Lordsvale Finance Plc v Bank of Zambia: QBD 20 Mar 1996

The court looked at a facility agreement opened by a bank in favour of the defendant which provided that in the event of default the defendant should pay interest during the period of default at an aggregate rate equal to the cost to the bank of obtaining the deposits required to fund its participation, an agreed margin and an additional unexplained 1%. The customer said that the 1% fee was a penalty and unenforceable.
Held: It was not.
Colman J said: ‘The defendants contend that, inasmuch as the constituents of the default interest under article 10.03(A) include at (i) 1 per cent, a rate completely unexplained, in addition to the margin (defined in article 1 as 11/2 per cent) and the cost of obtaining dollar deposits to fund the bank’s participation, the 1 per cent is a penalty. It is said to be in terrorem the borrower, its sole function being to ensure compliance with the agreements. . ‘The term provided for a modest increase. It was not a penalty and therefore not invalid.
The court analysed the concept of a penalty as follows (following Dunlop): ‘whether a provision is to be treated as a penalty is a matter of construction to be resolved by asking whether at the time the contract was entered into the predominant contractual function of the provision was to deter a party from breaking the contract or to compensate the innocent party for breach. That the contractual function is deterrent rather than compensatory can be deduced by comparing the amount that would be payable on breach with the loss that might be sustained if breach occurred.’
A simple dichotomy between a genuine pre-estimate of damages and a penalty does not always cover all the possibilities.
Although the payment of liquidated damages is ‘the most prevalent purpose’ for which an additional payment on breach might be required under a contract ‘ . . the jurisdiction in relation to penalty clauses is concerned not primarily with the enforcement of inoffensive liquidated damages clauses but rather with protection against the effect of penalty clauses. There would therefore seem to be no reason in principle why a contractual provision the effect of which was to increase the consideration payable under an executory contract upon the happening of a default should be struck down as a penalty if the increase could in the circumstances be explained as commercially justifiable, provided always that its dominant purpose was not to deter the other party from breach.’
He continued: ‘Where, however, the loan agreement provides that the rate of interest will only increase prospectively from the time of default in payment, a rather different picture emerges. The additional amount payable is ex hypothesi directly proportional to the period of time during which the default in payment continues. Moreover, the borrower in default is not the same credit risk as the prospective borrower with whom the loan agreement was first negotiated. Merely for the pre-existing rate of interest to continue to accrue on the outstanding amount of the debt would not reflect the fact that the borrower no longer has a clean record. Given that money is more expensive for a less good credit risk than for a good credit risk, there would in principle seem to be no reason to deduce that a small rateable increase in interest charged prospectively upon default would have the dominant purpose of deterring default. That is not because there is in any real sense a genuine pre-estimate of loss, but because there is a good commercial reason for deducing that deterrence of breach is not the dominant contractual purpose of the term.’

Colman J
Times 08-Apr-1996, [1996] QB 752
England and Wales
CitedDunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company Ltd v New Garage and Motor Company Ltd HL 1-Jul-1914
The appellants contracted through an agent to supply tyres. The respondents contracted not to do certain things, and in case of breach concluded: ‘We agree to pay to the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company, Ltd. the sum of 5 l. for each and every tyre, . .

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ApprovedMurray v Leisureplay Plc QBD 5-Aug-2004
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CitedEuro London Appointments Ltd v Claessens International Ltd CA 6-Apr-2006
The court considered whether a clause in an employment agency’s terms and conditions amounted to a penalty and was unenforceable. The contract provided that if the offer was withdrawn by the eventual employer after acceptance but before the . .
CitedTullett Prebon Group Ltd v El-Hajjali QBD 31-Jul-2008
The defendant signed an employment contract to join the claimants as a senior broker. He changed his mind and decided to stay in his existing job. The new employers sued for breach of contract. The defendant said that the claimants had refused to . .
CitedAzimut-Benetti Spa (Benetti Division) v Healey ComC 3-Sep-2010
The claimant sought summary judgment under a guarantee. The defendant said that the liquidated damages clause under which the claim was made was a penalty clause and unenforceable.
Held: The request for summary judgment was granted.
CitedCleeve Link Ltd v Bryla EAT 8-Oct-2013
EAT Unlawful Deduction From Wages – The principles enunciated in Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v New Garage and Motor Co Ltd [1915] AC 1979 and re-stated in Lordsvale Finance PLC v Bank of Zambia [1996] QB 752, . .
CitedCavendish Square Holdings Bv and Another v El Makdessi ComC 14-Dec-2012
The parties disputed whether clauses in a share sale agreement between them amounted to a penalty and as such were rendered unenforeable.
Held: Burton J felt able to escape those constraints, and concluded that the two provisions were valid . .
CitedEl Makdessi v Cavendish Square Holdings Bv and Another CA 26-Nov-2013
The appellants had agreed for the sale of his company by way of a share sale agreement. The price to be paid was to vary accoriding to the operating profits. A large part of the price reflected goodwill. The agreement contained a clause providing . .
CitedParkingeye Ltd v Beavis CA 23-Apr-2015
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CitedCavendish Square Holding Bv v Talal El Makdessi; ParkingEye Ltd v Beavis SC 4-Nov-2015
The court reconsidered the law relating to penalty clauses in contracts. The first appeal, Cavendish Square Holding BV v Talal El Makdessi, raised the issue in relation to two clauses in a substantial commercial contract. The second appeal, . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contract, Banking

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.83211