What does “Force Majeure” mean?
Crucially the phrase “force majeure” has no specific meaning in English law. As a result, there is scope for complex legal argument, including as to whether the effects of the coronavirus outbreak can amount to force majeure in the first place. If the coronavirus crisis deepens, force majeure provisions could become relevant in the following ways:
- suppliers to your business might seek to invoke force majeure
- you may need to invoke force majeure under your own contracts
Each of these will need careful analysis of the relevant contract against the applicable factual background. Unfortunately, the position is unlikely to be clear cut.
The CMA is particularly concerned about certain activities, its guidance highlights:
- Exchange of commercially sensitive information where this is not necessary in response to the crisis
- Collaboration which unfairly excludes third parties
- Abuse of a dominant position (including a dominant position held as a result of the crisis) – particularly to charge excessive prices
- Seeking to maintain prices or prevent reductions in prices
- Cooperation going beyond what is necessary to respond to the crisis in the interests of consumers
Funding audits are being paused and no new audits will be commenced during the lockdown period.
Remote mediations have become increasingly popular as a way of settling a dispute before it goes to court. There are a number of ways in which you can mediate remotely, but the most common platform is Zoom, due to its easy-to-use nature and the ability to have ‘break-out rooms’. We have answered some FAQs and set out a quick guide to remote mediations below.
What is remote mediation?
- Mediation is a form of assisted negotiation, in which a neutral 3rd party mediator seeks to help the parties resolve their dispute. The process on the day is managed by the mediator and adopts certain key ground-rules. These are that discussions are private and cannot be referred to in court; and the process is entirely voluntary and non-binding, if and until a settlement is finalised. In the current pandemic mediations are now usually conducted remotely by video conference, instead of an in-person meeting.
- The structure of the mediation will depend on the matters that are in dispute. Before the mediation the parties will exchange their views in position papers and prepare a bundle of the key documents.
- Generally the parties will start the mediation in the same ‘room’ as the mediator, where they will be invited to set out their positions. The mediator will then put the parties into ‘break-out rooms’. These rooms serve as your own private ‘room’ which the mediator will join. You will therefore be able to have private discussions with the mediator without the other side being able to hear those discussions. The mediator will go between the ‘break-out rooms’ to discuss a party’s position further in order to attempt to reach a settlement.
- If an agreement is reached, at the end of the mediation the Settlement Agreement will be drafted. The Settlement Agreement works as an enforceable contract. The Settlement Agreement will outline the details of what has been agreed and the intentions of the parties, such as any actions required, payments to be made and appropriate timescales. Each party will sign the Settlement Agreement, which can be done electronically.
- It is not always possible to reach a resolution/agreement by mediation, but the mediator serves as an impartial third party in order to aid the process. If no agreement has been reached, the mediation may still prove useful as it will give you a better understanding of the other side’s position.
What should I do before the mediation to prepare?
- Ensure that you are in an area with minimal distractions. Mediation is a confidential process, so make sure that you are in a private location.
- Ensure that your microphone and camera work and that you have access to the online platform that will be used. We send our clients a link to the website in advance so that this can be tested out.
- Consider any agreed dress code and dress appropriately.
- Have a copy of the mediation bundle to hand, whether in hard or soft copy, and be aware of what documents are in there.
Any tips on what to do on the day?
- Remember to make sure that before you have any private conversations with the mediator you are in your break-out room.
- You may contact the mediator whilst being in the break-out room. On Zoom there is an ‘Ask for Help’ button on the screen. The mediator will then be prompted to join your room.
- Ensure that you inform the mediator if you or others enter/leave the room. It is important that the mediator knows who is present.
- Be mindful of body language and facial expressions as these can appear more enhanced on the screen, and they are easier to pick up in a remote mediation.
- Stay calm and focussed at all times. When you have a dispute it is sometimes tricky to maintain a calm manner, but this is always vital in attempting to reach an agreement.
- When engaging with the mediator avoid any external distractions such as text messages and emails, as it may come across that you are not interested in the process. It is important to pay attention so that you do not miss any dialogue which may be key to any agreement that is reached.
- When you are in the break-out room without the mediator make sure that you take breaks and keep refreshed, as virtual mediations can be tiring.
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.
Employers will need to be flexible with employees who are unable to return to work at present due to childcare difficulties. While schools have reopened, a period of isolation may result in employees having to keep children off school/nursery and therefore have childcare issues. Some employees will be able to manage this with their partner and extended family, whereas others will not. Where an employee simply cannot make any other arrangements to care for their children in the short term then they will be unable to return to work until that situation changes. Any dismissals on the basis that someone is unable to return to work as a result of lack of childcare are likely to be unfair, at least in the short term where such employees may well be able to demonstrate that they had no options available to them.