this measure could be considered disproportionate particularly if it is enforced on all employees as a blanket measure.

How is an establishment defined?

The definition of a relevant establishment is a question of fact for an Employment Tribunal. Guidance from case law says that ‘establishment’ should be interpreted very broadly (so as to avoid employers escaping the need to collectively consult), and may consist of:

  • A distinct entity
  • With a certain degree of permanence and stability
  • Which is assigned to perform one or more tasks
  • Which has a workforce, technical means and a certain organisational structure to allow it to do so

However, there is no need for it to have the following:

  • Legal, economic, financial, administrative or technological autonomy
  • A management which can independently effect collective redundancies
  • Geographical separation from the other units and facilities of the undertaking
What measures are being implemented to protect residential property tenants?

On 18 March 2020, the Government announced that it would pass emergency legislation which would prevent landlords, both social and private, from bringing possession proceedings against tenants who are unable to pay their rent. The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, stated that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”

The announcement came after several organisations, including housing charity Shelter, expressed concerns that more than 50,000 households could face possession proceedings due to the economic uncertainty following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Who is expected to be principal accountable person in local authorities who are landlords of high rises?

This will be dependent upon the how the leasehold structure is set up for each relevant building, but it may be the local authority. We would be happy to provide further advice in relation to specific buildings if you contact us separately with the relevant details and documents.