Lawson v Serco Ltd; Botham v Ministry of Defence; Crofts v Veta Ltd

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date27 January 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] UKHL 3
CourtHouse of Lords
Date27 January 2006
Serco Limited
Botham (FC)
Ministry of Defence

and others

Veta Limited

and others and one other action

[2006] UKHL 3



My Lords,

The issue


The question common to these three appeals is the territorial scope of section 94(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which gives employees the right not to be unfairly dismissed. Section 230(1) defines an "employee" as an individual "who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment." But the Act contains no geographic limitation. Read literally, it applies to any individual who works under a contract of employment anywhere in the world. It is true that section 244(1) says that the Act "extends" to England and Wales and Scotland ("Great Britain"). But that means only that it forms part of the law of Great Britain and does not form part of the law of any other territory (like Northern Ireland or the Channel Islands) for which Parliament could have legislated. It tells us nothing about the connection, if any, which an employee or his employment must have with Great Britain. Nevertheless, all parties to these appeals are agreed that some territorial limitations must be implied. It is inconceivable that Parliament was intending to confer rights upon employees working in foreign countries and having no connection with Great Britain. The argument has been over what those limitations should be. Putting the question in the traditional terms of the conflict of laws, what connection between Great Britain and the employment relationship is required to make section 94(1) the appropriate choice of law in deciding whether and in what circumstances an employee can complain that his dismissal was unfair? The answer to this question will also determine the question of jurisdiction, since the Employment Tribunal will have jurisdiction to decide upon the unfairness of the dismissal if (but only if) section 94(1) is the appropriate choice of law.

The facts


The facts of the three cases illustrate the situations in which the question of territorial scope may arise. In Lawson v Serco Ltd the employer is a substantial United Kingdom company which operates world-wide providing services to the public and private sector. It engaged Mr Lawson, a former RAF policeman, to work as a security supervisor on Ascension Island, where the company had a contract to service the RAF base. After six months on the island, Mr Lawson resigned, claiming that he had been constructively dismissed. Ascension is a 35 square mile volcanic island in the South Atlantic with no indigenous population. About 1100 people are stationed there, mostly working in defence or communications. It is a dependency of the British Overseas Territory of St Helena.


In Botham v Ministry of Defence the MOD first employed Mr Botham in 1988 as a "UK-Based Youth Worker" with the British Forces Germany Youth Service. Thereafter he worked under a succession of contracts and eventually as an established UK-Based Youth Worker at various MOD establishments in Germany. In accordance with the NATO Status of Forces Agreement of 1951 he was part of the "civil component" of the British Forces in Germany and treated as resident in the UK rather than Germany for various purposes including taxation. In September 2003 he was summarily dismissed on allegations of gross misconduct but claims that his dismissal was unfair.


In Crofts v Veta Ltd the employer is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. Both are Hong Kong companies. Veta's only function appears to be to employ aircrew for Cathay aircraft. Cathay operated a "Permanent Basings Policy" by which some aircrew could be assigned a permanent "home base" outside Hong Kong. Mr Crofts was based at Heathrow, which enabled him to live in the United Kingdom. In July 2001 Mr Crofts was dismissed by Veta in circumstances which he claims were unfair.


Thus in Lawson and Botham, employer and employee both had close connections with Great Britain but all the services were performed abroad. In Crofts the employer was foreign but the employee was resident in Great Britain and although his services were peripatetic, they were based in Great Britain. In Lawson the Court of Appeal [2004] EWCA Civ 12; [2004] ICR 204 said section 94(1) did not apply to a case in which all the services were performed abroad and this ruling was followed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in Botham. In Crofts, however, the Court of Appeal (by a majority) [2005] EWCA Civ 599; [2005] ICR 1436 decided that Mr Crofts's basing in Great Britain was sufficient to enable the Employment Tribunal to treat section 94(1) as applicable.



The general principle of construction is, of course, that legislation is prima facie territorial. The United Kingdom rarely purports to legislate for the whole world. Some international crimes, like torture, are an exception. But usually such an exorbitant exercise of legislative power would be both ineffectual and contrary to the comity of nations. This is why all the parties are agreed that the scope of section 94(1) must have implied territorial limits. More difficult is to say exactly what they are. Where legislation regulates the conduct of an individual, it may be easy to construe it as limited to conduct within the area of applicability of the law, or sometimes by United Kingdom citizens anywhere: see Ex p Blain; In re Sawers (1879) 12 Ch D 522. But section 94(1) provides an employee with a special statutory remedy. Employment is a complex and sui generis relationship, contractual in origin but, once created, having elements of status and capable of having consecutive or simultaneous points of contact with different jurisdictions. So the question of territorial scope is not straightforward. In principle, however, the question is always one of the construction of section 94(1). As Lord Wilberforce said in Clark v Oceanic Contractors Inc [1983] 2 AC 130, 152, it

"requires an inquiry to be made as to the person with respect to whom Parliament is presumed, in the particular case, to be legislating. Who, it is to be asked, is within the legislative grasp, or intendment, of the statute under consideration?"

The repeal of section 196


The Act has not always been silent on the question of territorial scope. When the right not to be unfairly dismissed first made its appearance as section 22 of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, it was accompanied by a provision (section 27(2)) which said that section 22 did not apply "to any employment where under his contract of employment the employee ordinarily works outside Great Britain". (There was also a special exception for people who worked outside Great Britain on ships registered in the United Kingdom). The same form of words that had been used in the 1971 Act was used to limit the scope of a number of additional rights conferred upon employees by the Employment Protection Act 1975, such as the right to maternity leave and time off for trade union and public duties: see section 119(5) of the 1975 Act. Earlier employment legislation on matters such as redundancy payments and the right to be given a written statement of particulars of the employment agreement had contained somewhat different geographic limitations: see for example section 17(1) and (2) of the Redundancy Payments Act 1965 and section 12(1) of the Contracts of Employment Act 1972. When all this legislation was consolidated, first in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 and then in the 1996 Act, these various geographical provisions were put into a single section under the heading "Employment outside Great Britain". In the 1996 Act it was section 196 and the rule for unfair dismissal appeared in subsection (3).


The interpretation by the courts of what became section 196(3) had a somewhat chequered history and in Wilson v Maynard Shipbuilding Consultants AB [1978] ICR 376, 386 Megaw LJ said that the legislation (in "deceptively simple-looking words": see p. 384) had thrown up some problems which he did not think Parliament had foreseen. He invited Parliament, if it thought that the courts were interpreting the section in a way which frustrated its intention, to reconsider the matter and amend it. Parliament's imaginative response, twenty years later, was to leave the matter entirely to the judges. By section 32(3) of the Employment Relations Act 1999 it repealed the whole of section 196 and put nothing in its place. The only part to survive was the special provision for mariners, which was re-enacted in slightly different form as section 199(7) and (8). Otherwise, the courts were left to imply whatever geographical limitations seemed appropriate to the substantive right.


Your Lordships have heard various submissions about the inferences, if any, which can be drawn from the fact that Parliament repealed section 196 of the 1996 Act. In particular, it was submitted that Parliament must have intended to widen the territorial scope of the various provisions to which section 196 had applied. Counsel said that support for this argument could be found in the brief statement of the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr Ian McCartney) when recommending the repeal of section 196 to the House of Commons: see Hansard (HC Debates) 26 July 1999, cols 31-32. It is no criticism of Mr McCartney's moment at the despatch box to say that I have not found his remarks particularly helpful in dealing with problems which he is unlikely to have had in mind. Subject to one point to which I shall return later and on which it seems right to infer that the application of at least some parts of the 1996 Act was intended to be...

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185 cases
8 firm's commentaries
  • A Month In UK Employment Law
    • European Union
    • Mondaq European Union
    • 3 August 2016
    ...unfair dismissal, the jurisdictional limits have been the subject of a number of judicial decisions. In the leading case, Lawson v Serco [2006] UKHL 3 ("Lawson"), for employees who do not ordinarily work in the UK, "something more" than simply having an employer based in Great Britain is re......
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    • JD Supra United States
    • 28 November 2017
    ...Ministry of Defense v. Wallis & Anr, [2011] lCR 495; Blouse v. MBT Transport Ltd, [2007] UK EAT/0999/07 & EAT /0632/07; Lawson v. Serco, [2006] ICR 250; Saggar v. Ministry of Defence, [2005] EWCA Civ. 4133. See Sarah Ozanne, “Recent Developments in the Territorial Scope of UK Employment Law......
  • Auto-Enrolment Update – Case Law And Trigger Changes
    • United Kingdom
    • Mondaq UK
    • 19 February 2016
    ...which the court made its decision are very interesting. The court based its decision on the principles set out in Lawson v. Serco Ltd [2006] UKHL 3, [2006] ICR 250. This is an employment case considering whether employees could challenge their employers on grounds of unfair dismissal when t......
  • Application Of UK Employment Law To Employees Working Outside The UK
    • United Kingdom
    • Mondaq United Kingdom
    • 21 February 2012 the UK exists in addition to the other categories of "expatriate" employees who, in the earlier case of Lawson v Serco Limited [2006] UKHL 3, were identified as also being within the scope of the ERA 1996, namely: employees posted abroad for the purpose of a business carried on in the UK......
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4 books & journal articles
  • The Territorial Scope of Employment Legislation and Choice of Law
    • United Kingdom
    • Wiley The Modern Law Review No. 75-5, September 2012
    • 1 September 2012 priority to the choice-of-law rules for employmentcontracts for the determination of the terr itorial scope of employment legisla-3 [2006] UKHL 3; [2006] 1 All ER 823.4 See Sir L. Collins (gen ed), Dicey, Morris and Collins on the Conflict of Laws (London: Sweet &Maxwell,14th ed, 2008)......
  • A Comparative Perspective on the Application of Domestic Labour Legislation in International Employment Disputes
    • South Africa
    • Juta Stellenbosch Law Review No. , August 2019
    • 16 August 2019
    ...attention, should be seen, for now, as a mere description of different approache s and existing criticism of them.13 [2006] UKH L 3; [2006] 1 All ER 82314 Para 1 Note th at Lord Hoffman h ere deliberat ely put the question i n the tradit ional terms of t he confli ct of laws For “appropr ia......
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2008, December 2008
    • 1 December 2008
    ...Collins on the Conflict of Laws (Lawrence Collins ed) (14th Ed, 2006) at p 33. 36 [1983] 2 AC 130 (HL) at 144—145, 152. 37 Lawson v Serco [2006] UKHL 3; [2006] 1 All ER 823 at [6]. See also Arab Bank v Merchantile[1994] 1 Ch 71 at 82, per Millett J: “There is a presumption that, in the abse......
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2008, December 2008
    • 1 December 2008 grapple with the difficult question of the territorial reach of statutory provisions, see the English decisions of Lawson v Serco Ltd[2006] ICR 250; Office of Fair Trading v Lloyds TSB Bank plc[2008] 1 AC 316. 59 Or starting point, depending on how you look at it....

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