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A Tale of Two Duties – Approaching SAAMCO and the Scope of Duty Principle after Manchester Building Society v Grant Thornton UK LLP and Khan v Meadows


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Joshua Cainer compares Manchester Building Society v Grant Thornton UK LLP and Hughes-Holland v BPE Solicitors and considers the state of the law in this area going forward, as well as the key conceptual and practical differences that are likely to generate debate in future cases.

The concept of ‘scope of duty’ in the tort of negligence, especially its application following Lord Hoffmann’s judgment in SAAMCO, has generated both controversy and confusion over recent years. Many had thought that Lord Sumption’s judgment in Hughes-Holland v BPE Solicitors was to be the definitive statement on the topic. However, the starting point in this area now lies in two very recent Supreme Court decisions in two different factual contexts: Manchester Building Society v Grant Thornton UK LLP [2021] UKSC 20 in the field of professional accountancy advice; and Khan v Meadows [2021] UKSC 21 in the field of clinical negligence. The two appeals were heard by the same expanded constitution of the Supreme Court so that the court could provide general guidance regarding the proper approach to determining the scope of duty and the extent of liability of professional advisers in the tort of negligence, particularly the application of the approach in SAAMCO within different fields of activity.

The factual contexts of these two cases might not be thought to be too dissimilar, both concerning negligent professional advice. Yet we may well see these two decisions have far wider reverberations across tort law given that the majority judgment of Lord Hodge and Lord Sales (with whom Lord Reed, Lady Black and Lord Kitchen agreed) presented their analysis within a wider conceptual legal framework, in an attempt to tie together the broader conceptual threads that underpin the tort of negligence. Such an approach is not without controversy, as the concurring judgments of Lord Leggatt and Lord Burrows bear witness.

This article seeks to outline the facts of both cases, followed by a summary which focuses on the key points of the majority’s judgments, given that their analysis represents the state of the law in this area going forward. Rather than assessing in detail the relative merits of the majority’s approach as against Lord Leggatt’s and Lord Burrows’ judgments, this article will conclude by emphasising the key conceptual and practical differences that are likely to generate debate in future cases.

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Joshua joined Chambers in 2020 following the successful completion of his pupillage. He is happy to accept instructions across all of Chambers’ areas of practice and is also a member of the Attorney General’s Junior Junior Scheme.

To find out more, please contact Joshua’s Practice Management Team: Sam Carter on +44 (0)203 989 6669 or Colin Bunyan on +44 (0)20 7427 4886 for a confidential discussion.


Barristers: Joshua Cainer
Categories: Legal Blog & Publications | Commercial