Ripped off British homebuyers can bring claims against foreign lawyers in English courts

A recent High Court decision confirmed that if a British purchaser buying property in Europe has been let down or ‘ripped off’ by lawyers based in other countries in the European Union, they may be able to pursue a claim for compensation in the English courts.

That could be a vital course of redress for the victims of property scams in the Mediterranean and elsewhere who may often be put off by the prospect of pursuing claims in foreign courts.

The recent case was brought by a Mr. and Mrs. Adams, part of a group of disappointed British and Irish home purchasers who all bought villas and apartments on a development in Torrevieja (in Alicante, Spain), only to find years later that their properties were still subject to the mortgages left on them by the builder. They also discovered to their dismay that they did not have title to the properties they thought they had bought over 10 years previously.

Mr. and Mrs. Adams issued proceedings in the High Court in London against the UK company that acted as their agents in the purchase, and the Spanish law firm that acted for them. The Spanish lawyers challenged the jurisdiction of the London courts to hear the claim. They argued that since the case related to Spanish properties, it could only be heard by the Spanish courts.

The key issue was whether the lawyer, agent or professional involved in the operation actively marketed and sold their professional services to consumers in the UK. If so, EU consumer regulations may give the consumer the right to bring proceedings in their “home” courts, rather than in the courts where the property was located.

In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, the disappointed purchasers received letters and marketing material from the lawyers purporting to be acting on their behalf, all written in English. In addition, the Spanish lawyers’ website had pages written in English clearly directed at British would-be homebuyers. The High Court decided that this was sufficient to allow the claimants to sue the Spanish lawyers in this country.

Chris Corney (partner at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, the London law firm representing Mr. and Mrs. Adams) said: “Disappointed British homebuyers who are let down by their advisers when buying in Spain are often put off taking action because they do not want to get tangled up in a foreign court case. It is worth exploring whether consumer protection regulations may give them a right to pursue compensation in the UK courts.”