In a recent judgement, the High Court of England and Wales found that cryptoassets like Bitcoin are property under English law. In doing so, it adopted the reasoning of the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce’s legal statement on cryptoassets and smart contracts. Whilst not a definitive judicial authority, this does provide a helpful endorsement of the UKJT statement and the proprietary status of cryptoassets.
What is the UKJT legal statement?
In November 2019, the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce issued a legal statement confirming that cryptoassets can be recognised as property under English law. The statement is authoritative but lacks the force of law.
Watch Michael Voisin, Richard Hay and Sam Quicke, who were heavily involved in the project, discuss the significance, conclusions and implications of the legal statement:
Endorsement by the High Court
In the recent case of AA v Persons Unknown, the commercial division of the High Court was presented with an application for a proprietary injunction in respect of an amount of bitcoin paid out in ransom in response to a cyberattack. In order to grant the injunction, the court had to satisfy itself that bitcoin could amount to property. To answer this question, the judge quoted and adopted analysis from the UKJT legal statement. He concluded that “Essentially, and for the reasons identified in that legal statement, I consider that a crypto asset such as Bitcoin are (sic) property.”
Is this definitive judicial authority?
As the judgement related to interim relief (i.e. a proprietary injunction), rather than a final judgement on the merits of the case, it is not technically definitive judicial authority from a legal perspective. It is, however, a helpful endorsement and likely to be influential in the substantive hearing for this case (if the trial proceeds) and future cases relating to the proprietary nature of cryptoassets.