Legal Articles

No liability for architect’s negligent certificates issued after purchase

Home / Knowledge base / No liability for architect’s negligent certificates issued after purchase

Posted by Susan Hopcraft on 03 September 2014

Susan Hopcraft - Professional Negligence Lawyer
Susan Hopcraft Partner

In a decision welcomed by architects, the Court of Appeal has overturned the decision in Hunt v Optima (Cambridge) Ltd. It has rejected claims for negligence in respect of an architect's certificates, since the purchasers were unable to show reliance on the certificates, given they were issued after purchase.

The first instance case

A group of purchasers claimed against the developer of residential flats for various defects in the properties. The claimants also joined the architect to the proceedings relating to his certificates stating that the works had been properly constructed and were in accordance with the relevant Building Regulations. The certificates were issued to the developer, who also paid for them, but were relied on by future purchasers. The purchasers had no direct claim for breach of contract by the architect and therefore needed to establish claims in tort between them and the architect.

First it was said that the certificates contained enforceable warranties. Second the certificates were said to amount to negligent misstatements which gave the claimants a cause of action in tort. Third it was said that the architect was negligent in failing to carry out the professional services referred to in the certificates with reasonable skill and care for the purpose of the subsequent production of the certificates.

The judge found that there were clear breaches of duty by the architect in not detecting obvious defects in the works, by failing to re-inspect identified defects and by relying on others to confirm that defective works had been remedied. He found against the architect and awarded the purchasers damages. 

The appeal

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the architect’s appeal on all grounds.

They found that because the certificate was not described as a warranty it could not be construed as such or relied on as if it were a contractual guarantee.  

The appeal judges also held that in order to recover for negligent misstatement a claimant must show that they relied on the statement in question. The claimants were aware that they would have a certificate for the property, but committed to purchase prior to receiving the certificate. The statements therefore did not exist at the time of purchase. It was found that, at best, the claimants could have relied on an understanding that they would receive the certificate after completion or that a certificate was already in place. However, this was not enough to establish reliance.  

The court concluded that a draft certificate which was as yet unsigned and unissued, and therefore capable of being amended or, possibly, not issued at all, would not incur liability for negligent misstatement. One of the judges, Christopher Clarke LJ, said “reliance cannot be retrospective.  If the representation is the signed certificate it cannot be relied on before it comes into existence.  A cause cannot postdate its consequences”.

As to negligence by the architect in his work prior to issue of the certificates, the court would not allow a further duty of care to arise alongside the issue of a certificate. If there was a duty to take care, it was to take care in relation to the statements in the certificate and any failings in those were dealt with by a claim for negligent misstatement. The court did not consider that a separate duty added anything and thus no duty of care was found to have arisen.


The Court of Appeal judgment is welcome news for architects and other professionals since it confirms that for a negligent misstatement claim to succeed, the claimant must be able to prove their reliance on the statement in question. In addition, the court made it clear that any professional negligence claim arising out of negligent certificates will fail unless based on misstatements in the certificate itself.

About the author

Susan is a disputes and professional negligence lawyer, mainly in the financial services sector.

Susan Hopcraft

Susan is a disputes and professional negligence lawyer, mainly in the financial services sector.

Recent articles

30 July 2020 Rethinking the landlord / tenant relationship

We have been following the travails of the high street for over 12 months where changing shopping habits, business rates and rent increases have been contributing to a growing strain on many landlord / tenant relationships. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only turned a bad situation critical for many retailers and hospitality venues but has also turned the spotlight on the wider commercial sector too. Almost all businesses operating across the country have suffered financially to a greater or lesser extent as result of the economic downturn precipitated by the imposition of lockdown in March.

Read article
30 July 2020 Bankrupts fail in claim to have interests in land revested in them

The claim by Mr and Mrs Brake (Brake v Swift), heard in the High Court in May, to have a cottage and adjacent land revested in them under Section 283A of the Insolvency Act 1986, was set against a background of convoluted litigation extending over a number of years, described by Matthews HHJ as ‘complex’. The claimants had been made bankrupt in 2015 and the matter before the Court concentrated on whether or not the property concerned was, indeed, the claimants’ principal residence at the time of the bankruptcy.

Read article
29 July 2020 Remote witnessing of wills – a sign of the times

The law governing how a will is witnessed dates back to 1837 and for good reason. The requirement for two people (neither of whom can inherit from the will they are witnessing) to be physically present at the signing of a will is designed to, among other things, prevent fraud and the exercise of undue influence. That is, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Read article
How can we help?
01926 732512