In order to sue a defendant who is outside the jurisdiction of the English courts, a claimant must show that damage was sustained in England. The Supreme Court has confirmed that the initial or direct damage, which gives rise to the claim, need not have occurred in England for the English courts to have jurisdiction.


The claimant booked a holiday to Cairo for her family, including a luxury safari excursion. During the safari tour, the vehicle in which she and her family were travelling crashed. The claimant was injured and, sadly, her husband was killed along with his daughter.

The claimant brought an action in the English courts in 2012 against the operator of the hotel seeking damages for her own injuries, for her husband's wrongful death and for bereavement and loss of dependency. She claimed that the Egyptian hotel operator had breached an implied term of the contract to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety and also alleged negligence on the part of the hotel operator and the staff operating the tour.

The High Court found that it had jurisdiction to try the claimant's claims in contract and tort and granted the claimant permission to serve the claim in Egypt.(1) The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the High Court's decision.(2) The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.(3)


The defendant challenged the application of the jurisdictional gateway in respect of the claims in tort.

Broadly speaking, where a claimant seeks to bring a claim against a defendant domiciled outside England, the common law rules will apply in the absence of a choice of court agreement.

The claimant must satisfy the court that there is a real issue to be tried, that their claim has reasonable prospects of success and that the claim falls under one of the jurisdictional gateways outlined in Civil Procedure Rule 6.37(3) and Practice Direction 6B. Permission will not be granted unless the court is satisfied that England (or Wales) is the proper place in which to bring the claim.

For a tort claim to be served out of the jurisdiction, the claimant must first show either that damage was sustained in England or that damage has resulted from an act committed in England.


While here the "act committed" – the car crash – occurred in Egypt, the claimant argued that she had suffered damage in England: physical pain resulting from her own injuries, and bereavement and financial loss resulting from her husband's death.

The defendant submitted that damage was sustained at the place of the initial or direct damage – that is, the place where the car crash which caused the harm occurred – and that the jurisdictional gateway did not extend to the place at which any further consequences or indirect damage may have been suffered.


By a four-to-one majority, the Supreme Court rejected the defendant's appeal and held that the English courts had jurisdiction.

The Court emphasised that the test was where "damage" was sustained, not where "the damage" was sustained. The Court considered that the drafters had deliberately omitted the definite article to reflect a previous decision of the Court of Appeal that it is sufficient that some significant damage was sustained in the jurisdiction. In this case, the claimant had suffered physical and emotional pain and financial loss in England.

The Court also rejected the defendant's submission that the English courts should distinguish between direct and indirect damage. While this distinction was present in the EU system, fundamental differences between that system and the English domestic rules made it inappropriate to import the distinction into English law.

There are additional protections in the tort gateway to protect against inappropriate exercise of jurisdiction. The claimant must satisfy the court that England is the proper place to bring the claim and the court has discretion to refuse jurisdiction if it considers the claim would be better heard in another jurisdiction.

Pleading foreign law
The Court also shed light on how a party should plead foreign law. The parties were agreed that Egyptian law was applicable. However, the defendant contended that the claimant had failed to adduce evidence of the relevant Egyptian law for certain aspects of her claim, and for those gaps it was wrong in principle to apply English law or any presumption that the applicable foreign law is similar to English law.

The claimant argued that as Egyptian law had not been shown to differ materially from English law and it was not disputed that the claims would have reasonable prospects of success if English law was applied, the claim was sufficiently pleaded for service out of the jurisdiction.

The Court found for the claimant and clarified the scope of two distinct rules on applying foreign law:

  • the default rule – neither party is obliged to plead foreign law. There might be practical and cost reasons for not doing so if it would produce the same result as applying English law. A case should generally be tried on the parties' statements of case. If neither party pleads foreign law, the court will apply its own law; and
  • the presumption of similarity – this is a rule of evidence concerned with what the content of foreign law should be taken to be. An English court will presume that foreign law is the same as English law where it is fair and reasonable to do so and only in the absence of better evidence. This presumption is rebuttable by either party.

Here, the parties agreed that Egyptian law was applicable. Therefore, there was no scope for applying English law by default. However, in the absence of any evidence of Egyptian law, the claimant was entitled to rely on the presumption of similarity to show that her claims had real prospects of success (at this early stage of the proceedings) and therefore that the claim could be served out of jurisdiction.


This is an important decision on jurisdiction, particularly since, as a result of Brexit and the fact that the United Kingdom has not acceded to the Lugano Convention, these common law rules on jurisdiction apply to a much larger number of claims than before. The Court has confirmed the width of the gateway for defendants who are injured abroad but suffer the consequences at home to bring a claim in the English courts. This will not be limited to cases of personal injury, but to all tortious claims. The main brake on the English courts' taking jurisdiction in such cases now appears to be whether they consider that England is the proper place to bring the claim (ie, the forum conveniens).

In this respect, the common law rules (which, absent a choice of courts agreement, now apply to disputes involving EU member states) are now clearly wider than the EU Brussels Regulation, which previously governed such disputes, such that the English courts may now take jurisdiction over cases which they might previously have declined under the EU Brussels Regulation. The EU Brussels Regulation allows the courts of an EU member state "where the harmful event occurred or may occur" to take jurisdiction in matters of tort, but the Court of Justice for the European Union has held that this extends only to the place where direct, rather than indirect, damage occurs.

In relation to foreign law, the Court's distinction between the default rule and the presumption of similarity provides a useful guide for litigants looking to save time and costs when litigating an issue, which may be subject to foreign law, in the English courts. That said, the Court did suggest that it may be precarious to rely on the presumption later in the proceedings, particularly at trial.

For further information on this topic please contact Heather Clark or Davina Given at RPC by telephone (+44 20 3060 6000) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The RPC website can be accessed at www.rpc.co.uk.


(1) [2019] EWHC 2533 (QB).

(2) [2020] EWCA Civ 996.

(3) FS Cairo (Nile Plaza) LLC v Lady Brownlie (as Dependant and Executrix of Professor Sir Ian Brownlie CBE QC) [2021] UKSC 45.