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A Review Of The Court Of Appeal Decision In St Albans City And District Council V International Computers Limited

1990 words - 8 pages

A Review of the Court of Appeal Decision in St AlbansCity and District Council v International Computers LimitedAbstractLast year, the Court of Appeal [1996 All ER 481] upheld an earlier decision St Albans City and District Council v International Computers Ltd. [Queen's Bench Division 1995] in which substantial damages were awarded in respect of a supply of software which proved unsuitable for the customer's intended use. This article provides a detailed examination of the implications of this decision; in particular, the interpretation of exclusion clauses and the vexed question of the legal status of software.Keywords: Liability for Defective Software, Exclusion Clauses, Unfair Contract Terms Act1. IntroductionIt would be all too easy to discuss St Albans City and District Council v International Computers Limited(1995, 1996) in the context of well-worn clichés - shock waves running through the industry, computer suppliers running to their lawyers for advice - but that would be to negate the undoubted importance of this case not just for software suppliers but as further evidence of the swing in legal policy from caveat emptor to caveat vendor.The doctrine of caveat emptor - let the buyer beware - arose in English law from judicial reluctance to intervene in contractual disputes: in particular their unwillingness to imply terms into contracts where there were no express terms. The effect of this doctrine was that the buyer was naturally disadvantaged by a lack of knowledge or expertise about what he was buying. Over time judicial policy changed and judges became more willing to imply terms into certain contracts. Sale of goods is the classic example where judicial policy on implying terms into such contracts became so well established that the law was codified in the Sale of Goods Act 1893 ('the 1893 Act').1893 Act may be viewed as the first consumer protection legislation, however, the last thirty years have seen a dramatic explosion in consumer protection. From the Misrepresentation Act 1967 to the amendments to the Sale of Goods Act in 1994 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1994, the doctrine of caveat emptor has gradually been weakened and, as far as consumers are concerned, replaced with caveat venditor. As Atiyah has noted "it is now unrealistic to treat the basic principle of law as caveat emptor rather than caveat venditor." (Atiyah PS et al;1995, p111)Moreover, the European Union has consistently taken a pro-consumer stance and more legislation in this vein is planned. The Times has reported that a Directive on the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees, which would require a standard two year guarantee for all consumer products, is being considered. (Wednesday 5 February 1997)Although the position as regards sale of goods is relatively settled, the position as regards other types of contract is not so clear. Judges are still reluctant to interfere unless they are satisfied that to imply the term...

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