Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society: HL 19 Jun 1997

Account taken of circumstances wihout ambiguity

The respondent gave advice on home income plans. The individual claimants had assigned their initial claims to the scheme, but later sought also to have their mortgages in favour of the respondent set aside.
Held: Investors having once assigned their causes of action to the ICS, could not later themselves sue to rescind their mortgages.
In construing a deed, in this case one of assignment, an ambiguity need not be established before the surrounding circumstances may be taken into account by the court.
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘Interpretation is the ascertainment of the meaning which the document would convey to a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would reasonably have been available to the parties in the situation in which they were at the time of the contract.’ and
‘The meaning which a document . . would convey to a reasonable man is not the same thing as the meaning of its words. The meaning of words is a matter of dictionaries and grammars; the meaning of the document is what the parties using those words against the relevant background would reasonably have been understood to mean. The background may not merely enable the reasonable man to choose between the possible meanings of words which are ambiguous but even (as occasionally happens in ordinary life) to conclude that the parties must, for whatever reason, have used the wrong words or syntax.’
However: ‘if one would nevertheless conclude from the background that something must have gone wrong with the language, the law does not require judges to attribute to the parties an intention which they plainly could not have had’.
Lord Hoffmann declared that: ‘Almost all the old intellectual baggage of ‘legal’ interpretation has been discarded.’

Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Clyde
Times 24-Jun-1997, [1997] UKHL 28, [1998] 1 All ER 98, [1998] 1 WLR 896, [1998] AC 896
House of Lords, Bailii
Misrepresentation Act 1967, Financial Services Act 1986 54, Financial Services (Compensation of Investors) Rules 1990 2
England and Wales
Appeal fromInvestors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society and Others CA 1-Nov-1996
Public policy rendered an assignment of a remedy void, where the assignment was an attempt to split it from another remedy. For the purpose of construing a contract the law excludes from the admissible factual background the previous negotiations of . .
CitedAntaios Compania Naviera SA v Salen Rederierna AB (‘the Antaios’) HL 1984
A ship charterer discovered that the bills of lading were incorrect, but delayed withdrawal from the charter for 13 days. They now sought leave to appeal the arbitration award against them.
Held: Though he deprecated extending the use of the . .
CitedMannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Assurance HL 21-May-1997
Minor Irregularity in Break Notice Not Fatal
Leases contained clauses allowing the tenant to break the lease by serving not less than six months notice to expire on the third anniversary of the commencement date of the term of the lease. The tenant gave notice to determine the leases on 12th . .
CitedPrenn v Simmonds HL 1971
Backgroun Used to Construe Commercial Contract
Commercial contracts are to be construed in the light of all the background information which could reasonably have been expected to have been available to the parties in order to ascertain what would objectively have been understood to be their . .
CitedReardon Smith Line Ltd v Yngvar Hansen-Tangen (The ‘Diana Prosperity’) HL 1976
In construing a contract, three principles can be found. The contextual scene is always relevant. Secondly, what is admissible as a matter of the rules of evidence under this heading is what is arguably relevant, but admissibility is not decisive. . .
CitedPorter v National Union of Journalists HL 1980
The House was asked to construe the rules of the defendant organisation. Lord Diplock said: ‘I turn to the interpretation of the relevant rules, bearing in mind that their purpose is to inform the members of the NUJ of what rights they acquire and . .
CitedCharter Reinsurance Co Ltd v Fagan and Others HL 24-May-1996
The re-insurers appealed against a finding that they were liable to make payment under a contract which required them to pay ‘sums actually paid.’ They said that the company having become insolvent, no payment would in fact be made.
Held: The . .
CitedWilson v United Counties Bank Ltd HL 1920
Bank’s duty to client’s reputation and credit
Major Wilson had left England on active service soon after the beginning of the Great War, leaving his business affairs, in a fairly precarious state, with his bank. The jury found that the bank had failed in its duty to supervise his business . .
CitedF L Schuler AG v Wickman Machine Tools Sales Limited HL 4-Apr-1973
The parties entered an agreement to distribute and sell goods in the UK. They disagreed as to the meaning of a term governing the termination of the distributorship.
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CitedRegina v Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd, ex Parte Bowden and Another HL 18-Jul-1995
A regulated firm, Fisher Prew-Smith, ran a scheme whereby elderly homeowners were persuaded to invest money in equity-linked funds by mortgaging their homes on terms that the interest would roll up unless and until the total mortgage debt reached a . .
CitedBarclays Bank Plc v O’Brien and Another HL 21-Oct-1993
The wife joined in a charge on the family home to secure her husband’s business borrowings. The husband was found to have misrepresented to her the effect of the deed, and the bank had been aware that she might be reluctant to sign the deed.
CitedAntaios Compania Naviera SA v Salen Rederierna AB (‘the Antaios’) HL 1984
A ship charterer discovered that the bills of lading were incorrect, but delayed withdrawal from the charter for 13 days. They now sought leave to appeal the arbitration award against them.
Held: Though he deprecated extending the use of the . .
At First InstanceInvestors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society; Etc ChD 10-Oct-1996
Part of a chose in action is not capable of being validly separately assigned in order to stop a court action. . .

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Cere Needed Releasing Future Claims
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Written Particulars
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The claimant estate agents claimed commission on property sales. The defendant said that the agreement to pay commission had been waived.
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In a boundary dispute, the judge had found a boundary, locating it by reference to physical features not mentioned in the unambigous conveyance.
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The court was asked whether, as second mortgagee on the defendant’s properties, the claimant agency had the equitable power of marshalling of prior charges. The first chargee had charges over two properties, and sold the first, satisfying it debt, . .
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The Society appealed against an order construing a will. The will had made a gift of the maximum allowed before payment of inheritance tax, and then a gift of a house. The Society argued that the house gift should be deducted before calculation of . .
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The claimants sought payment from the defendants under spread bets placed by them. The defendants counterclaimed saying that they had suffered greater losses after the claimants had failed as required to close out open bets.
Held: The claim . .
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Commercial Sense Used to Interpret Contract
The Court was asked as to the role of commercial good sense in the construction of a term in a contract which was open to alternative interpretations.
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The claimant had been employed by the defendant as editor of a newspaper. On leaving they entered into an agreement which the claimant said required the defendant to pay his legal costs in any action arising regarding his editorship. The defendant . .
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The defendant tenant said that it had exercised a break clause in the lease held of the claimant. The claimant said the break notice was ineffective because the defendant was in breach of the lease, not having paid an iinsurance service charge, and . .
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The claimant freeholder sought to install in the tenant’s pub, equipment to monitor sales. It claimed a right for this in the lease. The tenant refused access, saying that the proposed system was inaccurate. The claimant now sought summary relief. . .
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The defendant appealed against an order made on the claimant’s assertion that there were due to it substantial underpayments of royalties over many years. The issues were as to the construction of licensing agreements particularly in the context of . .
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The claimants appealed against rejection of their claim that an agreement entitled them to take a 35 years lease of the defendants. The contract had depended on complex conditions as to planning consents.
Held: The appeal failed: ‘Ultimately, . .
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The claimant appealed against the striking out of his claims for fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation as to the suitability for deveopment of two former fire service properties. The court had said that a settlement with co-tortfeasors operated . .
CitedMarley v Rawlings and Another SC 22-Jan-2014
A husband and wife had each executed the will which had been prepared for the other, owing to an oversight on the part of their solicitor; the question which arose was whether the will of the husband, who died after his wife, was valid. The parties . .
CitedEnglish Bridge Union Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The English Sports Council and Others Admn 15-Oct-2015
The claimant Union claimed that the defendant should recognise the game of bridge as a sport. The defendant had adopted a definition from Europe which required physical activity, and the Union said that this was a misconstruction of its Royal . .
CitedRadford and Another v Frade and Others QBD 8-Jul-2016
The court was asked as to the terms on which solicitors and Counsel were retained to act for the defendants. The appeals did not raise any issues concerning costs practice, and were by way of review of the Costs Judge’s rulings, and not by way of . .
CitedFoster v McNicol and Another QBD 28-Jul-2016
Incumbent Labour leader did not need nominations
The claimant challenged a decision of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to allow its present Leader to stand in the leadership election challenging his position without the need for him to submit first the otherwise standard . .
CitedWood v Capita Insurance Services Ltd SC 29-Mar-2017
Construction of term of contract for the sale and purchase of the entire issued share capital of a company.
Held: The appeal was dismissed: ‘the SPA may have become a poor bargain, as it appears that it did not notify the sellers of a warranty . .
CitedLehman Brothers International (Europe) v Exotix Partners Llp ChD 9-Sep-2019
The parties had contracted to trade global depository notes issued by the Peruvian government. Each made mistakes as to their true value, thinking them scraps worth a few thousand dollars, whereas their true value was over $8m. On the defendant . .
CitedRees and Another v Windsor-Clive and Others CA 1-Jul-2020
Reservation Derogation construed normally
Construction of tenancy agreement – correct approach to reservations made in favour of the landlord. The landlord required access to the tenanted farm to allow survey work anticipating development of his adjoining land. The tenant now appealed . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Financial Services, Torts – Other, Contract

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.158902

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