Professional Diver Injured Overseas Tests Limits of English Jurisdiction

English judges enjoy an unrivalled reputation for delivering even-handed justice and that is why our courts are under siege by those who want their cases heard in this country. One such case was brought by a French professional diver who was seriously injured while working on an offshore construction project in West Africa.

The diver suffered a very severe brain injury in the accident off the coast of Gabon and will require constant care and attention for the rest of his life. After a compensation claim was brought on his behalf, in England, a default judgment was entered against the UK-registered company that employed him at the time. The company was, however, said to be a very small concern and an application had been made to strike it off the register of companies.

In those circumstances, proceedings were also launched against two Gabonese companies involved in the project. Although a default judgment had been entered against one of them, the other – the operator of the diving site – denied that the English courts had jurisdiction to consider the claim against it. It contended that it had no contractual relationship with the diver and that his claim that it had failed to adequately supervise the project was unviable.

In ruling on the matter, the High Court noted that the diver had clearly been entitled to sue his employer, an English-domiciled company, in England. The claim against the Gabonese operator had a real prospect of success and it had been justifiably sued as a necessary and proper party to the proceedings. The claim against the employer was not merely a device to bring the operator within English jurisdiction.

In staying the English proceedings against the operator, however, the Court found that the appropriate forum for hearing the claim was the courts of Gabon. Judgment having been entered against the employer, there would be no further proceedings in England and the spectre of competing decisions in two separate jurisdictions did not arise. The diver was, however, granted liberty to apply for the stay to be lifted on the basis that he would not receive access to justice in Gabon.

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