Get it in writing: why oral contracts aren't worth the paper they aren't written on

Get it in writing: why oral contracts aren't worth the paper they aren't written on

Oral contracts: every lawyer's nightmare.

Despite the fact that writing as a form of communication has existed since about the 4th millennium BC (ie just before Bruce Forsyth started his presenting career at the BBC) it is still quite common for agreements not to be written down.

There are many, many reasons why this might be the case:

We don't need to write it down. We've shaken hands on it. It's a gentlemen's agreement

We don't have time or the money to spend faffing with technical documents and lawyers

 ... or

I'm allergic to paper

When things are going well, an unwritten or 'oral' agreement is unproblematic; but the moment that things start hitting the proverbial fan, life can get very complicated indeed. Suddenly, you are in the 'how-long-is-a-piece-of-string' school of uncertainty: ‘what did we agree again’?

Where there is no written evidence as such, the courts are forced to act like forensic scientists, trying to work out what the Dickens has gone on. It can be like trying to work out the history of a game of 3D chess.

A recent decision in the Court of Appeal (Farmer v Winchester & another*) has reiterated that the court is entitled to go through a party’s conduct, correspondence and course of dealing to establish the terms of an agreement where there has been no agreement in writing.

This is not a cheap process. Nor is it much fun.

Of course, life is so much easier if you get the terms of the agreement down on paper in the first place.

So what happened in this case?

Mr Farmer paid to the Winchesters £119,500 to help finance the Winc

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