In a chain of conveyancing transactions, a solicitor sent his contract and deposit to his vendor’s solicitor, asking him to hold it to his order pending exchange. On the next day, that vendor’s solicitors agreed to an exchange of contracts over the telephone on his own purchase, but his client then told him not to proceed. The solicitor did not deliver the contract on that purchase, and claimed that under the postal rule, exchange had not taken place. The purchaser appealed a finding that there was no contract.
Held: A contract had been created. The solicitor had his client’s authority to exchange in this manner, and the contract was made at the time of the agreement on the telephone. The contract could come into existence before the posting of the second part of the contract, which would be the normal rule for postal acceptance.
Buckley LJ: ‘the essential characteristic of exchange of contracts is that each party shall have such a document signed by the other party in his possession or control so that, at his own need, he can have the document available for his own use. Exchange of a written contract for sale is in my judgment effected so soon as each part of the contract, signed by the vendor or the purchaser as the case may be, is in the actual or constructive possession of the other party or of his solicitor. Such possession need not be actual or physical possession; possession by an agent of the party or of his solicitor, in such circumstances that the party or solicitor in question has control over the document and can at any time procure its actual physical possession will, in my opinion, suffice. In such a case the possession of the agent is the possession of the principal. A party’s solicitor employed to act in respect of such a contract has, subject to express instructions, implied authority to effect exchange of contracts and so to make the bargain binding upon his client. This he can, in my judgment, do by any method which is effectual to constitute exchange.’
BRIDGE LJ: ‘A solicitor acting for a vendor or a purchaser who holds his client’s signed part of the contract has his client’s ostensible authority to effect exchange of contracts.’
Templeman LJ: ‘In my judgment a client impliedly authorises, and ostensibly authorises, his solicitor to effect exchange of contracts in such manner and by such agents as the solicitor may think fit. The client confers power to exchange, but is not interested in the machinery or method of exchange, which is a matter for the solicitor and the general law.’
Buckley, Bridge and Templeman LJJ
 2 WLR 565,  Ch 548,  1 All ER 942
England and Wales
Cited – Eccles v Bryant and Pollock CA 1947
The Plaintiff contended that a letter written by the purchaser’s solicitor which effectively set out the terms of the agreement, enclosed the part of the contract signed by the purchaser, and asked in exchange for the counter-part signed by the . .
Cited – Johnson v Agnew HL 1979
The seller had obtained a summary order for specific performance of a contract for the sale of land against the buyer.
Held: The breach was continuing and was still capable of being remedied by compliance with the order for specific . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Legal Professions, Contract, Land, Agency
Updated: 28 April 2022; Ref: scu.178200