23 March 2020 is a date which many brides and grooms to-be across the nation will never forget.

The announcement by the Prime Minister that social gatherings, including weddings, will be stopped.

Understandably the hearts of brides, grooms and parents across the country sank. Months and in some cases years of planning: setting a date, choosing a venue, deciding on catering, inviting guests etc.. came to a sudden halt and the thought of losing thousands of pounds and years of savings unimaginable.

Equally wedding planners, venues, caterers, florist, bands, photographers, videographers, entertainers, honeymoon planners and many other suppliers left in quandary not knowing which way to turn. On one hand unhappy disgruntled couples and on the other hand the uncertainty of whether or not their business will survive beyond the lockdown period even with the Government’s job retention schemes, CBILS and Bounce Back Loans. The potential for reputational damage being higher than ever.

We hear it often enough now, we are in ‘unprecedented times’ but that gives little comfort.

So where do couples and suppliers legally stand and what are the options?

Contract void

Put simply, if a venue provider/supplier can’t perform the contract (in other words it would be illegal for them to open their doors to the happy couple and their guests) because of the restrictions put in place by the Secretary of State which restricts gatherings of more than two people in a public place (section 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2020), the contract will be void.

Therefore weddings falling within the lockdown period (which is being reviewed every 21 days), performance of the contract will not be possible and the wedding venue will be required to provide a refund or alternative date to the couple (especially bearing in mind statutory rights, discussed below, which couples can rely on).

Force Majeure

Either the couple or the venue can rely on force majeure clause (which relieves obligations on parties on specified events, usually acts of God or government action), so long as it is already in the contract. A couple could take the view that their wedding is affected by an unforeseen event making it impossible for them and their guests to attend. A venue could take the view that they are affected by acts outside of their reasonable control and therefore they can’t host. Whether or not it’s advisable to rely on such a clause is another question and requires expert advice.

Frustration

This typically applies where the contract has become ‘impossible’ to perform with the effect being that the contract is terminated. This is a complex area of law which requires expert advice before taking action.

Consumer Rights

Couples who have entered into contracts with venues and suppliers are able to rely on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 even if it is not explicitly referred to in the contract. It’s a statutory right. The common provisions that reliance will be placed on are Part 1, Chapter 4 ‘Services’ and Part 2, ‘Unfair Terms’.

Who knows what the future holds.

We at Front Row Legal are launching a ‘Legal-Surgery’ specifically set up to provide legal advice and guidance on issues relating to Covid-19.www.legal-surgery.com. Our senior partner, Richard Cramer, has first hand experience of dealing with such matters when he was faced with the cancellation of his eldest daughter’s wedding which was due to take place on 29 March 2020.