Specific Performance

Insight | May 2017

Specific Performance
Image: ‘The Contract’ by Fritz Wagner

Under the law of contract there are times when two parties can no longer honour their agreement and at which point one of them is left wanting. In some instances the award of monetary damages is enough to provide remedy, however there are also those where the loss is irreplaceable. On those occasions the court can legally impose a duty on those no longer willing (or seemingly able) to perform the task they originally contracted to undertake. While in certain cases the source of non-performance can also stem from frustration the criteria here is one of general breakdown of communication or even unresolvable conflict that while perhaps entirely warranted on the part of the negator, leaves the claimant with no other option than to sue.

Once agreed upon, an order for specific performance will comprise two elements (i) declaration of the order and (ii) provision of consequential detections to that effect. It is also important to note that where a contractual breach is only anticipated the court can still require specific performance or provide injunctive measures, as was outlined by Lord Tucker in Hasham v Zenab:

“In equity all that is required is to show circumstances which will justify the intervention by a court of equity. The purchaser has an equitable interest in the land and could get an injunction to prevent the vendor disposing of the property.”

On this occasion the potential vendor immediately tore up a signed contract for sale of land after learning that the acreage was greater in the conveyance than as she had orally agreed. The language barrier between the two parties thus prevented clear understanding of what was at stake; and so left with a collapsed purchase the buyer sought specific performance prior to the completion date, upon which the court pondered its feasibility before dismissing the claim upon grounds of falsified evidence on both sides.

A positive example of specific performance can however be found in Rosesilver v Paton where a purchaser entered into a contract to acquire residential property, after which the vendor argued that the terms of the agreement relied on reimbursement of the part-purchase payments upon winning their two pending litigation cases, therefore the intention to sell was implied at the outset. Having examined the inconsistency of the vendor’s argument the judge dismissed additional claims of fiduciary breach and undue influence on a lack of cohesive evidence before ruling that the sale must now be completed. When reaching summary judgement Mann J concluded:

“I do not consider that Mr Paton has advanced a sufficiently clear and plausible case for saying that there was any form of binding (in any sense) arrangement, contemporaneously with the contract and its variation, which would restrict or restrain the enforcement of the contract.”

There are of course a number of factors that can hinder the ability to undertake a contract of engagement and these can range from disability and illness, personal conflict, mistrust based upon recent behaviour and costly supervision to enforce the performance. Likewise a failure to seek remedy for a protracted period can also work against a claimant as the negator could claim estoppel under the doctrine of laches. Ultimately though the choice to pursue specific performance will always run with an attached risk of further complications, as the inherent trust between contracting parties will have been irreversibly eroded once litigation commences; therefore financial damages should never be ruled out unless all other options have been exhausted.

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Author, publisher and foodie...

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