Research Article: 2021 Vol: 24 Issue: 3
Contractual obligations in Jordan have been affected by the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus and the restrictive measures it has adopted, such as the announcement of the Defense Law. The enforcement of the Defense Law led in some cases to the impossibility to perform the contractual obligations that were previously established which triggered the parties to the contract-the debtor in particular-to invoke the application of force majeure or the doctrine of exceptional circumstances, and in both cases either demand contract frustration or mitigation of the contract. This research addresses the impact of applying the doctrine of unexpected circumstances and force majeure on contractual obligations following the provisions of Jordanian law and considering the legal texts of the defense and civil laws in force in Jordan. To achieve the goals of this research, the relevant legal texts were covered with explanation and detail, supported by the jurisprudence of the Jordanian courts.
Keywords: Defense Law, Force Majeure Doctrine, Corona Pandemic, Jordan.
With the succession of the events related to the disease and the beginning of its spread outside China, the Regional Office for the Americas (PAHO/AMRO) issued the first epidemiological alert regarding the new Coronavirus, which included some recommendations for international travelers, measures to be taken to prevent infection and a mechanism to combat it. And laboratory tests to be performed (World Health Organization, 2020; Pan American Health Organization, 2020). The report issued indicated that, as of January 13, there are no indications of infection among humans, but the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific of the WHO (WHO/WPRO) soon declared on January 19, 2020, the possibility of infection among humans (WHO, interactive timeline) and The WHO/WPRO confirmed it on 01/21/2020 With the increasing declaration of the discovery of cases in various parts of the world, the Director-General proclaimed that the outbreak of the novel virus has become a global health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020. (WHO Declaration 2020). On February 11, 2020, The WHO announced that the disease is caused by a new Coronavirus called COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the WHO announced that, after assessing the epidemiological situation in the world, it stated that the Corona epidemic is now considered a pandem (Daoud, 2020).
After the rapid outbreak of the coronavirus and its consequences worldwide, Jordan has officially reported infected cases (WHO-Middle East 5/3/2020), which was followed immediately by the Royal Decree which was issued on 3/17/2020 approving Cabinet Resolution No. 9060 and the declarations of Defense Law No. 13 (Legislation, 1992) throughout Jordan from the date of its issuance. Regarding the provisions of the Jordanian Constitution (Legislation, 1952), Article 124 stipulates that:
“In the event of what necessitates the defense of the country in the case of emergencies, a law in the name of the Defense Law shall be enacted by which power shall be given to the person specified by the law to take the necessary actions and measures including the power of the suspension of the ordinary laws of the State to ensure the defense of the country. The Defense Law shall come into force when this is declared by a Royal Decree to be issued based on a decision by the Council of Ministers.”
On the other hand, article 2 of the JDL states that:
“If anything occurs that requires defending the country in emergencies that threaten the national security or general safety in all or one part of the kingdom due to wars, a state leading to them, disorders, internal armed uprising, general disasters, outbreaking of a plague or epidemic, this Law becomes effective by a Royal Decree issued based on the decision of the Cabinet.”
The decision to implement the JDL clarified that its enforcement came because of the emergent circumstances that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is going through and because the WHO announced the spread of the Corona epidemic and to confront this epidemic at the national level and protect public safety throughout the Kingdom.
With the issuance of the royal decree for the enforcement of the JDL and the series of binding orders that accompanied it, some aspects of life in Jordan were completely disrupted, which was reflected in the contractual obligations of individuals. Whereas the issue of performing contractual obligations was adopted by the legislator within the provisions of the Jordanian Civil Code (Legislation, 1976), Article 11 of the JDL issued to address the issue of the impossibility of performing any contract or commitment that is attributable to the implementation of the provisions of the JDL, any orders, or instructions issued under it or because of compliance for these provisions. The legislator considered the party to this contract not violating the contract clauses rather, it considered the contract suspended to the extent that the fulfillment of the contract is impossible. This text is considered to protect any lawsuit that may be brought against the other party or any measure taken against him due to his failure to comply with the contract or obligations. It is, therefore, necessary to restore the balance between the two parties to the contractual relationship, especially since failure to comply with the provisions of the Defense Law and the orders issued according to it would result in legal liability.
The practical significance of this research lies in shedding light on the reality of contractual obligations under the JDL and the JCC, especially that the contract is concluded in principle in a manner in which the obligations are equal. However, the obligations of the parties to the contract under this JDL are not equal, especially since the legislator in the JDL has considered that the contract is suspended "to the extent to which the fulfillment of the contract is impossible" because of the implementation of the JDL. On the other hand, the JCC has intervened to establish legal mechanisms to restore obligations to their equal status by applying the doctrine of emergency circumstances and force majeure.
This study adopts the inductive analytical approach, whereby the researcher sheds light on the legal texts related to the topic of the research and analyzes them to identify the possibility of applying them to the repercussions of the Corona pandemic, specifically regarding contractual obligations. In other words, the researcher uses the texts and provisions of the JCC and the JDL and orders issued pursuant thereto to determine whether these texts assist both the creditor and debtor and restore balance to the contractual relationship in light of the new circumstances associated with the Corona pandemic that occurred after the conclusion of the contract particularly, besides, one of the contractual parties may invoke the Corona pandemic for the dissolution of contractual obligations or at least exemption from delay penalties associated with the contract and agreed upon in advance with the other party, or even an attempt to evade compensation for delay in implementation and thus not arising contractual liability under the provisions of the JCC (Alfar, 2011).
The researcher divided this research into three main sections, in addition to the introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, the researcher reviewed the emergence of the Corona pandemic and the sequence of events from the moment the disease was discovered until the WHO declared that the disease was a global epidemic, which required Jordan to decide to implement the JDL, and it also addressed the objectives of the research and its problems, the methods, and the adopted approach. The second section on the other hand, is devoted to dealing with the two doctrines of emergency circumstances and force majeure in Jordanian legislation, the conditions for adherence to each of them, and the implications thereof. While the third section discusses the legal adaptation of the pandemic and the overlap between the two theories of force majeure and emergency conditions in the adaptation process. The fourth section demonstrates the possibility of performing contractual obligations considering the Corona pandemic and the laws in force in Jordan. The researcher concluded the research with a set of findings and recommendations.
Having said that, it is noted that Article 247 of JCC made it clear that even though contracts should be binding on both parties, if force majeure supervenes, which makes the performance of the contract impossible, the corresponding obligation shall cease, and the contract shall be automatically annulled. It also stated that in the case of partial impossibility to implement the contractual clauses, that part of the contract which is impossible shall be extinguished, and the same shall apply to temporary impossibility in continuing contracts, and in those two cases it shall be permissible for the obligor to cancel the contract provided that the obligee is so aware (Brahimi, 2020)
One of the most prominent conditions is that the presence of a fixed-term contract which is not one of the contracts that are implemented immediately; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No 3534 (Case Law, 2005) so that there is a time lag between the conclusion of the contract and its implementation; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No 1671 (Case Law, 2007) so that time is considered a fundamental element that affects the determination of the scope of the parties ’obligations (Alfar, 2011), whereby it does not allow the debtor to adhere to the theory of contingent circumstances if the contract was immediate because it is not logical.
Whereas it is assumed that a new matter will come after the conclusion of the contract and before the completion of the implementation because there is no room for applying the theory of emergency circumstances if the debtor has fulfilled his contractual obligations before the occurrence of the extraordinary circumstance. It must be noted that if the contract is immediate that is, its obligations were established and arranged as soon as offer- acceptance is established-but the issue of implementation has been delayed until a later time due to the debtor’s fault, so in this situation, there is no room for the theory of contingent circumstances to apply, and the debtor bears the consequences of that.
Furthermore, the legislator requires that a general and exceptional circumstance occurs after the conclusion of the contract and before its execution. Exceptional emergency circumstance implies every circumstance that cannot be expected according to the usual affairs of ordinary life. As for being general, it is an attribute attached to these exceptional circumstances, so that the circumstance is not specific to the debtor alone, that is, it includes a large group of people if not all of them. Moreover, another condition is that the occurrence of these general exceptional accidents could not be foreseen by the debtor; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No 1303 (Case Law, 2008). If the debtor can anticipate the occurrence of circumstances, it is inconceivable that he could be allowed to invoke the existence of an exceptional circumstance that precludes the possibility of fulfilling the obligations as usual. It is also stipulated that exceptional circumstances include situations that cannot be evaded or avoided their effects, because if they can be avoided, then it would be possible to adhere to the application of Article 205, whether the circumstances were expected or unexpected, and this is not logical.
Finally, in the theory of the general exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, the contractual obligations of a debtor should be onerous and not impossible. If the impossibility of implementing the contract necessarily requires the application of the provisions of the "force majeure theory", as we shall see later. But if the implementation of the obligation was burdensome, exceeding the usual limit to a heavy loss, then the condition of exhaustion has been fulfilled so that it becomes unfair to force the debtor to fully fulfill his obligations.
It should be noted that not every difficulty that the debtor may be subjected to is an obstacle that prevents him from fulfilling his in-kind commitment; rather, it must of extreme difficulty that causes extraordinary loss to the debtor due to exceptional circumstances. In other words, it is not sufficient for the mere hardship, cost, and distress to say that there is harm for the debtor, but he shall prove the heavy loss and extreme hardship to adhere to the counterpart of emergency circumstances (Aljborie, 2006). The legislator has intervened to protect the party by giving the courts the right to intervene by modifying the contractual obligations by restoring the burdensome obligation to a reasonable extent, and this is a violation of the principle that the contract is the contractor's obligation, but does the judge have the right to increase the corresponding obligation considering that it is the most appropriate option for the debtor? In other words, does the judge have the right to increase the creditor’s obligations to attain a balance between the interests of both parties? Does the debtor have the right to demand the termination of the contract under the pretext of fatigue? First, the researcher argues that the Jordanian legislator did not give the judge the right to increase the corresponding commitment, since the legislator, in Article 205, stipulated that the judge’s discretionary authority is limited to “resorting the commitment to a reasonable extent,” meaning the reduction of obligations without increasing the corresponding obligation. As for the debtor's right to invoke the frustration of the contract, it is also noted that the aforementioned article did not give the debtor the right to demand to amend the terms of the contract, and the Jordanian Court of Cassation confirmed this. It is also noted that the legislator did not grant the judge the right to revoke the fixed-term contract, which caused by general and exceptional circumstances that hindered the fulfillment of the obligations if such a right would make the creditor alone bear the consequences of the emergency and this is unfair; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No. 251 (Case Law, 2018).Finally, there is no justification for applying the theory of contingent circumstances if the debtor’s fatigue is not due to an exceptional circumstance. Rather, the debtor bears the consequences of his failure to implement the obligation and contractual liability is based on that.
Force Majeure was defined as an accident that is unpredictable and impossible to be avoided and that would make the performance of the obligation oppressive or impossible; Court of Cassation Resolution No. 3104 (Case Law, 2019); Court of Cassation Resolution No. 3660 &1473 (Case Law, 2016). This should be noted that the Jordanian legislator has touched on the issue of force majeure and its impact on contractual obligations in many legal texts such as the Jordanian Trade Law (Legislation, 1966), the Maritime Trade Law (Legislation, 1972), and the Labor Law (Legislation, 1996) The Road Transport Law (Legislation, 2006), the Civil Aviation Law of 2007 (Legislation, 2007), and the International Multimodal Transport Law of 2018 (Legislation, 2018).
Through the previous definition of force majeure, it can be said that the circumstance must not be expected or impossible to prevent, and they are two basic conditions that must be met under force majeure doctrine; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No. 805 (Case Law, 2019) & 5282 (Case Law, 2020). Besides, Humans should have no hand in creating them; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No. 964 (Case Law, 2019). Accordingly, it can be said that the external cause may be a sudden accident, force majeure, the acts of others, or the fault of a creditor, and accordingly, the act of the debtor himself does not justify triggering force majeure. The most prominent feature that distinguishes this theory from the theory of emergency conditions is that the legislator has considered that the availability of force majeure makes commitment impossible to implement, whether it is an actual or legal impossibility (Alsanhori, 1968).
Addressing the topic of force majeure requires talking about the debtor’s non-liability, as the contract has been valid and binding, but the impossibility has occurred after the inception of the obligation because if the contract was not enforceable from the outset, it does not arise in the first place and therefore there is no room for applying force majeure. Talking about force majeure and the impossibility of implementation entails the termination of the obligation; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No. 2254 (Case Law, 2020), so that each party returns to its pre-contracting status and there is no room for compensation in such a case because the debtor’s obligation has expired by force of law based on force majeure, and the legislator made it clear that the burden of proof rests on the debtor, as it is proved that all the mentioned conditions are in place, as Article 248 states that:
“If the contract is cancelled automatically or by the act of the parties, the two contracting parties shall be restored to the position they were in before the contract was made, and if that is not possible, compensation shall be ordered.”
The Legal Adaptation of the Corona Pandemic Considering the Available Data
Considering the previous legal texts and the decision issued by the WHO regarding Corona as a "global epidemic" and the royal will to act according to the JDL and the orders issued pursuant to it, it was necessary to try to adapt the Corona pandemic and determine whether it is considered a “force majeure” or is it just an “exceptional circumstance” because this has an impact on the implementation of contractual obligations.
The External Element of the Pandemic
Meaning that there is no interference by the parties to the legal relationship or negligence by the party claiming the occurrence of the damage that resulted from exceptional circumstances "specifically the global spread of the epidemic" which is beyond his control and that it is the reason behind the imbalance in contractual obligations, otherwise, the creditor has the right to demand real implementation if the debtor does not perform his contractual obligations and compensation if there is room for that.
The Unpredictability of the Pandemic
For the Corona pandemic to be applied, according to the force majeure theory, it is stipulated that the exceptional circumstance cannot be expected after the conclusion of the contract. Therefore, there is no room for adhering to the application of force majeure if the contract was concluded after the WHO declared "Corona" a global epidemic that affected the economic, social, and even political movement in the whole world. The inability to prevent the pandemic, in other words, the implementation of obligations considering the Corona pandemic has become impossible and not burdensome.
Accordingly, since the Corona pandemic is subject to the conditions of force majeure as imposed by the Jordanian legislator and jurisprudence, and confirmed by the Court of Cassation, there is nothing to prevent the Corona pandemic from being adapted by force majeure that will lead to frustrate the contract with the force of law as the performance of the obligation is impossible because of its extraordinary effects.
Determining whether the Corona pandemic is a general justification for applying the theory of emergency requires reminding that contracts are generally of various types so that it is not possible to generalize absolutely that the Corona pandemic is a justification for interfering in the contract implementation process, for example, the immediate contract that had established and implemented before the announcement of the Corona pandemic cannot adhere to according with the doctrine of emergency. In addition to that, some of the special provisions of the law have touched upon some exceptional circumstances that may encounter the parties to the legal relationship. For example, the Jordanian Labor Law, Article 31 specifies that if the economic or technical conditions of the employer entail reducing the size of the workforce, replacing a production system with another, or stopping work completely which may result in terminating unlimited period work contracts or suspend all or some of the contracts, then the employer shall follow certain and temporary procedures to solve such problems and the Court of Cassation affirmed that dismissing the worker in such circumstances is considered arbitrary dismissal and contrary to the provisions of Article 28, which regulates cases of dismissal of the worker; Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No.159 (Case Law, 2015) & 738 (Case Law, 2016).
Regarding lease contracts and in accordance with the Landlords and Tenants Law (Legislation, 1994), the failure of the tenant to pay the wage is considered one of the reasons for the eviction of the wage according to the provisions of Article 5 thereof. Concerning the law of landlords and tenants, we find that the legislator did not address the economic conditions that may be behind the non-implementation of contractual obligations. However, the Jordanian Court of Appeal issued a decision considering the Corona pandemic and linked the debtor's obligation to pay the remuneration owed by him until after the benefit has been paid and the tenant must prove that he has no use of the property resulting from his liability (the Court of First Instance, in its appellate capacity, Resolution No. 26 (Case Law, 2020). Accordingly, it can be said that there is no single decision covering all contracts, rather contracts must be viewed from several angles such as the contact form, the time of conclusion of the contract, the time of execution of the contract, and in the end it is up to the judge’s discretion as to whether there is a justification for applying the theory of emergency circumstances or not.
The Corona pandemic is nothing but an exceptional general circumstance that affected most-if not all-aspects of life in the world, including Jordan. Talking about the interference in the adaptation process for this pandemic is important from the practical view, because of the impact of legal conditioning on contractual obligations: as this pandemic has prevented in some cases from fully implementing contractual obligations, and it was also the cause of the imbalance The balance between the two sides of this contractual equation, by implementing the obligation sometimes an absolute impossibility, and at other times impossible a temporary impossibility, and sometimes it made the commitment on the debtor burdensome (Hassan, 2020).
“If it is impossible to implement any contract or commitment due to observance of the provisions of this law or any order, mandate, or instructions issued pursuant thereto, or because of compliance with these provisions, the party of the contract is not considered to be in breach of its terms, but the contract is considered suspended to the extent In which the implementation of the contract is not possible and this is considered a defense for any lawsuit that may be filed against that party or any measures taken against him as a result of his failure to perform the contract or the commitment.”
In this regard, it can be said that the legislator is aware that the activation of the JDL will reflect the contractual relationship, whereby the implementation of some contractual obligations will not be performed, and others are impossible to be implemented. Regarding Article 11, we find that the legislator has begun the text with an expectational phrase the phrase. The legislator attributed the failure to implement contractual obligations to activating the JDL and the orders issued pursuant to it, and not to the Corona pandemic itself. Accordingly, it can be said that failure to fulfill contractual obligations may be caused by either the activation of the JDL on the one hand or the Corona pandemic on the other hand. Therefore, it must be noted that government decisions and Defense orders issued under the JDL are temporary measures subject to modification following the requirements of public health in the Kingdom.
In addition to the above, the legislator in Article 11 also indicated that failure to implement contractual obligations would consider the contract suspended. The contract shall be suspended according to Article 171 of the JCC if
“It was issued by a curious person in respect of property belonging to another or by owner in respect of property of his encumbered by a third party right or by a person lacking capacity in respect of his property, where such transaction lies in the area between (pure) advantage and (pure) detriment or is made under duress, or if the law so provides.”
To reconcile Article 11 of the JDL and Article 171 of the JCC, it is noted that Article 11 deals with the case of "suspension of implementation", not "suspension of enforcement". Whereas the contract under discussion in Article 11 of the JDL in terms of origin has been concluded correctly and accordingly, it is a valid contract and is necessary, but the work of the JDL has hindered the issue of its implementation, and this is what was confirmed by the law itself, as it linked the issue of suspension of execution (to the extent in which the contract is impossible ). In other words, the scope of Article 11 deals only with a valid contract. As for a void, suspended, or corrupt contract, it remains governed by the general rules of JCC and will not be affected by Article 11. Therefore, if the performance of the obligation was impossible and a temporary impossibility at the due deadline because of the JDL, it does not permit the contractual parties to terminate the contract as long as it is possible to implement the obligation after stopping the work of the JDL, or the issuance of defense orders that reduce the impact of the work of the JDL. Where this is a form of temporary impossibility stipulated in Article 247 of the JCC. Whereas if the JDL has caused the impossibility of actually implementing the obligation at the expected time for the execution of the obligation, whether it is a complete or partial impossibility, the legislator has granted the creditor in Article 247 the right to revoke the contract on the condition that the debtor is aware of this cancellation. The Court of Cassation considered that the law and administrative orders that are enforceable when the implementation of the obligation becomes impossible because of them, the contract expires with the force of law and without compensation Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No.4714 (Case Law, 2020), Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No.120 (Case Law, 1987), Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No. 245 (Case Law, 1990) & Resolution of the Jordanian Court of Cassation No.1969 (Case Law, 1997).
If we considered the impact of the Corona pandemic on the implementation of contractual obligations, this can be summed up as follows considering the provisions of the civil law and the Defense law and the orders issued pursuant thereto:
After reviewing the relevant legal texts, it can be said that there is no duplication in addressing the issue of implementing contractual obligations in Jordanian legislation during the Corona pandemic. What has been reached can be summarized as follows:
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