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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.