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A contractual term is "any provision forming part of a contract". Each term gives rise to a contractual obligation, the breach of which may give rise to litigation. Not all terms are stated expressly and some terms carry less legal gravity as they are peripheral to the objectives of the contract.
The terms of a contract are the essence of a contract, and tell the reader what the contract will do. For instance, the price of a good, the time of its promised delivery and the description of the good will all be terms of the contract.
Conditions are major provision terms that go to the very root of a contract breach of which means there has been substantial failure to perform a basic element in the agreement. Breach of a condition will entitle the innocent party to terminate the contract. A warranty is less imperative than a condition, so the contract will survive a breach. Breach of either a condition or a warranty will give rise to damages.
It is an objective matter of fact whether a term goes to the root of a contract. By way of illustration, an actress's obligation to perform the opening night of a theatrical production is a condition, whereas a singer's obligation to perform during the first three days of rehearsal is a warranty.
Statute may also declare a term or nature of term to be a condition or warranty. For example, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (UK) s15A provides that terms as to title, description, quality, and sample (as described in the Act) are conditions save in certain defined circumstances.
Lord Diplock, in Hong Kong Fir Shipping Co Ltd v Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd, created the concept of an innominate term, breach of which may or may not go to the root of the contract depending upon the nature of the breach. Breach of these terms, as with all terms, will give rise to damages. Whether or not it repudiates the contract depends upon whether legal benefit of the contract has been removed from the innocent party. Megaw LJ, in 1970, preferred the use of the classic categorizing into condition or warranty due to legal certainty. This was interpreted by the House of Lords as merely restricting its application in Reardon Smith Line Ltd. v Hansen-Tangen.
In general, parties can only sue for enforcement of valid contractual terms as opposed to representations or mere puffs.
Only certain statements create contractual obligations. Statements can be split into the following types:
There are various factors that a court may take into account in determining the nature of a statement. These include:
The parol evidence rule limits what things can be taken into account when trying to interpret a contract. This rule has practically ceased operation under UK law, but remains functional in Australian Law.
See also: Implied terms in English law
A term may either be expressed or implied. An express term is stated by the parties during negotiation or written in a contractual document. Implied terms are not stated but nevertheless form a provision of the contract.
The Privy Council established a five-stage test in BP Refinery (Westernport) Pty Ltd v Shire of Hastings. However, the English Court of Appeal sounded a note of caution with regard to the BP case in Philips Electronique Grand Public SA v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd in which the Master of the Rolls described the test as "almost misleading" in its simplicity.
The High Court of Australia has ruled that the test in BP applies only to formal contracts. In the case of an informal contract, where the parties have not attempted to stipulate the full terms, the courts should imply a term upon referring to the imputed intention of the parties, provided that the particular term is necessary for the effective operation of the contract. In implying terms in an informal contract, the High Court has suggested that a flexible approach is required. In a case where it is apparent that the parties have not attempted to spell out the full terms of their contract, the court should imply a term by reference to the imputed intentions of the parties if, but only if, it can be seen that the implication of the particular term is necessary for the reasonable or effective operation of a contract of that nature in the circumstances of the case. Obviousness also remains an important element in implying a term in an informal contract.
These are terms that have been implied into standardized relationships.
The rules by which many contracts are governed are provided in specialized statutes that deal with particular subjects. Most countries, for example, have statutes which deal directly with sale of goods, lease transactions, and trade practices. For example, each American state except Louisiana has adopted Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which regulates contracts for the sale of goods. The most important legislation implying terms under United Kingdom law are the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 which imply terms into all contracts whereby goods are sold or services provided.
One is generally bound by the custom of the industry that one is in. To imply a term due to custom or trade, one must prove the existence of the custom, which must be notorious, certain, legal and reasonable.
If two parties have regularly conducted business on certain terms, the terms may be assumed to be same for each contract made, if not expressly agreed to the contrary. The parties must have dealt on numerous occasions and been aware of the term purported to be implied. In Hollier v Rambler Motors Ltd four occasions over five years was held to be sufficient. In British Crane Hire Corp Ltd v Ipswich Plant Hire Ltd written terms were held to have been implied into an oral contract in which there was no mention of written terms.
Main article: Good faith
It is common for lengthy negotiations to be written into a heads of agreement document (sometimes unsigned, and sometimes labelled 'subject to contract') that includes a clause to the effect that the rest of the agreement is to be negotiated. Although these cases may appear to fall into the category of agreement to agree, Australian courts will imply an obligation to negotiate in good faith provided that certain conditions are satisfied:
The test of whether one has acted in good faith is a subjective one; the cases suggest honesty, and possibly also reasonableness. There is no such implied term under UK common law: an attempt was made by Lord Denning in a series of case during the 1970s and 1980s but they are no longer considered 'good law'. European legislation imposes this duty, but only in certain circumstances.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 reg 8 renders ineffective any 'unfair' contractual term if made between a seller or supplier and a consumer. Regulation 5 of the statutory instrument further elaborates upon the concept of 'unfair', which is rather novel to English law. 'Unfair' is a term in standard form (specifically that was not individually negotiated) that "causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract to the detriment of the consumer". It must also be shown the term lacks 'good faith'; the claim failed in Director General of Fair Trading v First National Bank plc, as striking down a relatively high interest rate (falling short of extortionary rates) would mean borrower could have safely ignored the interest rates in its loan agreements (see UK requirements for consumer financial advice/advice waivers in major consumer loan agreements) and that high-rate lenders would receive no interest.
If a contract specifies "subject to contract", it may fall into one of three categories as identified in Masters v Cameron:
Subsequent authorities have been willing to recognize a fourth category in addition to those stated in Masters v Cameron.
If a contract specifies "subject to finance", it may impose certain obligations on the purchaser:
If the contract is silent on the level of effort required by the finance seeker (usually purchaser) to obtain finance, the finance seeker may come under an implied duty to cooperate. Furthermore, whether the finance seeker may validly claim non-fulfillment of a contingent condition, despite being genuinely satisfied with finance he or she obtained before the expiration of the contingent condition, was not decided in Meehan v Jones.
"Subject to finance" provisions may be also referred to as contingent conditions, which come under two categories: condition precedent and condition subsequent. Conditions precedent are conditions that have to be complied with before performance of a contract is required by both parties With conditions subsequent, parties do not need to perform the contract if a condition is not yet (such as official certification to practice in a particular course of business). The non-fulfillment of a contingent condition means that the parties are not required to perform their side of the respective bargain.
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