Who? Ben Hatton, director of property litigation at Clifford Chance.
Why is he in the news? Led the team acting for Canary Wharf Group in a case against the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an agency of the EU. The EMA said Brexit would frustrate its £500m lease in London, so that the agency should be released. Canary Wharf successfully applied to the High Court for a declaration that Brexit would not frustrate the lease and the EMA remained bound by its terms.
Thoughts on the case: ‘No English court has ever decided that a lease has been frustrated (resulting in discharge of the parties). There were concerns that a decision in the EMA’s favour could have opened the floodgates to claims that Brexit would frustrate other types of commercial contracts, as the legal doctrine applies to any type of contract. The EMA raised several arguments which were rejected. It was also interesting because the legislation implementing Brexit is not fully in force and it is unclear what a ratified withdrawal agreement might look like. The judge accepted our argument that however “hard” or “soft” Brexit might be, it would not frustrate the agency’s 25-year lease.’
Dealing with the media: ‘The case attracted much interest and attention, in particular because of the potential for more parties to seek to rely on frustration arguments due to Brexit in relation to other contracts. This would have caused uncertainty for businesses, as parties who wished to get out of contracts that were more onerous as a result of Brexit may have run frustration arguments. This is why this case and the judgment are so widely reported across the spectrum of press locally in the UK as well as internationally.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘For years I was enthusiastic about drama and regularly acted in plays, so the possibility of a career as an actor had always appealed. I had therefore originally considered applying to drama schools in London. My interest in law started when my school in Worcestershire arranged for students to spend two weeks on work experience with local businesses. My placement was with a firm of solicitors. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience in the legal sector – so much so that I decided to pursue a career in law.’
Career high: ‘There have been many highs given that I have been lucky enough to work at fantastic law firms like Clifford Chance over the past two decades. A recent high point is when I was made director of property litigation group at Clifford Chance London.’
Career low: ‘When I was a trainee in a corporate department and spent many long nights and weekends over several weeks working with a team on a particular deal, only for the parties to eventually abort it.’