Discharge by force majeure
Produced in partnership with George McPherson of Three Verulam Buildings
Discharge by force majeure

The following Dispute Resolution guidance note Produced in partnership with George McPherson of Three Verulam Buildings provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Discharge by force majeure
  • Force majeure—meaning and nature
  • What is a force majeure clause
  • Force majeure and the doctrine of frustration
  • Force majeure—burden of proof
  • Force majeure clauses—interpretation
  • Challenging the validity of a force majeure clause
  • Force majeure and Brexit

Force majeure—meaning and nature

The key features of force majeure are:

  1. a 'force majeure clause' applies to a contractual term providing for one (or both) parties to be excused from performance on the happening of a specified event outside the parties' control

  2. the meaning and effect of a force majeure clause depends on its wording

  3. a force majeure clause may be capable of challenge under unfair contract terms legislation, eg, under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (UCTA 1977) and, for consumer contracts, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015)

Force majeure clauses are often seen in contracts for those industries which are more typically vulnerable to catastrophic occurrences, such as:

  1. the energy industry—see Practice Note: Force Majeure in oil and gas contracts

  2. the construction industry—see Practice Note: Force majeure in construction contracts

What is a force majeure clause

In English law, the expression 'force majeure' does not refer to a legal doctrine. Instead, the expression 'force majeure clause' is used to describe a contractual term which provides that, on the happening of a specified event or event beyond the parties’ control, one (or both) of the parties:

  1. is entitled to cancel the contract (or it may be cancelled automatically)

  2. is excused from performance of the contract, in whole or in part

  3. is entitled to suspend performance or to