A fixed-term employment contract governed by English law can be converted into an indefinite contract under UK regulations on successive fixed terms, even if the employee works abroad and there is no strong connection with England. Such an employee will be eligible to claim both wrongful and unfair dismissal if he is required to leave at the expiry of the final fixed term.

Employees working abroad under a number of fixed-term contracts were required to leave at the end of the contract bringing their employment to a total of 9 years. The contracts were expressly governed by English law.

UK regulations on fixed-term employees (which implement an EC Directive) provide that employees on successive fixed-term contracts for at least 4 years shall become permanent employees unless use of a fixed term is justified. The Court of Appeal has ruled that this provision will apply to all fixed-term contracts governed by English law, even if the employee has always worked abroad. Where the use of a fixed term is not justified, such an employee can bring a claim for breach of contract (ie wrongful dismissal) in the English courts/tribunals at the expiry of the fixed term.

The Court also ruled that, because the right to be treated as a permanent employee in these circumstances derived from EC law, the remedies of both wrongful and unfair dismissal should be available to any employee working abroad at least where (i) English law is the governing law of the employment contract (even if there is no other connection with England), or (ii) English law provides the "mandatory rules" applicable to the employment, because England is the country most closely connected with it.

Because both remedies are means of vindicating the individual's EC right to be treated as a permanent employee, the usual limitation on employees working abroad claiming unfair dismissal here (as set out in Lawson v Serco) should be modified in this situation. (Duncombe v Secretary of State for Children, Schools & Families, CA)