Lep Air Services v Rolloswin Investments Ltd; Moschi v LEP Air Services: HL 1973

The obligation of a guarantor under a contract ‘is not an obligation himself to pay a sum of money to the creditor, but an obligation to see to it that another person, the debtor, does something.’ When a repudiatory breach is accepted by the injured party to discharge the contract, all primary obligations remaining for performance in the future are discharged and replaced in the case of the party in default by a secondary obligation to pay the damages imposed by law.
Whether a document is a guarantee or an indemnity, or whether it imposes a secondary or a primary liability, will always depend upon ‘the true construction of the actual words in which the promise is expressed.’
Lord Diplock said: ‘The debtor failed to perform voluntarily many of his obligations under the contract – both the obligation of which performance was guaranteed and other obligations. The cumulative effect of these failures by December 22 1967 was to deprive the creditor of substantially the whole benefit which it was the intention of the parties that he should obtain from the contract. The creditor accordingly became entitled although not bound to treat the contract as rescinded.’ and

‘It is because the obligation of the guarantor is to see to it that the debtor performed his own obligations to the creditor that the guarantor is not entitled to notice from the creditor of the debtor’s failure to perform an obligation which is the subject of the guarantee, and that the creditor’s cause of action against the guarantor arises at the moment of the debtor’s default and the limitation period then starts to run.’

He continued: ‘It follows from the legal nature of the obligation of the guarantor to which a contract of guarantee gives rise that it is not an obligation himself to pay a sum of money to the creditor, but an obligation to see to it that another person, the debtor, does something; and that the creditor’s remedy for the guarantor’s failure to perform it lies in damages for breach of contract only. That this was so, even where the debtor’s own obligation that was the subject of the guarantee was to pay a sum of money, is clear from the fact that formerly the form of action against the guarantor which was available to the creditor was in special assumpsit and not in indebitatus assumpsit… Mines v. Sculthorpe (1809) 2 Camp.215.

The legal consequence of this is that whenever the debtor has failed voluntarily to perform an obligation which is the subject of the guarantee the creditor can recover from the guarantor as damages for breach of his contract of guarantee whatever sum the creditor could have recovered from the debtor himself as a consequence of that failure. The debtor’s liability to the creditor is also the measure of the guarantor’s.’
Lord Reid said: ‘With regard to making good to the creditor payments of instalments by the principal debtor there are at least two possible forms of agreement. A person might undertake no more than that if the principal debtor fails to pay any instalment he will pay it. That would be a conditional agreement. There would be no prestable obligation unless and until the debtor failed to pay. There would then on the debtor’s failure arise an obligation to pay. If for any reason the debtor ceased to have any obligation to pay the instalment on the due date then he could not fail to pay it on that date. The condition attached to the undertaking would never be purified and the subsidiary obligation would never arise.
On the other hand, the guarantor’s obligation might be of a different kind. He might undertake that the principal debtor will carry out his contract. Then if at any time and for any reason the principal debtor acts or fails to act as required by his contract, he not only breaks his own contract but he also puts the guarantor in breach of his contract of guarantee. Then the creditor can sue the guarantor, not for the unpaid instalment but for damages. His contract being that the principal debtor would carry out the principal contract, the damages payable by the guarantor must then be the loss suffered by the creditor due to the principal debtor having failed to do what the guarantor undertook that he would do.’


Lord Diplock, Lord Reid


[1972] 2 All ER 393, [1973] AC 331


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedMarubeni Hong Kong and South China Ltd v Ministry of Finance of Mongolia CA 13-Apr-2005
A letter was written by the Mongolian Ministry of Finance guaranteeing payment for textile plant and machinery to be supplied to a Mongolian company. A letter from the justice minister confirmed the authority of the finance minister to sign the . .
CitedIn Re A Debtor (No 1594 of 1992) ChD 20-Nov-1992
A one-sided term inserted into a contract between solicitors and their clients by the solicitors was to be construed against the solicitors and in the client’s favour where any ambiguity allowed this. The contra preferentem rule was to be applied. . .
CitedAnglo Group Plc, Winther Brown and Co Ltd v Winter Brown and Co Ltd, BML (Office Computers) Ltd, Anglo Group Plc, BML (Office Computers) Ltd TCC 8-Mar-2000
Contract – Contract for provision of computer services – purchaser contract with finance company – duty of co-operation to be implied in computer contracts – practice – responsibilities of expert witnesses generally – whether computer company liable . .
CitedTabarrok v E D C Lord and Co (A Firm) CA 14-Feb-1997
The appellant wanted to open a pizza restaurant. He and his partners acquired a company for the purpose, which was to take a lease of premises. They sought advice from the defendants who, they said, failed to advise them of the need to be aware of . .
CitedStocznia Gdynia Sa v Gearbulk Holdings Ltd CA 13-Feb-2009
Orders were placed for the construction of ships. They were not delivered. The buyer, the defendant, cancelled the orders. The defendants sought the loss of profit. The claimants said they were entitled only to the repayment of instalments. The . .
CitedAssociated British Ports v Ferryways Nv and Another CA 18-Mar-2009
The court considered whether a document was a guarantee requiring the formality of the 1677 Act, or an indemnity.
Held: The appeal failed. The letter agreement was properly a contract of guarantee which foundered on the subsequent variation. . .
CitedRemblance v Octagon Assets Ltd CA 17-Jun-2009
A statutory demand was served against the guarantor of the lease after rent arrears arose. He applied for the demand to be set aside, and now appealed against its refusal. He said that the court would have set aside such a demand against the tenant, . .
CitedMcGuinness v Norwich and Peterborough Building Society ChD 23-Nov-2010
The claimant appealed against his bankruptcy saying that it had followed as statutory demand based upon his alleged default under a guarantee of his brothers mortgage borrowings. He said that such a claim was not a liquidated sum within the 1986 . .
CitedMcGuinness v Norwich and Peterborough Building Society CA 9-Nov-2011
The appellant had guaranteed his brother’s loan from the respondent, and the guarantee having been called in and unpaid, he had been made bankrupt. He now appealed saying that the guarantee debt, even though of a fixed amount could not form the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contract, Banking

Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.225900