UEFA unsuccessful in seeking delay in action raised against it by fans injured before 2022 Champion’s League final

UEFA unsuccessful in seeking delay in action raised against it by fans injured before 2022 Champion’s League final

A motion by UEFA seeking directions for a meeting of French law experts instructed by the parties in a claim raised against it by football fans injured in the buildup to the 2022 Champion’s League final has been dismissed by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

Sean Abram and 886 other individuals had raised a claim against UEFA alleging it had failed to ensure Liverpool fans had a safe route to the stadium in which the final took place and to ensure a safe system of queue management. UEFA disputed the jurisdiction of the court and argued that the applicable law was French law, under which the ticket contracts had been issued.

The case was heard by Mr Justice Pepperall in the High Court of Justice (King’s Bench Division), with Alistair Mackenzie appearing for the claimants and Shaheed Fatima KC and Tom Cleaver for the defendants.

Not the same issues

The claimants were all ticket holders for the 2022 Champion’s League Final between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at the Stade de France in Paris. The Liverpool fans who attempted to reach the stadium from the train station at Saint Denis struggled to reach the stadium due to dangerously congested routes, which resulted in the French police deploying tear gas and pepper spray against them.

It was alleged by the claimants that UEFA was in breach of duty against them and had not properly assessed the risks of the traffic route to be used by the Liverpool fans arriving from Saint Denis station. Some also claimed to be particularly vulnerable to injury either because they were children or were survivors of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. While UEFA asserted that the contracts were governed by French law, the terms also provided that if the ticketholder qualified as a consumer, the courts of their domicile would have exclusive jurisdiction.

Both sides sought and obtained permission to rely on expert reports on matters of French law. UEFA had sought to limit the ambit of the report by the claimants’ expert to matters covered in its own expert report, but it was ruled it was inappropriate to do so as the court had not specifically identified the issues of French law on which UEFA could reply on expert evidence.

The case was listed for hearing on 27 and 28 June 2024. However, it was argued by UEFA that this would provide insufficient time to give effective directions in respect of the expert evidence. The experts had not addressed the same issues and the extent of the true agreement or disagreement between them was not clear. It was submitted that such ambiguity in the jurisdiction challenge would unfairly benefit the claimant.

A matter for the judge

In his decision, Justice Pepperall observed: “I accept that narrowing disputes between expert witnesses can be helpful at any stage of a case, but the court must consider whether such directions at the interim stage are necessary and proportionate given the fact that the jurisdiction challenge is not, and should not be treated as if it were, a trial. Furthermore, the court must consider whether it is practicable for any such directions to be complied with in the limited period of time before the hearing.”

He continued: “It is increasingly recognised that late adjournments cause prejudice to other litigants and to the administration of justice. Accordingly, whatever position I might have taken a month or two ago, I should be reluctant now to give case management directions that would inevitably lead to the adjournment of the June hearing unless persuaded that such directions were essential for the just resolution of the jurisdiction challenge.”

Analysing the content of the two reports, Pepperall J said: “While the two experts have approached matters in different ways, they have both addressed the issue of the relevance of the actions of third parties, including state actors, in determining UEFA’s liability. It will ultimately be a matter for the judge who will have the benefit of hearing the substantive argument on jurisdiction over two days, but I am not presently persuaded that this is really a case of ambiguity rather than one where the experts disagree as to the effect of third-party acts and omissions in French law.”

He concluded: “In any event, UEFA has not, in my judgment, established a sufficiently strong case for further case management directions to justify the adjournment of the June hearing and the cost of obtaining additional expert evidence.”

It was later found that no judge was available on 27 and 28 June to hear the case. In light of this, Pepperall J added in postscript: “That circumstance was not known when this matter was argued and when I decided this application. There has been no application that I should reopen the argument or reconsider my decision in light of these changed circumstances. No such further application is, however, encouraged since, while there are now about six weeks to the revised hearing date, I have not in any event been persuaded that the directions sought are both necessary and proportionate.”

The application to adjourn the jurisdiction challenge was therefore dismissed, and the matter listed for 29 and 30 July 2024.

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