back to article Judge: Informal emails, phone calls did not establish a contract

A series of emails and phone calls were not sufficient to establish a contract, the Court of Appeal has ruled. The communications did not contain enough information or the formal qualities necessary for a contract to have been made, it said. Language school the European Language Center (ELC) used to use vacant summer …


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  1. Grease Monkey Silver badge


    Like Groucho said, a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

  2. Steven Jones

    Misleading title and sub-title

    The way the article is titled is misleading. It gives the impression that it was the media that was used in the communication, not the content of it which was the issue here. What is actually says was that the lack of formality of the content and insufficient detail that was the main issue here, not that it has to be written down and signed.

    It is perfectly possible to find youself in a binding contract via email, letter, fax or any other method of communication provided that it's existence and authenticity can't re repudiated. It's just that you need to include sufficient specific details over what was being offered, what was being accepted and for what payment.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now you've got me wondering

    what is the legal status of a contract signed in blood? Are there health risks involved? Could haemophiliacs claim for disability discrimination?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How exactly does this fit with that recent piece of hated legislation whereby energy companies could check a box to say you have a contract with them, I only mention this because nPower did that to me the swine then took us to the bailiffs and we had never put pen to paper but apparently it was all legal and above board.

  5. nowster

    No wonder it wasn't valid.

    Of course, it should have been "...fewer beds..." not "...less beds..." as it's a countable quantity.

  6. PJI
    Thumb Down

    re No wonder it wasn't valid

    I think a "university" that is so incompetent in its use of grammar is one to avoid, with or without a contract. Mind you, does the ELC, working in Europe, England even, really spell "Center" like that? Teaching English?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    should have used a solicitor

    and done it right the first time. wankers

  8. Anonymous Coward

    @Misleading title and sub-title

    Well actually, the whole top of the article was very badly written.

    "The University" was introduced at the top as though we all knew who they were talking about.

    I had to read the first couple of paragraphs three times before any of it made any sense.

    Was an important part of the text accidentally deleted?


  9. Anonymous Coward

    Fair Play

    In England, a 'contract' is only a contract if it is also seen to be fair to both parties. I cannot create a contract which says, 'you give me everything and you are tied in for life and I give you nothing worth having in return.' BECAUSE, that ISN'T a contract. Whether this only applies where a corporation tries to create a contract with an individual, I am not certain. Contracts between companies may be able to lean more towards the nothing for something because both parties are seen as 'grown-ups from a contractual point of view.

    In the case in point, you merely need to ask for the contracts from previous years as these set a precedent as to the form and content likely to perpetuate between the parties.. Then ask for the current one. Its an email pointing out that there will be less space? Has there been a change towards casualism amongst the parties? Clearly not, because one of them is suing the other. That very action would tend to illustrate the lack of a contract because it shows that contracts made between these parties are clear and unambiguous, proven by the lack of need from either party to sue the other in the past.

    The article does however make a valid point about taking care over what you write and/or say ---everyone records for 'training' and 'quality' purposes. In my view such recording should not be admissible in court because they fail to tell the speaker that they may and will be used for contractual enforcement.

    The use of the words 'subject to contract' in themselves indicate that there is at least some intention to create a contract and it is probably better to avoid their use -- unless that is what you are about.

    I noticed (like others) the lack of quality to the English, which in itself creates doubt of intention. Poor use of English could tie you into something unintended, so I seriously suggest that businesses should remove those without the linguistic skills from having any part in their communications. Take away their email. For God's sake, get them off the phone!

    Can't communicate accurately and effectively? Then use them for packing, sweeping the floor, anything other than having contact with your customers and/or suppliers.

  10. sb2uk

    There is a formal registered email service - RPost

    And yes.. it is a legally recognized by the courts.

    It's available both for Microsoft Outlook with any mail service and also as a web service mashup (they call it a Zimlet) on Zimbra

  11. registered e-mail user

    VP, RPost

    What I found most interesting about this decision was what was not said / clarified in arriving at decision. While the thrust of decision spoke to required content of e-mail exchange to demonstrate what contractual content should be exchanged and agreed upon in order to create a binding contract, the next critical test one needs to meet in proving that contractual arrangement was legal / binding is one's ability to prove that the e-mails had in fact been sent, received, their original content verified and appropriate time stamps displayed.

    A simple e-mail that is to serve as the basis / conduit of a contractual exchange can be placed in a sent folder without ever being sent, the content can be altered after the fact (in instant case bed number could have been changed back to 200 by recipient) and a computer clock can be set to read any time desireable which makes those time stamps meaningless.

    For complete legal protection when e-contracting one needs to show legal proof of delivery, content and atomic clock time stamps. The RPost Registered E-mail service ( does exactly that by taking a digital snapshot of the server-to-server conversation that occured during transmission of the e-contract, encrypts it and attaches this legal proof information to a Registered Receipt that is returned to the sender by e-mail for his or her safekeeping as RPost stores no information. Should a subsequent dispute arise over the terms of the e-contract, the Registered Receipt is simply returned to RPost to be unlocked (as we keep the key) the original e-mail and all attachments are then regenerated from the digital shapshot, printed and returned to the sender to be used for legal proof of original delivery status, content and official time stamps. That same exercise can be performed before a judicial body to defend against a contractual challenge.

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