There is a story that in the early days of BBC radio, the announcer declared one night that there was no news. In modern times, this statement would never be heard. The job of the news team, whether on radio, television or any other medium, is to fill the available space with the best news that they have.
This results in something called the “silly season”, when Parliament is in recess. Stories that would have been discarded from news programmes on a busy day when politicians clamour to be heard, rise up the editor’s list of newsworthy items when MPs are on holiday.
Could something similar be happening in the world of law firms’ legal updates? Circulating notes on important legal developments can be very helpful, but have we created a monster which has to be fed with daily, weekly or quarterly legal news, irrespective of whether anything noteworthy has happened?
This thought is prompted by seeing several law firms’ updates telling me about a case in the English High Court, Bibby Financial Services Limited and another v Magson and others  EWHC 2495 (QB).
The case decides whether a contract was validly executed as a deed. In principle, this seems like an important subject, until you read the case report. Then you discover a number of things:
Most of the case describes in tedious detail evidence about who said what to whom in a pub, and whether signing some documents with manuscript amendments between rounds of drinks amounted to a formal execution of the contract as a deed. Readers who are English lawyers will recall that for a deed to be validly executed, it must be both signed and delivered. For an earlier IP Draughts item on this subject see here.
- At first sight (and IP Draughts has not read every line of this inordinately long judgment, which runs to over 66,000 words – nearly the length of a novel) the facts suggest some uncertainty as to whether the parties intended that signature and handing over of this document would amount to formal execution of a deed.
- Despite the length of the judgment, the judge devotes only a few paragraphs to a legal analysis of whether delivery occurred. See paragraphs 332 to 337, which total 696 words. The analysis is cursory. It is surprising, for example, that the judge fails to mention explicitly the statutory provisions about whether delivery of a deed is presumed. For companies of whatever type delivery is presumed to take place at the time the deed is signed unless the contrary intention is shown (S 74A(2), Law of Property Act 1925 and s 46(2) Companies Act 2006). In the case of individuals, the equivalent legislation is the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. There is no such statutory presumption for individuals in the 1989 Act. (For a further discussion of this point, see our book, Execution of Documents (Anderson and Warner, second edition, Law Society Publishing) at page 153 and footnote 29.) The judge does, however, spend time in quoting from a 1601 case and an 1875 case.
In summary, it seems that the case tells us very little that is new or important about the execution of deeds. We already knew, or should have known, that deeds must be delivered. Whether the deed was delivered in this case is largely a question of fact.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that this is a decision by His Honour Judge Seymour. Readers with long memories may recall that Judge Seymour is a former judge of the Technology and Construction Court who was
sacked redeployed in 2005 after making some highly injudicious remarks about the parties in an earlier case. The Court of Appeal criticised his conduct, calling him “wounding and sarcastic”.
In an earlier age when printing costs were high, it seems highly unlikely that the editors of the law reports would have bothered to include this case in any of their publications. It is an unimportant decision by an unimpressive judge. Nowadays, though, the case becomes available on the internet and law firms feel obliged to mention it in their client updates. Lawyers who want to keep up to date with legal developments are told about it, and feel obliged to consider it.
Our excuse for mentioning it is to make a wider point about information overload. We wonder, though, what is the other law firms’ excuse?