Commission v United Kingdom (C-300/95) – Case Summary

EC Commission v United Kingdom (Re the Product Liability Directive)

Commission of the European Communities v United Kingdom (C-300/95)

European Court of Justice (5th Chamber)

Citations: EU:C:1997:255; [1997] ECR I-2649; [1997] 3 CMLR 923; [1997] All ER (EC) 481; [1997] CLY 975.

Facts

This case concerned the proper interpretation of the ‘development risks’ defence in the strict liability regime for defective products. The Commission of the European Communities alleged that the UK had failed to properly transpose Article 7(e) of Council Directive 85/374. They argued that the implementing provision, s.4(1)(e) of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, was far broader than Article 7(e) permitted.

The concern was that the UK’s version of the defence might be interpreted as allowing a producer to escape liability merely because they (or producers like them) were incapable of discovering a defect.

Issue(s)
  1. Does the development risks defence impose a purely objective test?
  2. What is the ‘state of scientific and technical knowledge’ which the defence refers to?
Decision

The Court held that there was no necessary conflict between s.4(1)(e) of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and Article 7(e) of Council Directive 85/374. There was no indication that the national courts would not construe s.4(1)(e) in a narrow and objective manner.

This Case is Authority For…

The research development defence does not concern the knowledge available or the standards in use in the producer’s industry. The relevant scientific and technical knowledge is the most advanced knowledge accessible at the time the product was put into circulation. The subjective knowledge of the producer is therefore irrelevant.

Other

The Advocate General defined the most advanced level of research as including new or minority views which have yet to reach mainstream acceptance. He also stated that knowledge would be ‘accessible’ even if it was only available in another language or in a foreign country. The Court approved of his remarks in general terms but did not say anything specific about the meaning of ‘accessible’.

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