Lost cryptocurrency – Can you get your “money” back?

By Jonathan Lawrence

Will English courts recognise cryptocurrency in tort and restitution claims? An article by Peter Susman QC in the March 2016 issue of the Butterworths Journal of International Banking and Financial Law considers that English common law is robust enough to facilitate the development of legal remedies for lost cryptocurrency (“Virtual money in the virtual bank: legal remedies for loss” (2016) 3 JIBFL 152).

A more complex issue is whether English law is ready to provide effective remedies in tort or restitution for misappropriated cryptocurrency. English courts have previously had difficulty applying criminal law to intangible assets. The Fraud Act 2006 helped remove any confusion by focusing on what has been done, rather than the type of property which has been affected.

So it should not be difficult to argue that the law of contract developed under English common law will apply on the same basis to cryptocurrencies. Principles developed under contract law may be used to answer questions about whether contractual obligations have been incurred, on what terms and what remedies may be available in relation to cryptocurrency.

In any event, many transactional and litigation lawyers tend to think of money less as personal property, and more as obligations owed by and to persons in respect of that money. The focus of courts should be then on remedies rather than proprietary rights.

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