If I was paid a pound for every client who has asked about their rights under a verbal agreement, I wouldn’t be close to retirement, but I would be a few hundred pounds better off! My advice is always that where there is an agreement, there should be a piece of paper setting out the terms and signed by the parties.
Contracts do not need to be overly long or complicated and do not necessarily require a lawyer’s involvement. It can be as simple as a set of basic terms written on a piece of paper, signed by the parties. Email exchanges, where both parties agree on a set of terms, can be argued to be binding, but signatures are always preferable.
Where there is a large sum of money involved, precious cargo, or a very delicate or sensitive matter, detail is key and it is important to take advice from a qualified professional.
If there is an offer from one party, an acceptance from the other, consideration (i.e. money or something of value) changing hands and an intention by both parties to create legal relations, a contractual arrangement between the parties would be implied. There are always exceptions, such as arrangements of a social nature, which are presumed not to be legally binding, where a contract was entered into under duress, or where a set of terms are conditional upon the occurrence of a future event. These presumptions can always be rebutted in court by producing evidence to the contrary.
This “writing” rule applies whether you are dealing with customers, employees, clients, agents, distributors, suppliers, partners and co-shareholders. All agreements should be in writing.
Jonathan Abrams is a Commercial Lawyer at Gregory Abrams Davidson LLP. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 7979 2066.