Easter Term [2018] UKSC 20 On appeal from: [2016] EWCA Civ 180

JUDGMENT
Morris-Garner and another (Appellants) v One
Step (Support) Ltd (Respondent)
before
Lady Hale, President
Lord Wilson
Lord Sumption
Lord Reed
Lord Carnwath
JUDGMENT GIVEN ON
18 April 2018
Heard on 11 and 12 October 2017
Appellants Respondent
Charles Béar QC Craig Orr QC
Ian Bergson Mehdi Baiou
(Instructed by Neves
Solicitors LLP Milton
Keynes
)
(Instructed by Pitmans
LLP
)
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LORD REED: (with whom Lady Hale, Lord Wilson and Lord Carnwath
agree)
1. This appeal raises an important question in relation to the law of damages: in
what circumstances can damages for breach of contract be assessed by reference to
the sum that the claimant could hypothetically have received in return for releasing
the defendant from the obligation which he failed to perform? Damages assessed on
this basis, sometimes described as Wrotham Park damages, after the case of
Wrotham Park Estate Co Ltd v Parkside Homes Ltd [1974] 1 WLR 798, have
attracted considerable debate, both judicial and academic. That debate, and the
confused state of the authorities, have reflected a lack of clarity as to the theoretical
underpinning of such awards, and consequent uncertainty as to when they are
available. This is the first occasion on which the issue has come before the highest
court for decision, although there was some discussion of Wrotham Park in Attorney
General v Blake [2001] 1 AC 268. In engaging with this issue, the court has had the
assistance of strongly argued submissions by counsel, supported by extensive
citation of case law and academic scholarship.
2. It is necessary to recognise at the outset that the term “Wrotham Park
damages” has been used rather loosely in the authorities, as Lord Walker of
Gestingthorpe observed in Pell Frischmann Ltd v Bow Valley Iran Ltd [2009] UKPC
45; [2011] 1 WLR 2370, para 46. He referred in particular to the failure to
distinguish clearly between its use, on the one hand, to describe every type of
compensatory damages which exceed the actual financial loss to the claimant, and,
on the other hand, damages awarded in lieu of specific performance or an injunction
under the jurisdiction created by section 2 of the Chancery Amendment Act 1858
(“Lord Cairns’ Act”); and, in the latter context, between non-proprietary breaches
of contract, and those involving the invasion of a property right.
3. This judgment will abjure the use of the term “Wrotham Park damages”.
Although it will be necessary to consider the case of Wrotham Park, it is a source of
potential confusion because of the opacity of its reasoning, and it can now be
regarded as being of little more than historical interest. Instead, this judgment will
use the expression “negotiating damages”, introduced by Neuberger LJ in Lunn Poly
Ltd v Liverpool & Lancashire Properties Ltd [2006] EWCA Civ 430; [2006] 2
EGLR 29, para 22.
4. In Pell Frischmann, Lord Walker listed what he regarded as “the most
illuminating” of the judgments on this subject since Wrotham Park itself. He
extracted from them the following general principles, at para 48:
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“(1) Damages (often termed ‘user damage’) are readily
awarded at common law for the invasion of rights to tangible
moveable or immoveable property (by detinue, conversion or
trespass) …
(2) Damages are also available on a similar basis for patent
infringement and breaches of other intellectual property rights
of a proprietary character …
(3) Damages under Lord Cairns’s Act are intended to
provide compensation for the court’s decision not to grant
equitable relief in the form of an order for specific performance
or an injunction in cases where the court has jurisdiction to
entertain an application for such relief …
(4) Damages under this head (termed ‘negotiating damages’
by Neuberger LJ in Lunn Poly at para 22) represent ‘such a sum
of money as might reasonably have been demanded by [the
claimant] from [the defendant] as a quid pro quo for [permitting
the continuation of the breach of covenant or other invasion of
right]’: Lunn Poly at para 25.
(5) Although damages under Lord Cairns’s Act are awarded
in lieu of an injunction it is not necessary that an injunction
should actually have been claimed in the proceedings, or that
there should have been any prospect, on the facts, of it being
granted …”
In Pell Frischmann it was unnecessary to consider the wider issues raised by the
present appeal. For reasons which will be explained, it will be necessary to qualify
principles (4) and (5) to some extent, and to add a number of others.
5. It is convenient to preface the discussion with an explanation of the context
in which the question arises in the present case, by summarising the facts of the case
and the history of the proceedings.
The facts
6. The relevant events can be summarised as follows. In 1999 the first defendant
established a business providing support for young people leaving care. In 2002 she
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agreed to sell a 50% interest to a Mr and Mrs Costelloe. The claimant company, One
Step (Support) Ltd (“One Step”), was incorporated as a vehicle for the transaction.
The first defendant and Mrs Costelloe each subscribed for 50% of its issued share
capital and were appointed as its directors. They entered into a shareholders’
agreement which included provision for dealing with a deadlock between the
directors by enabling each of them to serve a notice requiring the other director
either to buy the shares of the director serving the notice at a specified price, or to
sell her own shares to that director at the same price.
7. The first defendant and Mr Costelloe then ran the business, and the second
defendant performed a managerial role. The business comprised the provision of
rented accommodation and support services to enable vulnerable individuals
referred by local authorities, such as children and young people leaving care, and
adults with mental health and learning disabilities, to live as independent lives as
possible in the community. The services were provided to local authorities in West
London and the Thames Valley.
8. The business prospered for some years, but over time the working
relationship between the first defendant and Mr Costelloe deteriorated. In April
2006, the first defendant emailed to her personal email account confidential market
research information held by the claimant. In May 2006, Mrs Costelloe gave notice
of her intention to serve a deadlock notice. In July 2006, the first defendant
incorporated another company, Positive Living Ltd. She and the second defendant
were its sole shareholders. In August 2006 Mrs Costelloe served a deadlock notice,
offering either to sell her shareholding to the first defendant, or to buy the first
defendant’s shareholding, for £3.15m. The first defendant elected to require Mrs
Costelloe to buy her shares.
9. In December 2006 a buy-out agreement was entered into. The first defendant
sold her shares to Community Support Project Ltd (“CSPL”), a vehicle company
incorporated and owned by Mr Costelloe, for £3.15m, and agreed to resign as a
director of the claimant. She also agreed with the claimant to be bound for a period
of three years by covenants requiring her to keep information concerning its business
transactions confidential, and prohibiting her from engaging in a business that was
in competition with it or soliciting its clients, without its consent, such consent not
to be unreasonably withheld. As part of the same transaction, the second defendant
terminated her employment with the claimant and agreed to be bound by similar
covenants against competition and solicitation.
10. In August 2007, Positive Living began trading in West London and the
Thames Valley in competition with the claimant. By early 2008, the claimant’s
business had experienced a significant downturn. In February 2008, solicitors acting
on its behalf wrote to the first defendant, threatening to bring proceedings for an
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injunction. Following an exchange of correspondence, the matter was not pursued
further at that time. In December 2009, the three year period of restraint specified in
the covenants expired. In September 2010, after further correspondence had passed
between the defendants’ solicitors and solicitors acting for the claimant, the
defendants sold their shares in Positive Living for £12.8m.
11. In July 2012, the claimant issued the present proceedings, alleging that the
defendants had acted in breach of the covenants and in breach of an equitable duty
of confidence, had induced each other to breach the covenants, and had conspired
with each other to injure it by unlawful means. In relation to remedies, in respect of
the breach of the non-compete and non-solicit covenants it sought an account of
profits, or alternatively what were described as restitutionary damages, in such sum
as it might reasonably have demanded as a quid pro quo for releasing the defendants
from those covenants, or, in a further alternative, what were described as
compensatory damages for the loss it had suffered by reason of the defendants’
breach of those covenants. In respect of the breach of confidence, it sought an
account of profits, or alternatively damages.
12. For the purposes of the proceedings, the claimant produced reports by
forensic accountants quantifying the loss which it had allegedly suffered in
consequence of the defendants’ alleged breach of the covenants, the benefits
obtained by the defendants, and the hypothetical release fee.
13. Mr Christopher Hine estimated the loss that the claimant had suffered at
between £3.4m and £4.6m, depending on the gross profit margin on sales which was
assumed. Put shortly, he estimated the sales which the claimant would have made in
the absence of competition from Positive Living during the period when the
defendants were in breach of contract, compared those with the sales actually made,
and applied a profit margin to the shortfall. He based his estimate of the sales which
would have been made in the absence of competition from Positive Living on the
trend of sales during the period after the defendants’ departure from the business
and before the breach of contract commenced, on a forecast of profits which had
been independently prepared for the claimant in September 2006, and on a market
analysis establishing the extent to which Positive Living’s sales were achieved at
the expense of the claimant. He added a further sum in respect of an additional loss
of profits after the restrictive covenants expired, again based on a comparison
between projected sales in the absence of competition from Positive Living and
actual sales. He added that loss of goodwill was not within his expertise.
14. Mr Andrew Grantham estimated the hypothetical licence fee at between
£5.6m and £6.3m. He did so by estimating what a reasonable person in the position
of the claimant would have agreed to accept in return for releasing the defendants
from the covenants, and what a reasonable person in the position of the defendants
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would have agreed to pay for that release, and then identifying the area of overlap.
The hypothetical negotiation which he envisaged was highly complex and cannot be
easily summarised. In simplified terms, the reasonable person in the position of the
claimant was envisaged as seeking the payment of an initial release fee and the grant
of an option entitling it to acquire the defendants’ competing business at a discount
to its market value, while the reasonable person in the position of the defendants
was envisaged as being unwilling to pay more than the discounted value of an
accelerated sale of Positive Living’s business, plus the amount obtained on the first
defendant’s sale of her shares in the claimant, to the extent that it was invested in
activities on the part of Positive Living which were not in competition with the
claimant. One notable feature is that the starting point, on the claimant’s side of the
hypothetical negotiation, was an estimate of the claimant’s cash flows and profits in
the absence of competition from Positive Living, the equivalent figures in the
presence of such competition, and an assumed profit margin. These estimates were
taken from Mr Hine’s report.
15. Since damages have not yet been assessed, it is appropriate for this court to
be circumspect in its comments on the reports. One observation can however be
made. Much has been made in the judgments below, and in the submissions on
behalf of the claimant, of the difficulty of estimating the loss which it suffered, and
the comparative simplicity of estimating the hypothetical release fee. So far as
appears from the reports, the proposition that estimating the hypothetical release fee
is simpler in this case than estimating the loss suffered does not hold water.
The proceedings below
16. The trial judge, Phillips J, ordered that the issues of liability, and the
claimant’s entitlement to the remedies sought, should be tried first. Following trial,
he found ([2014] EWHC 2213 (QB)) that the defendants had acted in breach of
contract by breaching the non-compete covenants (although less extensively than
had been assumed in the expert reports) between August 2007 and 20 December
2009, that they had also breached the non-solicit covenants between 20 December
2006 and 20 December 2009 by soliciting business from seven local authorities, and
that the first defendant had also acted in breach of the contractual confidentiality
clause and an equitable duty of confidence by appropriating the market research
information in April 2006 and subsequently using it to set up Positive Living. He
did not find it necessary to determine the claims in tort.
17. In relation to remedies, the judge did not make any separate order in respect
of the first defendant’s breach of her contractual and equitable duties of confidence.
He also declined to order an account of profits in respect of any of the breaches of
duty. Implicitly, he appears to have proceeded on the basis that no separate award
for the breach of confidence was necessary, since the harm which it caused would
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be reflected in an award in respect of the breach of the non-compete and non-solicit
covenants. No appeal has been taken against these aspects of his decision.
18. He concluded that this was a prime example of a case in which Wrotham Park
damages (as he described them) should be and were available. It would, he said, be
difficult for the claimant to identify the financial loss it had suffered by reason of
the defendants’ wrongful competition, not least because there was a degree of
secrecy in the establishment of Positive Living’s business which had not been fully
reversed by the disclosure process. In his judgment it would be just for the claimant
to have the option of recovering damages in the amount which might reasonably
have been demanded in 2007 for releasing the defendants from their covenants, not
least because the covenants provided that the restraint was subject to consent, not to
be unreasonably withheld.
19. He accordingly granted a declaration that the claimant was “entitled to
judgment for damages to be assessed on a Wrotham Park basis (for such amount as
would notionally have been agreed between the parties, acting reasonably, as the
price for releasing the defendants from their obligations) or alternatively ordinary
compensatory damages”. The claimant then elected for damages on the so-called
Wrotham Park basis, and a hearing on quantum was fixed. It has not yet been held.
20. An appeal was dismissed. Christopher Clarke LJ, with whom King LJ agreed
([2017] QB 1), considered that the test was whether an award of damages on the
Wrotham Park basis was the just response in the particular case. That was a matter
for the judge to decide on a broad brush basis. He was entitled to take into account
the difficulties which the claimant would have in establishing damages on the
ordinary basis. There would be very real problems in showing what placements the
claimant lost because of the appearance of Positive Living on the scene, and in
addition any loss of goodwill was inherently difficult to measure.
21. Christopher Clarke LJ observed that the amount taken as the reasonable sum
for the relaxation of restrictive covenants might represent more, perhaps far more,
than the loss realistically to be regarded as, in the event, suffered by their breach. So
a Wrotham Park award could bear no relationship to the practical effect of any
competition from Positive Living. Further, the assessment of a reasonable price
might involve consideration of several imponderables, such as the likely effect of
future competition, which would also arise in any assessment of general damages.
Nevertheless, Christopher Clarke LJ did not regard these considerations as justifying
a denial of Wrotham Park damages. First, the price that might reasonably be
demanded for the relaxation of a covenant might necessarily exceed the loss that
would have been suffered by the actual breach, since the price reflected the risk that
breach of the covenant might result in a greater risk than had in fact occurred
(something which, it might be thought, was a reason for declining to award damages
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on the Wrotham Park basis, rather than the reverse). Secondly, in deciding on the
appropriate price the court must “exercise a robust judgment” (para 131) which took
account of the likely extent and effect of any competition. Further, justice might
require the court to take into account facts and events after the date of the
hypothetical negotiation, or to take a post-breach valuation date.
22. Longmore LJ gave a concurring judgment, in which he confessed to having
found the question more difficult. As he put it, “judges like to act in accordance with
accepted principle and it is not easy to set out the principles by which it is possible
to decide that Wrotham Park damages … should be awarded” (para 143). He treated
an award of Wrotham Park damages as being justified where three factors, identified
by Peter Gibson LJ in Experience Hendrix LLC v PPX Enterprises Inc [2003]
EWCA Civ 323; [2003] 1 All ER (Comm) 830, para 58, were present: (1) there was
a deliberate breach by the defendant of its contractual obligations for its own reward;
(2) the claimant would have difficulty in establishing financial loss therefrom; and
(3) the claimant had a “legitimate interest” in preventing the defendant’s profitmaking activity in breach of contract. On the facts, all three factors were considered
to be present.
23. The issues in the present appeal are agreed by the parties to be, first, where a
party is in breach of contract, in what if any circumstances is the other party to the
contract entitled to seek negotiating damages, ie damages assessed by reference to a
hypothetical negotiation between the parties, for such amount as might reasonably
have been demanded by the claimant for releasing the defendants from their
obligations; and secondly, whether the Court of Appeal was correct to uphold the
judge’s finding that such damages are available in this case.
First principles
24. The award of negotiating damages under Lord Cairns’ Act, and also at
common law, has been influenced by the award of “user damages” at common law
for the tortious invasion of rights to tangible property, and the award of damages on
a similar basis for infringements of intellectual property rights. Before considering
the circumstances in which negotiating damages may be available at common law
for breach of contract, it is necessary to consider (i) the award of user damages in
tort, and also to remind oneself of some general principles governing (ii) common
law damages for breach of contract, and (iii) the jurisdiction to award damages under
Lord Cairns’ Act.
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(i) User damages in tort
25. In tort, although damages may in some circumstances be awarded for
punitive purposes, the general principle is that damages are compensatory. As Lord
Blackburn said in Livingstone v Rawyards Coal Co (1880) 5 App Cas 25, 39; (1880)
7R (HL) 1, 7:
“I do not think there is any difference of opinion as to its being
a general rule that, where any injury is to be compensated by
damages, in settling the sum of money to be given for
reparation of damages you should as nearly as possible get at
that sum of money which will put the party who has been
injured, or who has suffered, in the same position as he would
have been in if he had not sustained the wrong for which he is
now getting his compensation or reparation.”
26. Lord Blackburn’s principle can readily be applied in situations where some
tangible loss has been sustained: for example, where real property has been damaged
or taken by a trespasser (as in the Livingstone case itself), or where goods have been
converted. Its application is less obvious in situations where there has been an
invasion of rights to tangible moveable or immoveable property, but there has been
no pecuniary loss or physical damage to the property in question. Nevertheless,
where a trespasser has made valuable use of someone else’s land, without causing
any diminution in its value, the landowner has been held to be entitled to damages
measured as what a reasonable person would have paid for the right of user: see, for
example, Whitwham v Westminster Brymbo Coal and Coke Co [1896] 2 Ch 538. A
similar approach has been adopted in cases of detinue, such as Strand Electric and
Engineering Co Ltd v Brisford Entertainments Ltd [1952] 2 QB 246. Damages are
also available on a similar basis for patent infringement and breaches of other
intellectual property rights.
27. The basis of the award of damages in cases of this kind was considered by
Lord Shaw of Dunfermline in Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott, Cassels &
Williamson 1914 SC (HL) 18; (1914) 31 RPC 104. The case concerned the sale of
machines which infringed the pursuers’ patent. The issue in dispute was whether the
pursuers were entitled to recover damages for sales which had been made by the
defenders in a territory where the pursuers could not themselves have traded, and
which, moreover, the defenders would have made even if the machines had not
incorporated the infringing part. It was held that they were so entitled. Lord Shaw
contrasted the principle underlying the assessment of “damages in general”, whether
in contract or in tort, which he described as the principle of “restoration” as he
defined it, with a second principle of “price or hire”, applicable not only to patent
cases but “whenever an abstraction or invasion of property has occurred” (pp 29-
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31). As he explained, this distinction was relevant to the case before him, since the
restoration principle could not support a claim by a patentee relating to a section of
trade in which, it was argued, “he can have sustained no damage, because he would
never have sold his patented articles within that section” (p 30).
28. Lord Shaw described the second principle as follows, in a passage at p 31
subsequently quoted by Brightman J in Wrotham Park:
“It is at this stage of the case, however, that a second principle
comes into play. It is not exactly the principle of restoration,
either directly or expressed through compensation, but it is the
principle underlying price or hire. It plainly extends – and I am
inclined to think not infrequently extends – to patent cases. But,
indeed, it is not confined to them. For wherever an abstraction
or invasion of property has occurred, then, unless such
abstraction or invasion were to be sanctioned by law, the law
ought to yield a recompense under the category or principle, as
I say, either of price or of hire.”
He illustrated this by the example of the liveryman’s horse, also at p 31:
“If A, being a liveryman, keeps his horse standing idle in the
stable, and B, against his wish or without his knowledge, rides
or drives it out, it is no answer to A for B to say: ‘Against what
loss do you want to be restored? I restore the horse. There is no
loss. The horse is none the worse; it is the better for the
exercise.’”
Lord Shaw also endorsed the view expressed by Fletcher Moulton LJ in Meters Ltd
v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ltd (1911) 28 RPC 157, 165 that, even if it was not the
claimant’s practice to grant licences, “it would be right for the court to consider what
would have been the price at which – although no price was actually quoted – could
have reasonably been charged for that permission, and estimate the damage in that
way”.
29. The approach adopted in these cases was described by Nicholls LJ in Stokeon-Trent City Council v W & J Wass Ltd [1988] 1 WLR 1406 as the “user principle”.
He summarised it as follows, at p 1416:
“It is an established principle concerning the assessment of
damages that a person who has wrongfully used another’s
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property without causing the latter any pecuniary loss may still
be liable to that other for more than nominal damages. In
general, he is liable to pay, as damages, a reasonable sum for
the wrongful use he has made of the other’s property. The law
has reached this conclusion by giving to the concept of loss or
damage in such a case a wider meaning than merely financial
loss calculated by comparing the property owner’s financial
position after the wrongdoing with what it would have been had
the wrongdoing never occurred. Furthermore, in such a case it
is no answer for the wrongdoer to show that the property owner
would probably not have used the property himself had the
wrongdoer not done so. In The Mediana [1900] AC 113, 117,
Earl of Halsbury LC made the famous observation that a
defendant who had deprived the plaintiff of one of the chairs in
his room for 12 months could not diminish the damages by
showing that the plaintiff did not usually sit upon that chair or
that there were plenty of other chairs in the room.”
30. In these cases, the courts have treated user damages as providing
compensation for loss, albeit not loss of a conventional kind. Where property is
damaged, the loss suffered can be measured in terms of the cost of repair or the
diminution in value, and damages can be assessed accordingly. Where on the other
hand an unlawful use is made of property, and the right to control such use is a
valuable asset, the owner suffers a loss of a different kind, which calls for a different
method of assessing damages. In such circumstances, the person who makes
wrongful use of the property prevents the owner from exercising his right to obtain
the economic value of the use in question, and should therefore compensate him for
the consequent loss. Put shortly, he takes something for nothing, for which the owner
was entitled to require payment.
(ii) Common law damages for breach of contract
31. It is necessary next to consider some basic principles of the law relating to
damages for breach of contract: principles which it will be necessary to bear in mind
at a later stage of this judgment, when considering the case of Attorney General v
Blake and its aftermath. Damages in contract serve a different remedial purpose from
damages in tort, reflecting the different nature of the obligation breached by the
wrongdoer in each case. The law of tort is concerned with civil wrongs, that is to
say with breaches of duties imposed by the law, sometimes generally and sometimes
on those who are party to particular relationships or have assumed particular
responsibilities, which protect the interests of others in respect of such matters as
their bodily integrity, their liberty, their property, their privacy and their reputation.
Damages in tort are generally intended to place the claimant as nearly as possible in
the same position as he would have been in if the tort had not been committed. The
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law of contract, on the other hand, gives effect to consensual agreements entered
into by particular individuals in their own interests. Remedies granted by the courts
are designed to give effect to what was voluntarily undertaken by the parties.
Damages in contract are therefore intended to place the claimant in the same position
as he would have been in if the contract had been performed.
32. In Robinson v Harman (1848) 1 Exch 850, Parke B said:
“The rule of the common law is, that where a party sustains a
loss by reason of a breach of contract, he is, so far as money
can do it, to be placed in the same situation, with respect to
damages, as if the contract had been performed.”
That statement has been endorsed on many occasions at the highest level, most
recently in Bunge SA v Nidera NV (formerly Nidera Handelscompagnie BV) [2015]
UKSC 43; [2015] Bus LR 987, para 14, where it was described as the “fundamental
principle of the common law of damages”. It has also been described as the “ruling
principle” (Wertheim v Chicoutimi Pulp Co [1911] AC 301, 307), the “fundamental
basis” for assessing damages (British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co
Ltd v Underground Electric Railways Co of London Ltd (No 2) [1912] AC 673,
689), and the “lodestar” (Golden Strait Corpn v Nippon Yusen Kubishika Kaisha
(The Golden Victory) [2007] UKHL 12; [2007] 2 AC 353, para 36).
33. That is not to say that damages in contract will always be different from
damages in tort. For example, the damages awarded in cases of medical negligence
do not normally depend on whether the claimant was a private patient: the substance
of the obligation breached, and the recoverable harm caused, are normally the same
whether the cause of action is framed in contract or in tort. Equally, the user principle
derived from the property cases discussed earlier is of potential relevance whether
the wrongful use of property arises in a contractual or tortious context.
34. The compensatory nature of damages for breach of contract, and the nature
of the loss for which they are designed to compensate, were explained by Lord
Diplock in Photo Production Ltd v Securicor Transport Ltd [1980] AC 827, 848-
849. As his Lordship stated, a contract is the source of primary legal obligations
upon each party to it to procure that whatever he has promised will be done is done.
Leaving aside the comparatively rare cases in which the court is able to enforce a
primary obligation by decreeing specific performance of it, breaches of primary
obligations give rise to “substituted or secondary obligations” on the part of the party
in default. Those secondary obligations of the contract breaker arise by implication
of law:
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“The contract, however, is just as much the source of secondary
obligations as it is of primary obligations … Every failure to
perform a primary obligation is a breach of contract. The
secondary obligation on the part of the contract breaker to
which it gives rise by implication of the common law is to pay
monetary compensation to the other party for the loss sustained
by him in consequence of the breach …” (p 849)
35. Damages for breach of contract are in that sense a substitute for performance.
That is why they are generally regarded as an adequate remedy. The courts will not
prevent self-interested breaches of contract where the interests of the innocent party
can be adequately protected by an award of damages. Nor will the courts award
damages designed to deprive the contract breaker of any profit he may have made
as a consequence of his failure in performance. Their function is confined to
enforcing either the primary obligation to perform, or the contract breaker’s
secondary obligation to pay damages as a substitute for performance (subject,
according to the decision in Attorney General v Blake, to a discretion to order an
account of profits in exceptional circumstances where the other remedies are
inadequate). The damages awarded cannot therefore be affected by whether the
breach was deliberate or self-interested.
36. It follows from the principle in Robinson v Harman that the language of
election is not appropriate in a discussion of the quantification of damages for breach
of contract. The objective of compensating the claimant for the loss sustained as a
result of non-performance (an expression used here in a broad sense, so as to
encompass delayed performance and defective performance) makes it necessary to
quantify the loss which he sustained as accurately as the circumstances permit. What
is crucial is first to identify the loss: the difference between the claimant’s actual
situation and the situation in which he would have been if the primary contractual
obligation had been performed. Once the loss has been identified, the court then has
to quantify it in monetary terms.
37. The quantification of economic loss is often relatively straightforward. There
are, however, cases in which its precise measurement is inherently impossible. As
Toulson LJ observed in Parabola Investments Ltd v Browallia Cal Ltd (formerly
Union Cal Ltd) [2010] EWCA Civ 486; [2011] QB 477, para 22:
“Some claims for consequential loss are capable of being
established with precision (for example, expenses incurred
prior to the date of trial). Other forms of consequential loss are
not capable of similarly precise calculation because they
involve the attempted measurement of things which would or
might have happened (or might not have happened) but for the
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defendant’s wrongful conduct, as distinct from things which
have happened. In such a situation the law does not require a
claimant to perform the impossible, nor does it apply the
balance of probability test to the measurement of the loss.”
An example relevant to the present case is the situation where a breach of contract
affects the operation of a business. The court will have to select the method of
measuring the loss which is the most apt in the circumstances to secure that the
claimant is compensated for the loss which it has sustained. It may, for example,
estimate the effect of the breach on the value of the business, or the effect on its
profits, or the resultant management costs, or the loss of goodwill: see Chitty on
Contracts, 32nd ed (2015), paras 26-172 – 26-174. The assessment of damages in
such circumstances often involves what Lord Shaw described in Watson, Laidlaw at
pp 29-30 as “the exercise of a sound imagination and the practice of the broad axe”.
38. Evidential difficulties in establishing the measure of loss are reflected in the
degree of certainty with which the law requires damages to be proved. As is stated
in Chitty, para 26-015, “[w]here it is clear that the claimant has suffered substantial
loss, but the evidence does not enable it to be precisely quantified, the court will
assess damages as best it can on the available evidence”. In so far as the defendant
may have destroyed or wrongfully prevented or impeded the claimant from adducing
relevant evidence, the court can make presumptions in favour of the claimant. The
point is illustrated by the case of Armory v Delamirie (1721) 1 Str 505, where a
chimney sweep’s boy found a jewel and took it to the defendant’s shop to find out
what it was. The defendant returned only the empty socket, and was held liable to
pay damages to the boy. Experts gave evidence about the value of the jewel which
the socket could have accommodated, and Pratt CJ directed the jury “that, unless the
defendant did produce the jewel, and shew it not to be of the finest water, they should
presume the strongest against him, and make the value of the best jewels the measure
of their damages: which they accordingly did”.
39. There are also many breaches of contract where the loss suffered by the
claimant is not economic. At one time, this was thought to present a problem for the
award of damages, unless it was possible to identify some form of physical
detriment, on the view that placing a person in the same situation, so far as money
can do it, as if the contract had been performed meant placing him in as good a
situation financially. A wider view was however taken by the Court of Appeal in
Jarvis v Swan Tours Ltd [1973] QB 233, and was confirmed by the House of Lords
in Ruxley Electronics and Construction Ltd v Forsyth [1996] AC 344, where the
defendant’s loss was the difference to him, in terms of satisfaction and pleasure,
between the swimming pool for which he had contracted and the one which he
received, and it was therefore necessary to place a reasonable monetary value on
that difference. Lord Mustill stated at pp 360-361:
Page 15
“… the law must cater for those occasions where the value of
the promise to the promisee exceeds the financial enhancement
of his position which full performance will secure. This excess
… is usually incapable of precise valuation in terms of money,
exactly because it represents a personal, subjective and nonmonetary gain. Nevertheless where it exists the law should
recognise it and compensate the promisee if the
misperformance takes it away … [I]n several fields the judges
are well accustomed to putting figures to intangibles, and I see
no reason why the imprecision of the exercise should be a
barrier, if that is what fairness demands.”
40. That approach is consistent with the logic of damages for breach of contract:
they are a substitute for the end-result of performance, not for the economic endresult of performance. It is therefore necessary in cases of non-economic loss, as in
cases of economic loss, to identify the difference in the claimant’s situation resulting
from the non-performance of the obligation in question, and then to place a
reasonable monetary value on that difference, provided that the loss or damage in
question is of a kind for which the law provides monetary compensation.
(iii) Damages in equity under Lord Cairns’ Act
41. Historically, the Court of Chancery could provide remedies in aid of
equitable rights, including restitution if the right was violated. It could also provide
remedies which were not available at common law, such as an injunction or specific
performance, in aid of common law rights. Its jurisdiction was wider than that of the
common law courts, for it could give relief where there was no cause of action at
common law, for example by granting an injunction to prevent a threatened wrong.
However, one form of relief which it could not grant (except, according to some
authorities, where it was granted in addition to specific performance) was damages,
ie monetary relief for the breach of a common law obligation. If the plaintiff wished
to claim damages in addition to equitable relief, it was normally necessary to apply
to the common law courts. The damages which could then be claimed were restricted
to compensation for loss in respect of which there was a cause of action at common
law.
42. That inconvenience was addressed by section 2 of the Chancery Amendment
Act 1858, commonly known as Lord Cairns’ Act. The section provided:
“In all cases in which the Court of Chancery has jurisdiction to
entertain an application for an injunction against a breach of
any covenant, contract, or agreement, or against the
Page 16
commission or continuance of any wrongful act, or for the
specific performance of any covenant, contract, or agreement,
it shall be lawful for the same court, if it shall think fit, to award
damages to the party injured, either in addition to or in
substitution for such injunction or specific performance, and
such damages may be assessed in such manner as the court
shall direct.”
Equivalent provision is now contained in section 50 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
43. Lord Cairns’ Act enabled the Court of Chancery to award damages in the
circumstances specified “in addition to” an injunction. That power enabled the Court
of Chancery to award damages which could otherwise have been awarded by the
common law courts, and has lost its significance since the fusion of the
administration of law and equity. The Act also enabled the Court of Chancery to
award damages “in substitution for” an injunction: a statutory power to award
damages in circumstances in which they could not be awarded at common law. As
Millett LJ explained in Jaggard v Sawyer [1995] 1 WLR 269, 284:
“Damages at common law are recoverable only in respect of
causes of action which are complete at the date of the writ;
damages for future or repeated wrongs must be made the
subject of fresh proceedings. Damages in substitution for an
injunction, however, relate to the future, not the past. They
inevitably extend beyond the damages to which the plaintiff
may be entitled at law. In Leeds Industrial Co-operative
Society Ltd v Slack [1924] AC 851 the House of Lords
confirmed the jurisdiction of the courts to award damages
under the Act in respect of an injury which was threatened but
had not yet occurred. No such damages could have been
awarded at common law.”
44. Damages awarded in substitution for an injunction are, as one might expect,
a monetary substitute for an injunction. As Viscount Finlay stated in Leeds
Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd v Slack [1924] AC 851, p 859, “the power to
give damages in lieu of an injunction must in all reason import the power to give an
equivalent for what is lost by the refusal of the injunction”. Where it is likely that
the refusal of an injunction will result in the claimant’s sustaining loss and damage
as a consequence of the tort, breach of contract or other wrongful act which the court
has declined to prevent, the damages should provide compensation for that loss and
damage, as Sir Thomas Bingham MR and Millett LJ explained in Jaggard v Sawyer
at pp 276-277 and 286 respectively.
Page 17
45. The power to award damages in substitution for an injunction is dependent
on the court’s having jurisdiction to grant an injunction, determined as at the
commencement of the proceedings. The provision that damages can be awarded “in
substitution for such injunction” might be thought to imply that the court must also
have before it an application for an injunction, which it has decided to withhold. The
point does not arise for decision in these proceedings, but I would be inclined for
that reason to hesitate before endorsing the first part of Lord Walker’s principle (5),
set out in para 4 above.
46. Like the jurisdiction to grant an injunction, the jurisdiction to grant damages
in lieu is equitable in nature, as Millett LJ explained in Jaggard v Sawyer at p 287:
“When the plaintiff claims an injunction and the defendant asks
the court to award damages instead, the proper approach for the
court to adopt cannot be in doubt. Clearly the plaintiff must first
establish a case for equitable relief, not only by proving his
legal right and an actual or threatened infringement by the
defendant, but also by overcoming all equitable defences such
as laches, acquiescence or estoppel.”
47. It follows that it is necessary to treat with care Lord Wilberforce’s remark in
Johnson v Agnew [1980] AC 367, 400 that he found in Lord Cairns’ Act “no warrant
for the court awarding damages differently from common law damages”. As Millett
LJ explained in Jaggard v Sawyer at pp 290-291, all that Johnson v Agnew decided
was that damages, whether at common law or under the Act, are not invariably to be
measured by reference to “the value of the land ascertained at the date of the breach
of contract”. Lord Wilberforce’s words should not be read out of context and taken
to imply that damages awarded in substitution for an injunction must necessarily be
measured in the same way as damages recoverable at common law. That is hardly
to be expected, given that the damages are available on a different basis, in different
circumstances, and in respect of different types of wrong (past, on the one hand, and
future or continuing, on the other).
Negotiating damages
48. It is necessary to turn next to the most important of the Wrotham Park line of
cases. These can be divided into two phases: an initial period in which awards based
on a hypothetical release fee were made in the exercise of the jurisdiction under Lord
Cairns’ Act in substitution for injunctions to prevent interferences with property
rights and breaches of restrictive covenants over land, and a later period in which
awards calculated in a similar way were made at common law on a wider and less
certain basis. The two phases are divided by the case of Attorney General v Blake,
Page 18
in which the wider availability of such awards was signalled, but the seeds of
uncertainty were sown.
(i) The first phase
49. The first phase began with the case of Wrotham Park Estate Co Ltd v
Parkside Homes Ltd. It concerned land originally forming part of an estate, which
had been conveyed by its owners to developers, subject to a restrictive covenant that
the land would not be developed except in accordance with plans approved by the
estate owners. The land was then developed as housing, the plans being approved
by the estate owners on the basis that a central area would remain free of buildings.
The undeveloped area was later offered for sale as building land for houses, and
acquired by developers at a price which reflected its development value. The
plaintiffs, who were the current owners of the estate, were aware of the basis on
which the land was being sold, but did not inform either the sellers or the developers
that they objected to its development. The developers then began to develop it as
housing without seeking the plaintiffs’ approval. The plaintiffs brought proceedings
against the developers for an injunction before any substantial construction took
place, but did not apply for interim relief. The houses were built, and purchasers
moved in. They were made additional defendants.
50. Brightman J decided that the plaintiffs had a prima facie entitlement to a
mandatory injunction requiring the removal of the houses, but that such relief should
be refused as a matter of discretion. The question which then arose was what
damages ought to be awarded in substitution for such an injunction. Brightman J’s
starting point was to consider the effect of the breach of covenant on the value of
the estate. That measure would however result in nil or purely nominal damages, as
the breach caused the plaintiffs no financial damage, nor any other form of loss. That
would be “a result of questionable fairness on the facts of this case” (p 812). In that
regard, he emphasised that it was only because the breach of covenant took the form
of a housing development that an injunction was being refused: had it been the
erection of an advertising hoarding, for example, an injunction would been granted.
If, for social and economic reasons, the court did not see fit in the exercise of its
discretion to order the demolition of the houses, was it just, he asked, that the
plaintiffs should receive no compensation and that the defendants should be left in
undisturbed possession of the fruits of their wrongdoing?
51. In addressing that question, Brightman J referred to the trespass and detinue
cases discussed earlier, where damages were assessed according to the value of the
use which the defendants had unlawfully obtained, and to Lord Shaw’s statement of
the principle of price or hire in Watson, Laidlaw. Citing Lord Sumner’s observation
in the Leeds Industrial Co-operative Society case at p 870 that damages awarded
under Lord Cairns’ Act in substitution for an injunction should be “designed to be a
Page 19
preferable equivalent for an injunction and therefore an adequate substitute for it”,
he noted that the defendants could have carried out the development lawfully if they
had obtained a relaxation of the covenant. He concluded that a just substitute for an
injunction would be “such a sum of money as might reasonably have been demanded
by the plaintiffs from [the developers] as a quid pro quo for relaxing the covenant”
(Wrotham Park, p 815). That measure was appropriate notwithstanding that the
plaintiffs would not have been willing to bargain for the relaxation of the covenant.
52. There was evidence that landowners whose property stood in the way of a
development commonly demanded a half or a third of development value. The judge
did not however agree with that approach. He noted that the plaintiffs had made no
protest when the land was sold as housing land, and the developers had paid for it
on that basis. Observing that “damages must be assessed in such a case on a basis
which is fair” (p 816), he concluded that 5% of the anticipated profits from the
development (which were taken to be the same as the actual profits) was “the most
that is fair”.
53. This case is unlikely to have been regarded at the time as having the
significance which was later ascribed to it. The reasoning is less elaborate than the
subsequent exegesis, and is not altogether clear. In particular, the relevance of the
discussion of user damages to the award actually made was not clearly explained. A
restrictive covenant over land is enforceable in contract only as between the original
parties, but it is enforceable in equity as between their successors in title to the land
in question. Its effect is to create an equitable obligation whose benefit and burden
run indefinitely with the ownership of each parcel of land, rather like a negative
easement. It is for that reason that the benefit of a restrictive covenant is recognised
as “a new kind of property right created by equity”: Megarry & Wade, The Law of
Real Property, 8th ed (2012), para 5-026.
54. Wrotham Park resembled the earlier cases in which user damages were
awarded, in that the use to which the defendants wrongfully put their property
infringed a valuable right held by the plaintiffs to control such use. That justified an
award of damages under Lord Cairns’ Act based on the value of the right infringed,
since the refusal of an injunction effectively deprived the plaintiffs of the benefit of
their right, and therefore of its value. An appropriate sum could be determined by
considering what the plaintiffs could fairly and reasonably have charged for
relinquishing the right voluntarily. Thus, as Mance LJ noted in Experience Hendrix
at para 45, the right was treated as an asset with a commercial value.
55. Another notable aspect of Brightman J’s reasoning is that he took account of
other circumstances besides the economic value of the plaintiffs’ covenant: in
particular, the fact that an injunction had been refused only because of the particular
form of the defendants’ infringement (ie a housing development), and the plaintiffs’
Page 20
failure to inform the defendants in advance that consent would not be forthcoming.
Much ink has been spilled on attempts to reconcile the latter aspect of the judgment
with orthodox reasoning in relation to common law damages. Unrealistic
suggestions have been made that the judge was taking account of the plaintiffs’
failure to mitigate their loss, or of contributory negligence. It was also suggested by
Millett LJ in Jaggard v Sawyer at p 291 that delay in seeking an injunction
diminished the prospects of obtaining one, and therefore also diminished the value
of the covenant. If the delay was such that it was no longer possible for the plaintiff
to obtain an injunction, then the plaintiff’s bargaining position was destroyed. One
difficulty with that suggestion is that the assessment of damages in Wrotham Park
was concerned with the value of the covenant at the time of the breach, rather than
at the time of the trial. As Anthony Mann QC (sitting as a deputy High Court judge)
said in Amec Developments Ltd v Jury’s Hotel Management (UK) Ltd (2001) 82 P
& CR 286, para 31, “the non-availability of an injunction when the trial takes place
is the reason for awarding damages, not a bar on awarding them”. A more
convincing explanation is that the judge was influenced by considerations of
fairness, as his language repeatedly indicated, underlining the fact that the award
was made in the exercise of an equitable jurisdiction.
56. A further issue which arises from Wrotham Park concerns the date, and hence
the knowledge and other circumstances, by reference to which the hypothetical price
is to be assessed. This issue has been discussed in the authorities (such as Lunn Poly
and Pell Frischmann), but does not arise for decision in the present appeal, and has
not been the subject of argument. In those circumstances, although I am inclined to
agree with para 159 of Lord Carnwath’s judgment, I prefer not to express a
concluded view. All that need be said is that, since the damages are awarded in the
exercise of an equitable jurisdiction, and the court’s objective is, in Viscount
Finlay’s words, to give an equivalent for what is lost by the refusal of an injunction,
it follows that the approach adopted should reflect those characteristics. It also
follows that the approach which is appropriate when assessing common law
damages is not necessarily the same.
57. Wrotham Park was followed in Bracewell v Appleby [1975] Ch 408, where a
house was built that could only be accessed by trespassing on land belonging to the
plaintiffs. Proceedings for an injunction were brought after building operations
began. Graham J decided to award damages in substitution for an injunction under
Lord Cairns’ Act. He awarded “an amount of damages which in so far as it can be
estimated is equivalent to a proper and fair price which would be payable for the
acquisition of the right of way in question” (p 419). The amount awarded took
account of the fact that the plaintiffs had delayed before bringing proceedings.
58. The Court of Appeal considered Wrotham Park in Surrey County Council v
Bredero Homes Ltd [1993] 1 WLR 1361. The case was one in which the court had
no jurisdiction to award damages under Lord Cairns’ Act (as Millett LJ explained in
Page 21
Jaggard v Sawyer at p 290), and damages were not sought on that basis. It is
necessary to refer to the case in the present context only because of Steyn LJ’s
comment that Wrotham Park was only defensible on the basis of restitutionary
principles: the object of the award was to deprive the defendants of an unjustly
acquired gain.
59. That analysis was rejected in Jaggard v Sawyer. Sir Thomas Bingham MR,
with whose judgment Kennedy LJ agreed, stated at [1995] 1 WLR 269, 281-282:
“I cannot, however, accept that Brightman J’s assessment of
damages in the Wrotham Park case was based on other than
compensatory principles. The defendants had committed a
breach of covenant, the effects of which continued. The judge
was not willing to order the defendants to undo the continuing
effects of that breach. He had therefore to assess the damages
necessary to compensate the plaintiffs for this continuing
invasion of their right. He paid attention to the profits earned
by the defendants, as it seems to me, not in order to strip the
defendants of their unjust gains, but because of the obvious
relationship between the profits earned by the defendants and
the sum which the defendants would reasonably have been
willing to pay to secure release from the covenant.”
He continued, in a passage of wider significance to the issues in the present case, by
citing with approval a passage in the judgment of Sir Robert Megarry V-C in Tito v
Waddell (No 2) [1977] Ch 106, 335, when he said, in relation to Wrotham Park:
“If the plaintiff has the right to prevent some act being done
without his consent, and the defendant does the act without
seeking that consent, the plaintiff has suffered a loss in that C
the defendant has taken without paying for it something for
which the plaintiff could have required payment, namely, the
right to do the act. The court therefore makes the defendant pay
what he ought to have paid the plaintiff, for that is what the
plaintiff has lost.”
60. Millett LJ commented at p 291:
“It is plain from his judgment in the Wrotham Park case that
Brightman J’s approach was compensatory, not restitutionary.
He sought to measure the damages by reference to what the
Page 22
plaintiff had lost, not by reference to what the defendant had
gained. He did not award the plaintiff the profit which the
defendant had made by the breach, but the amount which he
judged the plaintiff might have obtained as the price of giving
its consent. The amount of the profit which the defendant
expected to make was a relevant factor in that assessment, but
that was all.”
61. Jaggard v Sawyer itself concerned trespass and breach of covenant, on
similar facts to Bracewell v Appleby. The plaintiff brought proceedings for an
injunction to prevent the continuing wrongs. The judge refused to grant an
injunction, but awarded damages in lieu under Lord Cairns’ Act, based on the
amount which the defendants might reasonably have paid for a right of way and the
release of the covenant. That award was upheld. The case is notable for the analysis
of damages under Lord Cairns’ Act generally, and of the Wrotham Park line of cases
in particular, in the judgments of Sir Thomas Bingham MR and Millett LJ, from
which extensive citation has already been made.
62. The awards made in Wrotham Park itself, and in the cases in which it was
followed during the next quarter-century, were made in the exercise of a unique
statutory jurisdiction: the award of damages in lieu of an injunction. The purpose of
the awards was to provide the claimant with an appropriate monetary substitute for
an injunction in the circumstances of the particular case. Every reported case appears
to have concerned either a tortious interference with property rights, or the breach
of a restrictive covenant over land. Damages were assessed according to the amount
which might fairly have been charged for the voluntary relinquishment of the right
which the court had declined to enforce, subject to downward adjustment for reasons
of fairness.
63. That measure reflected the fact that the refusal of an injunction had the effect
of depriving the claimant of an asset which had an economic value. But the cases
did not purport to lay down a general rule as to how damages under Lord Cairns’
Act should be quantified, regardless of the circumstances. It is for the court to judge
what method of quantification, in the particular circumstances of the case before it,
will “give an equivalent for what is lost by the refusal of the injunction”. Lord
Walker’s principle (4), set out in para 4 above, should not therefore be understood
as laying down a general rule.
(ii) Attorney General v Blake
64. Attorney General v Blake concerned a different issue. The question was
whether the notorious traitor George Blake, living in exile in Moscow following his
Page 23
escape from Wormwood Scrubs, could be deprived of the profits earned from a book
which he had published about his life and work as a spy. Since, as Lord Nicholls of
Birkenhead stated at p 275, “the information in the book was no longer confidential,
nor was its disclosure damaging to the public interest”, the only peg on which to
hang such a deprivation was breach of contract: the book was written in breach of a
contractual undertaking, given at the beginning of his service with the intelligence
services, that he would not divulge official information gained as a result of his
employment. The House of Lords, by a majority, granted a declaration that the
Crown was entitled to be paid a sum equal to whatever amount was due and owing
to Blake from his publisher. Lord Nicholls, with whose speech the rest of the
majority agreed, emphasised that such an order was available as a remedy for breach
of contract only in exceptional cases, where other remedies were inadequate, and at
the discretion of the court. A useful guide was said to be whether the plaintiff had a
“legitimate interest” in depriving the defendant of his profit. It was accepted by the
majority of the House of Lords that the Crown had such an interest in relation to the
profits made by Blake from the book.
65. The case is relevant in the present context only because Lord Nicholls
discussed the Wrotham Park line of cases in the course of his reasoning. Put briefly,
the difficulty which he saw in the way of an award of damages was that the Crown
had suffered no financial loss as a result of Blake’s publication of the book. It was
not suggested that it had suffered any other loss or damage. In particular, by the time
of publication, the information in the book had ceased to be confidential. In those
circumstances, he sought to establish that what were described as “damages
measured by the benefit gained by the wrongdoer” were an available alternative to
compensation for financial loss, and that to treat an account of profits as an available
remedy for breach of contract was therefore a coherent development of the law.
66. Lord Nicholls’ first stepping stone towards his conclusion was that the user
damages awarded for interferences with rights of property in the cases considered
earlier “cannot be regarded as conforming to the strictly compensatory measure of
damage … unless loss is given a strained and artificial meaning”, since “the injured
person’s rights were invaded but, in financial terms, he suffered no loss” (p 279).
However, as explained at para 30 above, a compensatory analysis need not be
regarded as strained or artificial. The person who makes wrongful use of property,
in breach of another person’s valuable right to control its use, prevents that person
from exercising his right to obtain the economic value of the use in question, and
should therefore compensate him for the consequent loss.
67. The second stepping stone was a consideration of remedies for breach of
fiduciary duty, which established the availability in equity of an order for an account
of profits. That is in a context where the fiduciary owes his principal a duty of
unqualified loyalty, and a consequent duty to account for all profits made from his
Page 24
position. The nature of the remedy reflects the nature of the obligation which has
been infringed.
68. The third stepping stone was a consideration of cases under Lord Cairns’ Act,
such as Bracewell v Appleby and Jaggard v Sawyer, and pre-1858 cases which could
now be brought under the Act, such as “the case of a continuing wrong, such as
maintaining overhanging eaves and gutters”, as in Battishill v Reed (1856) 18 CB
696. These were said to show that “in the same way as damages at common law for
violations of a property right may be measured by reference to the benefits
wrongfully obtained by a defendant, so under Lord Cairns’ Act damages may
include damages measured by reference to the benefits likely to be obtained in future
by the defendant” ([2001] 1 AC 268, 281).
69. A gains-based analysis of awards under Lord Cairns’ Act was rejected in
Jaggard v Sawyer, as explained at para 58 above. The damages awarded in that case,
and in Bracewell v Appleby, were measured according to the amount which the
claimant could fairly and reasonably have charged for the voluntary relinquishment
of a valuable right of which he had effectively been deprived by the refusal of an
injunction. In the absence of any reasons of fairness requiring its modification, the
award was based on the economic value of the right: a value which was necessarily
equivalent to that of the wrongful use which the claimant had to tolerate, since they
were two sides of the same coin. That is consistent with Lord Nicholls’ approval of
the analysis of the measure of damages awarded in this type of case as “the price
payable for the compulsory acquisition of a right” (ibid). The claimant does not
literally lose the right in question, but, as Lord Nicholls stated, “the court’s refusal
to grant an injunction means that in practice the defendant is thereby permitted to
perpetuate the wrongful state of affairs he has brought about” (ibid).
70. In the case of the overhanging eaves and gutters, on the other hand, the best
measure of damages in the event of an injunction being refused might be found to
be the consequent reduction in the value of the claimant’s property. It was only
because that measure would have produced “nil or purely nominal damages” that
Brightman J adopted a different measure in Wrotham Park (p 812). Under Lord
Cairns’ Act, as under the common law, the situations in which damages are awarded
are so various on their facts that the courts cannot adopt a uniform approach.
71. Those three disparate types of award (damages for interferences with
property, an account of profits made through a breach of fiduciary duty, and
damages in substitution for an injunction), each reflecting the characteristics of the
obligation which had been breached or the jurisdiction being exercised, formed the
stepping stones to the fourth, namely damages for breach of contract. Lord Nicholls
began by stating that such damages are compensatory: “that”, he said, “is axiomatic”
(p 282). But “a party to a contract may have an interest in performance which is not
Page 25
readily measurable in terms of money” (ibid). In such cases, “a financially assessed
measure of damages is inadequate” (ibid). The primary response of the law to this
type of case was to provide specific relief, such as an injunction, so as to ensure that
the contractual obligation was performed. These specific remedies, it was said, “go
a long way towards providing suitable protection for innocent parties who will suffer
loss from breaches of contract which are not adequately remediable by an award of
damages” (p 282). But they were not always available.
72. Lord Nicholls then cited Wrotham Park as an example of a case in which
specific relief had been refused. The judge had been right to apply by analogy the
cases concerning interferences with property rights, since “it is not easy to see why,
as between the parties to a contract, a violation of a party’s contractual rights should
attract a lesser degree of remedy than a violation of his property rights” (p 283).
Wrotham Park was said at pp 283-284 to shine as a solitary beacon, showing:
“… that in contract as well as tort damages are not always
narrowly confined to recoupment of financial loss. In a suitable
case damages for breach of contract may be measured by the
benefit gained by the wrongdoer from the breach. The
defendant must make a reasonable payment in respect of the
benefit he has gained.”
73. This part of Lord Nicholls’ speech is not altogether easy to interpret. A few
observations can however be made. First, the fact that “a party to a contract may
have an interest in performance which is not readily measurable in terms of money”
(p 282) has long been recognised by the law of damages. The law normally responds
to inherent difficulties of measurement, and to difficulties arising from a paucity of
evidence in a particular case, in the ways discussed at paras 37-38 above. Such
difficulties do not justify the abandonment of any attempt to measure loss, and the
use of the benefit gained by the wrongdoer as an alternative basis for an award of
contractual damages, since that alternative is inconsistent with the logic of
contractual damages, as explained at paras 31-35 above.
74. It is also necessary to recognise that the assessment of a hypothetical release
fee is itself a difficult and uncertain exercise. In cases such as Wrotham Park,
Bracewell v Appleby and Jaggard v Sawyer, judges estimated in a rough and ready
way the amount which the claimant might fairly and reasonably have demanded as
a quid pro quo for the relaxation of the obligation in question. More recently, the
practice has developed of instructing forensic accountants to give expert evidence
about a hypothetical negotiation between a reasonable person in the position of the
claimant and a reasonable person in the position of the defendant. Such imaginary
negotiations have become increasingly elaborate, and a host of questions can emerge
Page 26
as to the basis on which they should be hypothesised. This is well illustrated by Mr
Grantham’s report in the present case.
75. The artificiality of the exercise can be a further problem. Since the aim is to
arrive at an objective valuation, the fact that the claimant might in reality have been
unwilling to release the defendant from the obligation is not necessarily a problem,
as Brightman J recognised in Wrotham Park. But the premise of the hypothetical
negotiation – that a reasonable person in the claimant’s position would have been
willing to release the defendant from the obligation in return for a fee – breaks down
in a situation where any reasonable person in the claimant’s position would have
been unwilling to grant a release, as was found to be the position in Marathon Asset
Management LLP v Seddon [2017] EWHC 300 (Comm); [2017] ICR 791. The result
of the exercise may be an appearance of precision, but as Hildyard J commented in
CF Partners (UK) LLP v Barclays Bank plc [2014] EWHC 3049 (Ch), para 1199,
“the exercise is artificial; and, despite the apparent precision of the figures and
calculations deployed typically (and necessarily) on each side, it necessarily
involves a question of impression … it is to some considerable extent a ‘broad
brush’”.
76. Secondly, although it is not clear what Lord Nicholls meant by “a lesser
degree of remedy” (p 283), it is not surprising that damages for breach of contract
are generally assessed differently from damages for the invasion of a proprietary
right, since the rights and obligations in question are generally of a different
character. It is only in circumstances where they are analogous that it would be
reasonable to expect some consistency of approach. As has been explained, damages
for breach of contract are based on the difference to the claimant between the
outcome of performance and non-performance. That is not generally the same as the
economic value of the right to performance, considered as an asset (which is not to
deny that they may be the same, or similar, in some circumstances). This point was
made in a different context by Lord Sumption, with whom Lord Neuberger, Lord
Mance and Lord Clarke agreed, in Bunge SA v Nidera BV, para 21:
“Sections 50 and 51 of the Sale of Goods Act [1979], like the
corresponding principles of the common law, are concerned
with the price of the goods or services which would have been
delivered under the contract. They are not concerned with the
value of the contract as an article of commerce in itself.”
77. Thirdly, as Lord Walker remarked in Pell Frischmann at para 48, it is a little
surprising that Lord Nicholls should have described Wrotham Park as a beacon in
relation to common law damages for breach of contract. In the first place, the
proceedings were not based on a contractual right: there was no contract between
the parties. They were concerned with the invasion of a property right, as Lord
Page 27
Walker observed. Furthermore, Wrotham Park was not concerned with common law
damages, but with damages awarded in substitution for an injunction. In the
circumstances of the case, these were not merely arbitrary matters of legal
categorisation, but bore directly on the damages awarded, as has been explained.
That is not to say that common law damages for a particular breach of contract are
necessarily different from damages for analogous breaches of other types of
obligation. As was said earlier, in circumstances where the rights and obligations
are analogous, it would be reasonable to expect some consistency of approach.
78. Fourthly, it is plainly true that “in contract as well as tort damages are not
always narrowly confined to recoupment of financial loss”. However, that
proposition does not depend on the Wrotham Park line of cases. It is illustrated, in
relation to breach of contract, by cases concerned with the award of damages at
common law for breaches causing non-economic loss, such as Ruxley Electronics
and Milner v Carnival plc (trading as Cunard) [2010] EWCA Civ 389; [2010] 3 All
ER 701.
79. Fifthly, since the assessment of damages in the property cases was based on
the value of the right to control the use of the property as it had been wrongfully
used, there is a sense in which it can be said that the damages in those cases “may
be measured by reference to the benefit gained by the wrongdoer from the breach”,
provided the “benefit” is taken to be the objective value of the wrongful use. The
same can be said of the Wrotham Park line of cases, subject to the same proviso,
and subject also to the role of equitable considerations in the making of awards under
Lord Cairns’ Act. The courts did not, however, adopt a benefits-based approach, but
conceived of the awards as compensating for loss.
80. For the avoidance of doubt, the award of damages for skimped performance,
based on the difference between the value of the goods or services contracted for
and those actually provided, is not excluded by the principle in Robinson v Harman,
but is an example of its application. That was recognised by Lord Nicholls in Blake
at p 286. This is worth mentioning, as it was submitted on behalf of the defendants
in the present case, under reference to the Canadian case of Smith v Landstar
Properties Inc [2011] BCCA 44, that such awards amounted to Wrotham Park
damages.
81. Finally, in relation to Lord Nicholls’ speech, the connection which he drew
between Wrotham Park and an account of profits has had consequences in the later
case law which are unlikely to have been intended. One has been a view that
damages assessed on the basis of a hypothetical release fee, and an account of
profits, are similar remedies (partial and total disgorgement of profits, respectively),
at different points along a sliding scale, calibrated according to the degree of
disapproval with which the court regards the defendant’s conduct: see, for example,
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Experience Hendrix, paras 36-37 and 44. Related to this has been a view, illustrated
by the present case, that damages assessed on the basis of a hypothetical release fee,
like an account of profits in some circumstances, are available at the election of the
claimant, and can be awarded by the court at its discretion whenever they might
appear to be a just response. Neither view can be justified on an orthodox analysis
of damages for breach of contract.
82. The meaning and effect of Lord Nicholls’ discussion of damages for breach
of contract have been much debated. It is unnecessary to pursue the matter further
for the purposes of the present case. Negotiating damages were not sought in Blake
and were not before the court. As the Earl of Halsbury LC observed in Quinn v
Leatham [1901] AC 495, 506, a case is only an authority for what it actually decides.
What Blake decided was that in exceptional circumstances an account of profits can
be ordered as a remedy for breach of contract. The soundness of that decision is not
an issue in this appeal.
(iii) The second phase
83. The citation of Wrotham Park in judgments has been more common in the
period since Attorney General v Blake than in the period before it. There have
continued to be cases in which damages in lieu of an injunction, for interferences
with property rights, have been assessed on the basis of the amount payable for a
royalty or licence. There have also been awards of damages for breach of contract,
in substitution for an injunction, assessed on the Wrotham Park basis. An example
is Pell Frischmann, which concerned the breach of a party’s right to participate in a
business opportunity under a joint venture agreement. An injunction was never
sought, but the availability of damages in lieu of an injunction was nevertheless
agreed. The award of damages based on the commercial value of the right infringed
treated that right as a commercially valuable asset, of which the claimant had been
effectively deprived.
84. There have also been cases in which negotiating damages have been treated
as available at common law in cases of breach of contract. An example is the case
of Vercoe v Rutland Fund Management Ltd [2010] EWHC 424 (Ch); [2010] Bus
LR D 141, which also concerned the breach of a joint venture agreement, where the
defendants used the information provided by the claimants about a commercial
opportunity without including them in the transaction. There were breaches both of
a confidentiality agreement and of an equitable duty of confidentiality. It was agreed
that damages should be assessed on the basis of a hypothetical release fee. In effect,
the court awarded damages based on the commercial value of the information which
the defendants misused, as in a number of earlier cases concerned with breach of
confidence. These cases can be understood as proceeding on the footing that the
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result of the breach of contract was that the claimants lost a valuable opportunity to
exercise their right to control the use of the information.
85. The decision of the Court of Appeal in Experience Hendrix LLC v PPX
Enterprises Inc is less straightforward, and has given rise to difficulties of
interpretation, if for example one compares WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature v
World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc [2007] EWCA Civ 286; [2008] 1
WLR 445, Devenish Nutrition Ltd v Sanofi-Aventis SA [2008] EWCA Civ 1086;
[2009] Ch 390, and the present case.
86. The case concerned an agreement between Jimi Hendrix’s estate and PPX,
relating to recordings on which Mr Hendrix had played at an early stage of his career,
before he was an established artist. The copyright in the recordings was owned by
PPX. The agreement limited PPX’s right to use its copyright, by requiring it to pay
the estate royalties for the licensing of certain recordings, and prohibiting it from
licensing others. In the event, PPX granted licences in respect of recordings whose
licensing was prohibited. The claimant brought proceedings as the estate’s assignee
for an injunction and damages. At the opening of the trial, counsel for the claimant
made it clear (para 14):
“… that he had no evidence, and he said that he did not imagine
that he could ever possibly get any evidence, to show or
quantify any financial loss suffered by the [claimant] as a result
of PPX’s breaches.”
The judge granted injunctions to restrain further breaches of the agreement, but
declined to award damages in respect of the past breaches. The claimant appealed.
87. The Court of Appeal decided that damages should be awarded, assessed by
reference to the royalties which might hypothetically have been demanded by the
claimant in return for its agreement to the grant of the licences in question. Mance
LJ, with whom the other members of the court agreed, described Blake as marking
“a new start in this area of law” (para 16). Wrotham Park was said to illustrate that
“the law gives effect to the instinctive reaction that, whether or not the [claimant]
would have been better off if the wrong had not been committed, the wrongdoer
ought not to gain an advantage for free, and should make some reasonable
recompense” (para 26). PPX had done the very thing which it had contracted not to
do (as in any case where there is a breach of a negative obligation). Its breach of
contract was deliberate. Further, “it can be said that the restriction against use of
PPX’s property of which PPX was in breach, was imposed to protect the [claimant’s]
property” (para 36): presumably a reference to the copyright in Mr Hendrix’s later
recordings, although the judgments do not state whether the copyright was held by
Page 30
the claimant. Finally, the grant of an injunction showed that the claimant had a
“legitimate interest” in depriving PPX of its profits. As a matter of practical justice,
PPX should make (at the least) reasonable payment for its use of the recordings in
breach of the agreement. However, the case was not exceptional to the point where
the court should order an account of profits. The financial remedy should be
confined to an order that PPX pay a reasonable sum for its use of material in breach
of the agreement.
88. Peter Gibson LJ added a separate judgment, which has been influential (as in
the present case) as a summary of the factors justifying the award made. He said at
para 58:
“In my judgment, because (1) there has been a deliberate
breach by PPX of its contractual obligations for its own reward,
(2) the claimant would have difficulty in establishing financial
loss therefrom, and (3) the claimant has a legitimate interest in
preventing PPX’s profit-making activity carried out in breach
of PPX’s contractual obligations, the present case is a suitable
one … in which damages for breach of contract may be
measured by the benefits gained by the wrongdoer from the
breach. To avoid injustice I would require PPX to make a
reasonable payment in respect of the benefit it has gained.”
89. Notwithstanding some of the reasoning, the decision in the case can be
supported on an orthodox basis. The agreement gave the claimant a valuable right
to control the use made of PPX’s copyright. When the copyright was wrongfully
used, the claimant was prevented from exercising that right, and consequently
suffered a loss equivalent to the amount which could have been obtained by
exercising it.
90. That analysis can be reconciled with some of the reasoning in the judgment
of Mance LJ, but there are other aspects of the reasoning in the case with which it is
more difficult to agree. In particular, in so far as the reasoning might convey the
impression that the fact that loss or damage may be difficult to measure renders it
unnecessary to identify such loss or damage, or that it is relevant to an award of
damages that the breach of contract was deliberate or the party in breach benefited
from his conduct, or that it is relevant to an award of damages that the claimant has
a “legitimate interest” in preventing an activity carried out in breach of contract, or
that damages for breach of contract and an account of profits are similar remedies at
different points along a continuum, that impression would be mistaken.
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Conclusions
91. The use of an imaginary negotiation can give the impression that negotiation
damages are fundamentally incompatible with the compensatory purpose of an
award of contractual damages. Damages for breach of contract depend on
considering the outcome if the contract had been performed, whereas an award based
on a hypothetical release fee depends on considering the outcome if the contract had
not been performed but had been replaced by a different contract. That impression
of fundamental incompatibility is, however, potentially misleading. There are
certain circumstances in which the loss for which compensation is due is the
economic value of the right which has been breached, considered as an asset. The
imaginary negotiation is merely a tool for arriving at that value. The real question is
as to the circumstances in which that value constitutes the measure of the claimant’s
loss.
92. As the foregoing discussion has demonstrated, such circumstances can exist
in cases where the breach of contract results in the loss of a valuable asset created
or protected by the right which was infringed, as for example in cases concerned
with the breach of a restrictive covenant over land, an intellectual property
agreement or a confidentiality agreement. Such cases share an important
characteristic with the cases in which Lord Shaw’s “second principle” and Nicholls
LJ’s “user principle” were applied. The claimant has in substance been deprived of
a valuable asset, and his loss can therefore be measured by determining the
economic value of the asset in question. The defendant has taken something for
nothing, for which the claimant was entitled to require payment.
93. It might be objected that there is a sense in which any contractual right can
be described as an asset, or indeed as property. In the present context, however, what
is important is that the contractual right is of such a kind that its breach can result in
an identifiable loss equivalent to the economic value of the right, considered as an
asset, even in the absence of any pecuniary losses which are measurable in the
ordinary way. That is something which is true of some contractual rights, such as a
right to control the use of land, intellectual property or confidential information, but
by no means of all. For example, the breach of a non-compete obligation may cause
the claimant to suffer pecuniary loss resulting from the wrongful competition, such
as a loss of profits and goodwill, which is measurable by conventional means, but
in the absence of such loss, it is difficult to see how there could be any other loss.
94. It is not easy to see how, in circumstances other than those of the kind
described in paras 91-93, a hypothetical release fee might be the measure of the
claimant’s loss. It would be going too far, however, to say that it is only in those
circumstances that evidence of a hypothetical release fee can be relevant to the
assessment of damages. If, for example, in other circumstances, the parties had been
Page 32
negotiating the release of an obligation prior to its breach, the valuations which the
parties had placed on the release fee, adjusted if need be to reflect any changes in
circumstances, might be relevant to support, or to undermine, a subsequent
quantification of the losses claimed to have resulted from the breach. It would be a
matter for the judge to decide whether, in the particular circumstances, evidence of
a hypothetical release fee was relevant and, if so, what weight to place upon it.
However, the hypothetical release fee would not itself be a quantification of the loss
caused by a breach of contract, other than in circumstances of the kind described in
paras 91-93 above.
95. The foregoing discussion leads to the following conclusions:
(1) Damages assessed by reference to the value of the use wrongfully
made of property (sometimes termed “user damages”) are readily awarded at
common law for the invasion of rights to tangible moveable or immoveable
property (by detinue, conversion or trespass). The rationale of such awards is
that the person who makes wrongful use of property, where its use is
commercially valuable, prevents the owner from exercising a valuable right
to control its use, and should therefore compensate him for the loss of the
value of the exercise of that right. He takes something for nothing, for which
the owner was entitled to require payment.
(2) Damages are also available on a similar basis for patent infringement
and breaches of other intellectual property rights.
(3) Damages can be awarded under Lord Cairns’ Act in substitution for
specific performance or an injunction, where the court had jurisdiction to
entertain an application for such relief at the time when the proceedings were
commenced. Such damages are a monetary substitute for what is lost by the
withholding of such relief.
(4) One possible method of quantifying damages under this head is on the
basis of the economic value of the right which the court has declined to
enforce, and which it has consequently rendered worthless. Such a valuation
can be arrived at by reference to the amount which the claimant might
reasonably have demanded as a quid pro quo for the relaxation of the
obligation in question. The rationale is that, since the withholding of specific
relief has the same practical effect as requiring the claimant to permit the
infringement of his rights, his loss can be measured by reference to the
economic value of such permission.
Page 33
(5) That is not, however, the only approach to assessing damages under
Lord Cairns’ Act. It is for the court to judge what method of quantification,
in the circumstances of the case before it, will give a fair equivalent for what
is lost by the refusal of the injunction.
(6) Common law damages for breach of contract are intended to
compensate the claimant for loss or damage resulting from the nonperformance of the obligation in question. They are therefore normally based
on the difference between the effect of performance and non-performance
upon the claimant’s situation.
(7) Where damages are sought at common law for breach of contract, it is
for the claimant to establish that a loss has been incurred, in the sense that he
is in a less favourable situation, either economically or in some other respect,
than he would have been in if the contract had been performed.
(8) Where the breach of a contractual obligation has caused the claimant
to suffer economic loss, that loss should be measured or estimated as
accurately and reliably as the nature of the case permits. The law is tolerant
of imprecision where the loss is incapable of precise measurement, and there
are also a variety of legal principles which can assist the claimant in cases
where there is a paucity of evidence.
(9) Where the claimant’s interest in the performance of a contract is purely
economic, and he cannot establish that any economic loss has resulted from
its breach, the normal inference is that he has not suffered any loss. In that
event, he cannot be awarded more than nominal damages.
(10) Negotiating damages can be awarded for breach of contract where the
loss suffered by the claimant is appropriately measured by reference to the
economic value of the right which has been breached, considered as an asset.
That may be the position where the breach of contract results in the loss of a
valuable asset created or protected by the right which was infringed. The
rationale is that the claimant has in substance been deprived of a valuable
asset, and his loss can therefore be measured by determining the economic
value of the right in question, considered as an asset. The defendant has taken
something for nothing, for which the claimant was entitled to require
payment.
(11) Common law damages for breach of contract cannot be awarded
merely for the purpose of depriving the defendant of profits made as a result
Page 34
of the breach, other than in exceptional circumstances, following Attorney
General v Blake.
(12) Common law damages for breach of contract are not a matter of
discretion. They are claimed as of right, and they are awarded or refused on
the basis of legal principle.
The present case
96. Applying these conclusions to the present case, it is apparent that neither the
judge nor the Court of Appeal applied an approach which can now be regarded as
correct. The judge was mistaken in considering that the claimant had a right to elect
how its damages should be assessed. He was mistaken in supposing that the
difficulty of quantifying its financial loss, such as it was, justified the abandonment
of any attempt to quantify it, and the award instead of a remedy which could not be
regarded as compensatory in any meaningful sense.
97. The Court of Appeal was mistaken in treating the deliberate nature of the
breach, or the difficulty of establishing precisely the consequent financial loss, or
the claimant’s interest in preventing the defendants’ profit-making activities, as
justifying the award of a monetary remedy which was not compensatory. The idea
that damages based on a hypothetical release fee are available whenever that is a
just response, that being a matter to be decided by the judge on a broad brush basis,
is also mistaken. The basis on which damages are awarded cannot be a matter for
the discretion of the primary judge.
98. This is a case brought by a commercial entity whose only interest in the
defendants’ performance of their obligations under the covenants was commercial.
Indeed, a restrictive covenant which went beyond what was necessary for the
reasonable protection of the claimant’s commercial interests would have been
unenforceable. The substance of the claimant’s case is that it suffered financial loss
as a result of the defendants’ breach of contract. The effect of the breach of contract
was to expose the claimant’s business to competition which would otherwise have
been avoided. The natural result of that competition was a loss of profits and
possibly of goodwill. The loss is difficult to quantify, and some elements of it may
be inherently incapable of precise measurement. Nevertheless, it is a familiar type
of loss, for which damages are frequently awarded. It is possible to quantify it in a
conventional manner, as is demonstrated by Mr Hine’s report.
99. The case is not one where the breach of contract has resulted in the loss of a
valuable asset created or protected by the right which was infringed. Considered in
Page 35
isolation, the first defendant’s breach of the confidentiality covenant might have
been considered to be of that character, but in reality the claimant’s loss is the
cumulative result of breaches of a number of obligations, of which the non-compete
and non-solicitation covenants have been treated as the most significant, as
explained in para 17 above.
100. The judge has ordered a hearing on quantum. That hearing should now
proceed, but it should not be, as he ordered, an assessment of the amount which
would notionally have been agreed between the parties, acting reasonably, as the
price for releasing the defendants from their obligations. The object of the exercise
is that the judge should measure, as accurately as he can on the available evidence,
the financial loss which the claimant has actually sustained. How that assessment is
best carried out is, in the first instance, a matter for the judge to consider, proceeding
in accordance with this judgment. If evidence is led in relation to a hypothetical
release fee, it is for the judge to determine its relevance and weight, if any. It is
important to understand, however, that such a fee is not itself the measure of the
claimant’s loss in a case of the present kind, for the reasons which have been
explained.
The other judgments
101. Lord Carnwath discusses differences between my reasoning and that of Lord
Sumption. It is unnecessary for me to undertake a comparison. Ultimately, our
judgments speak for themselves. Provided it is clear which judgment represents the
view of a majority of the court, and therefore contains the ratio of the decision, any
differences between them should not cause difficulty.
Disposal
102. The appeal should therefore be allowed to the extent of allowing a hearing
on quantum of the nature which I have indicated.
LORD SUMPTION:
103. Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote: “I look forward to a time when the part
played by history in the explanation of dogma will be small, and instead of ingenious
research we shall spend our energy on a study of the ends sought to be attained and
the reasons for desiring them. As a step towards that ideal it seems to me that every
lawyer ought to see an understanding of economics”: “The Path of Law”, (1897) 10
Harvard LR 457, 474, quoted in Edelman, “The Meaning of Loss and Enrichment”,
Philosophical Foundations of the Law of Unjust Enrichment, ed Chambers, Mitchell
Page 36
and Penner (2009) 211, 221. This appeal raises in an acute form the problem posed
by the historic categorisation of legal rules.
104. The claimant, One Step (Support) Ltd, bought a business providing support
for young people leaving care, which had previously been run by Karen and Andrea
Morris-Garner. In connection with the acquisition, it shortly afterwards entered into
a valid agreement with the Morris-Garners by which the latter agreed for a limited
period not to engage in specified modes of competition with the business which they
had just sold. The Morris-Garners did compete with them in ways which
contravened the agreement. The present appeal concerns the assessment of damages
for those breaches.
105. The ordinary measure of damages for breach of a non-compete covenant is
the value of the business profits which the claimant would otherwise have made but
which it has lost as a result of the defendant’s unlawful competition, discounted in
the case of future profits for accelerated receipt. As with many problems in the law
of damages, difficulty arises in identifying the counterfactual by reference to which
their loss falls to be measured. How many customers who contracted with the
Morris-Garners would have contracted with One Step if the Morris-Garners had
complied with their contract? When and for how long? For what volume of
business? On what terms, especially as to price? And how profitable would the
additional business have been for One Step? The economic effect of the breaches is
inherently incapable of being precisely estimated, and may be incapable of even
imprecise measurement. Nonetheless it is practically inconceivable that One Step
has not suffered significant losses in this relatively small field of business. The law
would be failing in its economic purpose if it confined One Step to the fraction of
the business lost which was capable of being demonstrated with the necessary
degree of confidence, or if it resorted to guesswork as an alternative to evidence.
Because of the inherent uncertainties of the exercise, the claimant is normally
awarded the value of the lost chance of doing more business: Sanders v Parry [1967]
1 WLR 753, SBJ Stephenson Ltd v Mandy [2000] FSR 286, CMS Dolphin Ltd v
Simonet [2001] 2 BCLC 704, para 141, Merlin Financial Consultants Ltd v Cooper
[2014] EWHC 1196 (QB), paras 74-83. But even a chance must be valued by
something better than guesswork.
Wrotham Park damages
106. Phillips J ([2014] EWHC 2213 (QB)) declared that One Step was entitled to
damages to be assessed “on a Wrotham Park basis (for such amount as would
notionally have been agreed between the parties, acting reasonably, as the price for
releasing the defendants from their obligations) or alternatively ordinary
compensatory damages”. The Court of Appeal ([2017] QB 1) upheld him. In my
opinion, the courts below were wrong in a case like this to regard the “Wrotham
Page 37
Park basis” as an alternative measure of damages, differing from “ordinary
compensatory damages”. But I consider that the notional price of a release may
nonetheless be relevant, not as an alternative measure of damages but as an
evidential technique for estimating what the claimant can reasonably be supposed to
have lost.
107. The characteristic features of an award of damages based on a notional
release fee were described by Lord Walker, delivering the advice of the Privy
Council in Pell Frischmann Engineering Ltd v Bow Valley Iran Ltd [2011] 1 WLR
2370, para 49:
“It is a negotiation between a willing buyer (the contractbreaker) and a willing seller (the party claiming damages) in
which the subject matter of the negotiation is the release of the
relevant contractual obligation. Both parties are to be assumed
to act reasonably. The fact that one or both parties would in
practice have refused to make a deal is therefore to be ignored.”
It is to be noted that the assumption of a willing buyer and a willing seller, acting
reasonably, means that one is not trying to reconstruct what the particular parties
would hypothetically have done. Lord Walker, at para 53, expanded on this point in
reference to the facts before the Board:
“A willing seller, acting reasonably, would have recognised
that an excessively ‘dog in the manger’ attitude would be
counterproductive. At the same time BE and Bakrie [two of the
defendants], as willing buyers acting reasonably, would have
accepted that even negative rights must be bought out at a
proper price, and that unless they were bought out, the project
could not proceed at all.”
108. It is implicit in this approach that the hypothetical release fee is normally to
be assessed as at the time of the breach, by reference to the facts existing at that
time. In the same judgment, Lord Walker (at para 50) adopted the statement of
Neuberger LJ on this point in Lunn Poly Ltd v Liverpool and Lancashire Properties
Ltd [2006] 2 EGLR 29, para 29:
“Given that negotiating damages under [Lord Cairns’ Act] are
meant to be compensatory, and are normally to be assessed or
valued at the date of breach, principle and consistency indicate
that post-valuation events are normally irrelevant. However,
Page 38
given the quasi-equitable nature of such damages, the judge
may, where there are good reasons, direct a departure from the
norm, either by selecting a different valuation date or by
directing that a specific post-valuation-date event be taken into
account.”
For this reason, the object of the exercise is to arrive at a money sum such as would
hypothetically have been agreed between reasonable parties at the relevant time. It
is not (as, unfortunately, the claimant’s expert appears to have thought in the present
case) to arrive at a formula dependent on future events.
109. The more difficult question is in what circumstances damages may be
assessed in this basis. On this question, I take broadly the same view as Lord Reed,
although for reasons which I would express more simply. The decision of Brightman
J in Wrotham Park Estate Co Ltd v Parkside Homes Ltd [1974] 1 WLR 798, has
unfortunately given its name to the entire range of cases in which a notional release
fee has been awarded by way of damages. This is unfortunate, because it has
impeded analysis of a very disparate group of cases governed by different principles
and not always consistent among themselves. The case law can be conveniently be
categorised under three heads: (i) cases in which damages are not limited to
pecuniary loss, because the claimant has an interest in the observance of his rights
which extends beyond financial reparation; (ii) cases in which the claimant would
be entitled to the specific enforcement of his right, and the notional release fee is the
price of non-enforcement; and (iii) cases in which the claimant has suffered (or may
be assumed to have suffered) pecuniary loss, and the notional release fee is treated
as evidence of that loss. Clear analysis requires a distinction to be made between
these cases. But it does not require principles to be formulated for one category
without regard to those which apply to another. The law should develop coherently
across different categories. It should not be allowed to fragment into self-contained
sectors governed by arbitrary rules which have little relationship to the task in hand
or to the principles applied in cognate areas.
Category (i): Interest extending beyond financial reparation
110. The invasion of property rights is the classic case in this category. The owner
of the property is entitled to receive by way of damages a user-rent equal to the
amount that he would have had to pay for the right to do lawfully what he has in fact
done unlawfully. The release fee is notional. It is awardable even if in fact the owner
would not have consented in any circumstances. The leading case is Whitwham v
Westminster Brymbo Coal and Coke Co [1896] 2 Ch 538. The defendant had tipped
spoil onto the plaintiff’s land. The plaintiff was held entitled to (i) the resulting
diminution in the value of the land, and (ii) the reasonable rent that the defendant
would have to pay for the right to do this. In Owners of Steamship Mediana v
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Owners, Master and Crew of the Lightship comet (The Mediana) [1900] AC 113,
the defendants negligently damaged a lightship belonging to a harbour authority.
The authority was held to be entitled by way of damages to (i) the cost of repairing
the lightship, and (ii) a user-rent for the period when she was out of service, although
the authority had suffered no pecuniary loss by its unavailability because they were
not in the business of renting out lightships and had a spare lightship for just such
an event. Lord Halsbury LC asked (p 117): “Supposing a person took away a chair
out of my room and kept it for 12 months, could anybody say you had a right to
diminish the damages by shewing that I did not usually sit in that chair, or that there
were plenty of other chairs in the room?” In Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott,
Cassels & Williamson (1914) 31 RPC 104, 119, Lord Shaw gave it as a general
principle that “wherever an abstraction or invasion of property has occurred, then,
unless such abstraction or invasion were to be sanctioned by law, the law ought to
yield a recompense under the category or principle … either of price or of hire.” The
effect of these decisions was summarised by Nicholls LJ in Stoke-on-Trent City
Council v W & J Wass Ltd [1988] 1 WLR 1406, 1416:
“It is an established principle concerning the assessment of
damages that a person who has wrongfully used another’s
property without causing the latter any pecuniary loss may still
be liable to that other for more than nominal damages. In
general, he is liable to pay, as damages, a reasonable sum for
the wrongful use he has made of the other’s property. The law
has reached this conclusion by giving to the concept of loss or
damage in such a case a wider meaning than merely financial
loss calculated by comparing the property owner’s financial
position after the wrongdoing with what it would have been had
the wrongdoing never occurred.”
This is exceptional because in general the law is concerned only with the specific
enforcement of obligations or the money equivalent of their due performance. The
exceptions in the case of trespass to or appropriation of property are justified by the
nature of the right which the wrongdoer has infringed. Property rights confer an
exclusive dominion over the asset in question. The law treats that exclusivity as
having a pecuniary value independent of any pecuniary detriment that he might have
suffered by the breach of duty. The user-rent is simply the measure of that value.
111. Although the concept of user-rent as a measure of damages originates in the
field of wrongful injury to or appropriation of property, in Attorney General v Blake
[2001] 1 AC 268, the principle was applied by analogy in order to justify an order
for an account of profits in a case of breach of contract with no proprietary element.
The facts are well-known. In breach of his contract of employment the convicted
traitor George Blake had published a book disclosing information acquired in the
course of his duties as an intelligence officer. The government had suffered no
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pecuniary loss, but was held to be entitled to a restitutionary remedy, namely an
account of Blake’s profits. This was because, as in the property cases, a party to a
contract may be recognised by the law as having an interest in its performance
extending beyond financial reparation for a breach. In Blake, damages were
incapable of putting the government in the same position as it would have been but
for the wrong. This was because the nature of the obligation was such that the
government’s only interest in the performance of an intelligence agent’s duties of
confidentiality was a non-pecuniary governmental interest. In a case where it was
too late to get an injunction, its rights against Blake would have been inherently
worthless if the only remedy had been the recovery of pecuniary loss. After stating
the ordinary rule of damages, Lord Nicholls, with whom Lord Goff, Lord BrowneWilkinson and Lord Steyn agreed, expressed the principle in this way at p 282:
“It is equally well established that an award of damages,
assessed by reference to financial loss, is not always ‘adequate’
as a remedy for a breach of contract. The law recognises that a
party to a contract may have an interest in performance which
is not readily measurable in terms of money. On breach the
innocent party suffers a loss. He fails to obtain the benefit
promised by the other party to the contract. To him the loss may
be as important as financially measurable loss, or more so. An
award of damages, assessed by reference to financial loss, will
not recompense him properly. For him a financially assessed
measure of damages is inadequate.”
In reasoning in this way, Lord Nicholls (pp 278-279) drew a direct analogy with the
award of user-damages for invasion of a property right. It was, he observed (p 283)
“not easy to see why, as between the parties to a contract, a violation of a party’s
contractual rights should attract a lesser degree of remedy than a violation of his
proprietary rights.” The government’s legal interest as against Blake was a purely
contractual right. It was not a property right. Yet Lord Nicholls was prepared to
cross the boundary in pursuit of an analogy which justified a similar treatment. The
analogy justified a similar treatment because in both cases the claimant was entitled
to recover more than his pecuniary loss when his interest in performance extended
beyond pecuniary loss.
Category (ii): Damages in lieu of an injunction
112. I turn now to the second category, comprising cases where the relevant
obligation was in principle specifically enforceable, and the release fee was the price
of non-enforcement. Wrotham Park Estate Co Ltd v Parkside Homes Ltd [1974] 1
WLR 798, was a case of this kind. The Plaintiff had conveyed part of his land to a
developer subject to a restrictive covenant against developing it otherwise than in
Page 41
accordance with a lay-out plan to be approved by the vendor or its surveyor. A
successor in title to the developer built houses on part of the land without submitting
the vendor’s consent to a lay-out plan. No question of user-rent arose, for the
plaintiff had parted with his interest in the land, subject only to the covenant. It was,
moreover, common ground that the value of the Wrotham Park estate had not been
diminished by the offending development. An injunction was in principle available,
but Brightman J declined to order the demolition of the houses. Instead, he awarded
damages in lieu of an injunction under the statutory jurisdiction originating with the
Chancery Amendment Act 1858 (now the Senior Courts Act 1981, section 50). His
reasoning is summed up in the following passage, at p 815:
“As I have said, the general rule would be to measure damages
by reference to that sum which would place the plaintiffs in the
same position as if the covenant had not been broken. Parkside
[the first defendant] and the individual purchasers could have
avoided breaking the covenant in two ways. One course would
have been not to develop the allotment site. The other course
would have been for Parkside to have sought from the plaintiffs
a relaxation of the covenant. On the facts of this particular case
the plaintiffs, rightly conscious of their obligations towards
existing residents, would clearly not have granted any
relaxation, but for present purposes I must assume that it could
have been induced to do so. In my judgment a just substitute
for a mandatory injunction would be such a sum of money as
might reasonably have been demanded by the plaintiffs from
Parkside as a quid pro quo for relaxing the covenant.”
He went on to assess the damages as a proportion (5%) of the profit that the
developer had made. In subsequent cases, the courts have had some difficulty in
identifying the principle on which Brightman J arrived at this assessment, but it is
clear that he was seeking to determine the value to the claimant of a hypothetical
injunction to the claimant. Whether he necessarily chose the best method of doing
so does not matter for present purposes.
113. In Surrey County Council v Bredero Homes Ltd [1993] 1 WLR 1361 the facts
were similar but Wrotham Park was distinguished on the ground that no injunction
was sought. The correctness of this distinction has more than once been doubted,
notably by Millett LJ in Jaggard v Sawyer [1995] 1 WLR 269, 289-290 and by Lord
Nicholls in Attorney General v Blake, p 283. Millett LJ’s analysis (pp 290-291)
repays study. As he pointed out, the award of a notional release fee by way of
damages was in fact compensation for pecuniary loss. It was not restitutionary, albeit
that the amount of the developer’s gain was a relevant factor in assessing what the
notional release fee would have been. He considered that the critical factor was that
an injunction was in principle available, whether or not it was actually sought. The
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measure of the claimant’s loss was the diminution in the value of property resulting
from the defendant’s breach of the restrictive covenant. The notional price that could
have been charged for releasing the covenant was recoverable in lieu of an
injunction, because the availability of an injunction increased the value of the
claimant’s land by an amount equal to what he could have exacted in return for
releasing it. That sum therefore represented the diminution in the value of the
claimant’s land resulting from the court’s discretionary refusal specifically to
enforce the covenant. It was the proper measure of compensation. The same measure
would have been awarded at common law if an injunction was still available. But if
an injunction was not available, for example because the covenant was not
specifically enforceable or the claimant’s delay had made it impossible, the buy-out
value did not contribute to the value of the land because there was none. In that case,
damages could not be awarded on that basis either at common law or in lieu of an
injunction. This seems to me to be sound in principle, sounder perhaps than the
suggestion made, obiter, by Lord Walker in Pell Frischmann, at para 48, that it is
“not necessary … that there should have been any prospect on the facts, of it being
granted”. This observation, if taken literally, would expand the concept so far as to
lose almost any connection with the court’s jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief.
114. Difficulty has been caused by Lord Nicholls’ observations about Wrotham
Park in Attorney General v Blake [2001] 1 AC 268. Lord Nicholls was not directly
concerned with damages in lieu of an injunction. But he fortified his reasoning with
an analogy between an account of profits and an award of damages in lieu of an
injunction. He offered an analysis (p 281) of the basis on which a notional release
fee might be awarded as damages, which was similar to that of Millett LJ in Jaggard
v Sawyer. Citing that case as an example, he considered that such damages “may
include damages measured by reference to the benefits likely to be obtained in future
by the defendant” (p 281). He went on to hold that damages measured on that basis
were available for the infringement of contractual as well as property rights. Turning
to Wrotham Park, he described it (pp 283-284) as
“a solitary beacon, showing that in contract as well as tort
damages are not always narrowly confined to recoupment of
financial loss. In a suitable case damages for breach of contract
may be measured by the benefit gained by the wrongdoer from
the breach. The defendant must make a reasonable payment in
respect of the benefit he has gained.”
This passage is apt to cause confusion. Two points should, I think, be made about it.
The first is that Wrotham Park was for practical purposes a contract case. The
restrictive covenant was binding on the defendant because the covenant ran with the
land and there was privity of estate. Lord Nicholls was well aware that Brightman J
had been awarding damages as the financial equivalent of the injunction to which
claimant was in principle entitled, and not as the financial equivalent of performance
Page 43
of the covenant. His point was that the two things, although conceptually different,
were for practical purposes the same, because the value to the claimant of an order
specifically enforcing the covenant would have been substantially the same as the
value of performance. Secondly, when Lord Nicholls referred to “damages …
measured by the benefit gained by the wrongdoer”, he cannot have meant to say that
the juridical basis of the award in cases like Wrotham Park was restitution of the
defendant’s gain. Restitution of an unjustly retained gain serves to reverse the
financial effect of the transaction. It is not the same as damages for breach of it. I do
not believe that Lord Nicholls overlooked this basic difference. He was simply
pointing out that in some circumstances, including those which obtained in Wrotham
Park, damages may be awarded according to a measure which has substantially the
same financial effect as a disgorgement or partial disgorgement of profits. This was
one reason why he felt able to order an account of profits. As he observed later in
his speech (p 284), the label is not always a sufficient description of what is in the
bottle.
Category (iii): Notional release fee as the measure of pecuniary loss
115. This category comprises cases in which there is no question of injunctive
relief and no legally recognised interest of the claimant in performance beyond the
recovery of pecuniary loss for a breach. The amount that reasonable people in the
position of the parties would agree should be paid for the right to do the acts
complained of is treated as evidence of what that pecuniary loss is. This is not
because the claimant is entitled to restitution or to some other remedy involving the
disgorgement of the defendant’s gains. It is because it represents the value that
reasonable people in the position of the parties would place on the performance of
the relevant obligation. There is of course a conceptual difference between the value
of performance and the cost of being released from performance, just as there is a
conceptual difference between the value of performance and the value of an
injunction enforcing performance. But there is commonly no practical difference
between them. The notional release fee is in many cases a useful surrogate for the
loss of profits arising from the breach, for straightforward economic reasons. The
claimant’s right to performance is an asset. It may not be marketable generally, but
as between the parties it has a financial value which is measured by the buy-out price
that would be agreed between them. The claimant’s recoverable loss is the additional
profit that he would have made if the contract had been performed. If he is
hypothetically to assess a reasonable charge for releasing the defendant from the
relevant obligation (in this case the non-compete obligation) he will do it by
estimating what that obligation is worth to him. It is worth the additional profit that
he would have made if it were to be performed. It is true that the value of a release
may not be same for both parties. But the claimant, acting reasonably, has no reason
to demand more than he anticipates he will lose by non-performance, and the
defendant, acting reasonably, has no reason to share with the claimant any benefit
which the latter may expect to derive from some especially profitable use
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attributable to his own skill or effort. Of course, the parties, lacking perfect foresight,
may get this wrong. But that is because what they are valuing is not the actual
performance as it turns out to be, but the prospects as seen at the time of the breach.
In other words, they are valuing the chance, as the court itself does in cases of this
kind.
116. The paradigm case in which damages are assessed on this basis, and the
context in which this question was first considered by the courts, is the award of
damages for patent infringement. A patentee may exploit his legal monopoly in
either or both of two ways, (i) by manufacturing and selling the patented article or
(ii) by licensing others to do so. In case (i), the measure of damages is the profits
which he has lost by the diversion of sales to the infringer: United Horse-Shoe and
Nail Co Ltd v John Stewart & Co (1888) 13 App Cas 401. This is the same as the
ordinary measure of damages for breach of a non-compete agreement. In case (ii),
the measure of damages is the royalty which the infringer would have had to pay if
he had obtained the licence which would have been available: Penn v Jack (1867)
LR 5 Eq 81; English and American Machinery Co v Union Boot and Shoe Machine
Co (1896) 13 RPC 64; Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Puncture Proof Pneumatic Tyre Co
Ltd (1899) 16 RPC 209; Aktiengesellschaft fur Autogene Aluminium Schweissung v
London Aluminium Co Ltd (No 2) (1923) 40 RPC 107.
117. In his classic statement in Meters Ltd v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ltd (1911)
28 RPC 157, Fletcher Moulton LJ suggested that even where there is no pattern of
granting licences and no going royalty rate, damages could properly be measured by
the notional royalty that would have been agreed as between willing patentee and
licensee. The reason was that that was evidence of the value to the parties of
performance of the defendant’s obligation. At pp 164-165, he observed:
“There is one case in which I think the manner of assessing
damages in the case of sales of infringing articles has almost
become a rule of law, and that is where the patentee grants
permission to make the infringing article at a fixed price – in
other words, where he grants licences at a certain figure. Every
one of the infringing articles might then have been rendered a
non-infringing article by applying for and getting that
permission. The court then takes the number of infringing
articles, and multiplies that by the sum that would have had to
be paid in order to make the manufacture of that article lawful,
and that is the measure of the damage that has been done by the
infringement. The existence of such a rule shows that the courts
consider that every single one of the infringements was a
wrong, and that it is fair – where the facts of the case allow the
court to get at the damages in that way – to allow pecuniary
damages in respect of every one of them. I am inclined to think
Page 45
that the court might in some cases, where there did not exist a
quoted figure for a licence, estimate the damages in a way
closely analogous to this. It is the duty of the defendant to
respect the monopoly rights of the plaintiff. The reward to a
patentee for his invention is that he shall have the exclusive
right to use the invention, and if you want to use it your duty is
to obtain his permission. I am inclined to think that it would be
right for the court to consider what would have been the price
which – although no price was actually quoted – could have
reasonably been charged for that permission, and estimate the
damage in that way. Indeed, I think that in many cases that
would be the safest and best way to arrive at a sound conclusion
as to the proper figure. But I am not going to say a word which
will tie down future judges and prevent them from exercising
their judgment, as best they can in all the circumstances of the
case, so as to arrive at that which the plaintiff has lost by reason
of the defendant doing certain acts wrongfully instead of either
abstaining from doing them, or getting permission to do them
rightfully.”
118. In General Tire & Rubber Co v Firestone Tyre & Rubber Co Ltd [1975] 1
WLR 819, 825, Lord Wilberforce (with whom Viscount Dilhorne, Lord Diplock and
Lord Kilbrandon agreed) restated these principles and made it clear that a notional
royalty was relevant evidence of the patentee’s loss, whether it arose from diverted
sales (his category 1) or from lost royalties (his category 2), simply on the ground
that it may in practice be difficult to estimate the loss in any other way, at p 826:
“In some cases it is not possible to prove either (as in 1) that
there is a normal rate of profit, or (as in 2) that there is a normal,
or established, licence royalty. Yet clearly damages must be
assessed. In such cases it is for the plaintiff to adduce evidence
which will guide the court. This evidence may consist of the
practice, as regards royalty, in the relevant trade or in
analogous trades; perhaps of expert opinion expressed in
publications or in the witness box; possibly of the profitability
of the invention; and of any other factor on which the judge can
decide the measure of loss. Since evidence of this kind is in its
nature general and also probably hypothetical, it is unlikely to
be of relevance, or if relevant of weight, in the face of the more
concrete and direct type of evidence referred to under 2. But
there is no rule of law which prevents the court, even when it
has evidence of licensing practice, from taking these more
general considerations into account. The ultimate process is
one of judicial estimation of the available indications. The true
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principle, which covers both cases when there have been
licences and those where there have not, remains that stated by
Fletcher Moulton LJ in Meters Ltd v Metropolitan Gas Meters
Ltd (1911) 28 RPC 157, 164-165 …”
He then set out the passage from Fletcher Moulton LJ’s judgment which I have
quoted above.
119. It is right to say that a patent is a species of property, albeit incorporeal. It
can be assigned like any other item of property, or the benefit transferred by license.
But that is entirely irrelevant to the present issue, because the concept of awarding
a notional royalty as damages for infringement does not depend on the
characterisation of a patent as a species of property. The infringer has not
appropriated or used the patent like the man who trespasses on the claimant’s land
or takes or damages his chattels. The patentee does not have an interest in the
observance of his patent exceeding its financial value, in the way that a landowner
may. He is not entitled to any more than his actual pecuniary loss. What he has is a
personal claim against the infringer for competing with him unlawfully. In cases of
diverted sales (Lord Wilberforce’s category 1) the measure of damages for the
infringement is precisely the same as it is in this case, namely the profit lost by the
diverted sales. And the value of those diverted sales may be measured by the amount
that the patentee could reasonably charge the infringer for not enforcing his
monopoly against him.
120. The same principle has been applied in other cases of tortious competition,
which involve no invasion of property rights unless property is so broadly defined
as to encompass any right whatever. For example, confidential information is not
property in the proper sense of the word, for there is no title against the world but
only a personal right against the person owing the duty of confidence. However, a
notional royalty (or its capitalised value) is commonly awarded as damages for
breach of a duty not to misuse confidential information, whether that duty arises
from contract or from equitable doctrines: Seager v Copydex Ltd (No 2) [1969] 1
WLR 809, 813; Force India Formula One Team Ltd v 1 Malaysia Racing Team Sdn
Bhd [2012] RPC 29, paras 383-387, 424, approved without consideration of this
point, [2013] EWCA Civ 780; [2013] RPC 38. This is not because of some principle
peculiar to equitable relief. Nor is it because the claims were in reality for restitution.
These were expressed to be, and in fact were awards of compensatory damages.
Irvine v Talksport Ltd [2003] 1 WLR 1576 was a passing off action. The defendant
had published a photograph of the claimant, a racing driver, thereby falsely
suggesting that he had endorsed their radio station. The Court of Appeal awarded a
notional endorsement fee. In a loose sense, passing off can be described as an
appropriation of the claimant’s property in his goodwill, which is how the judge had
characterised it at first instance in that case. The same could probably be said of the
breach of confidence cases. But I doubt whether this characterisation contributes
Page 47
anything to the argument. In one sense almost any legal right can be described as a
right of property, including the business and goodwill which the Morris-Garners
may be said to have appropriated by their breach of the non-compete covenant.
121. Hence the use of the same technique of assessment in straightforward cases
of breach of contract, where no question arose of the invasion of proprietary rights.
In Pell Frischmann Engineering Ltd v Bow Valley Iran Ltd [2011] 1 WLR 2370, the
Privy Council extended the concept of awarding damages in lieu of an injunction to
a case where there was no prospect of an injunction. I have already pointed out that
the effect is to sever any real connection between the financial award and the
hypothetical alternative of an injunction, because the alternative of an injunction did
not exist. But in reality what the Board was doing was awarding damages for breach
of contract on the same measure as damages in lieu of an injunction, ie in an amount
equal to the notional value of not having to perform. Similarly, in Vercoe v Rutland
Fund Management Ltd [2010] EWHC 424 (Ch), a notional release fee was awarded
by way of damages for breach of a joint venture agreement.
122. This explains why, in Pell Frischmann (paras 47-48), Lord Walker,
delivering the advice of the Board, regarded Experience Hendrix LLC v PPX
Enterprises Inc [2003] 1 All ER (Comm) 830 as “instructive”. In Experience
Hendrix, the defendant owned the copyrights in certain master recordings of the
singer Jimi Hendrix, but in an agreement to settle earlier litigation it had undertaken
not to license them. The claimant, which had succeeded to the rights of Jimi Hendrix,
complained that recordings had been licensed in breach of the settlement agreement.
The claimant asserted that the breach had damaged the market reputation of its own
Jimi Hendrix recordings, but told the trial judge (para 14) that it “had no evidence
and … did not imagine that he could ever possibly get any evidence to show or
quantify any financial loss.” This was not an admission that there were no losses. It
is clear that what the claimant was saying was that there were, but that it was
impossible to establish how much it had lost. The Court of Appeal (para 45) awarded
damages equal to the amount which would reasonably have been paid for permission
to license the recordings. In the absence of any possibility of assessing the difference
that the breach had made to the claimants’ sales, the notional release fee in that case
was simply the value which the reasonable people in the position of the parties
would have placed on the prospect of performance of the relevant obligation. In
refusing to be deterred by the fact that Experience Hendrix was neither a property
case nor a case in which damages were being awarded in lieu of an injunction,
Mance LJ was doing no more than follow the call of Lord Nicholls in Blake for a
more coherent approach to the law of damages, and in particular for an assimilation
in appropriate cases of the principles for awarding a notional release fee as damages
in property and contract cases. Lord Nicholls’ analysis has had the valuable effect
of freeing the law of damages from artificial categorisations which had turned the
principles with which we are presently concerned into an incoherent mass of subrules for different categories which exhibit no real differences in fact.
Page 48
123. These authorities, drawn from a diverse range of cases on the law of
obligations over a considerable period, suggest that the concept of treating a notional
release fee as an evidential tool for assessing a party’s true loss in appropriate cases
has been found valuable and is certainly not impractical. It is frequently employed.
Conclusion
124. As a result of the order which Phillips J made in the second week of the trial,
his judgment was confined to liability and to the question whether in principle the
claimant was entitled to what he compendiously called “Wrotham Park damages”.
He did not seek to quantify those damages, and although he had substantial expert
reports before him he made no finding about them. This makes it necessary to
proceed at the same level of abstraction in determining the present appeal. For the
reasons which I have given, I would modify the declaration of the judge so as neither
to require nor to exclude the use of a notional release fee as evidence of the
claimant’s loss. I put in it that way because the use of a notional release fee is not to
be regarded as a rule of law. As Fletcher Moulton LJ explained in the Meters case
and Lord Wilberforce in General Tire, the award of a notional release fee is not a
measure of damages but an evidential technique for estimating the claimant’s loss.
Its use is appropriate only if there is material on which the notional release fee can
be assessed and then only so far as the trial judge finds it helpful, in the light of such
other evidence as may be before him.
125. I doubt whether it matters, on the facts of this case, whether the right which
One Step asserts is analogous to a right of property. They are not claiming, nor are
they entitled to more than their pecuniary loss. But I would tentatively suggest that
the analogy is in fact close. The restrictive covenants were given by the MorrisGarners to procure the sale of their shares in a business. The value of the business
included its goodwill. The effect of their proceeding to compete unlawfully with the
business, was to appropriate to themselves part of the goodwill of the business which
they had sold.
126. For these reasons, I would allow the appeal to the extent that I have indicated.
My reasons are not in all respects the same as Lord Reed’s, but our conclusions
appear to me to be closely aligned.
LORD CARNWATH:
127. I agree that the appeal should be allowed for the reasons given by Lord Reed.
In view of the importance of the case in the development of the law of damages, I
shall add some comments of my own, in particular with regard to some important
Page 49
issues raised by Lord Sumption’s judgment, in view of what appear to my mind to
be significant differences between the two approaches.
128. Lord Reed’s analysis, as I understand it, follows an entirely orthodox
approach. He starts from the distinction identified and explained by Lord Shaw more
than a century ago (Watson, Laidlaw & Co Ltd v Pott, Cassels and Williamson 1914
SC (HL) 18; (1914) 31 RPC 104): that is, between cases governed by the traditional
compensatory principle (restoration of loss), and those covered by his “second
principle” (referred to in later cases as the “user principle”), applicable to cases
involving “the abstraction or invasion” of property or analogous rights. That in turn
is compared by Lord Reed with a third group of cases involving damages in lieu of
an injunction under Lord Cairns’ Act, of which the Wrotham Park case itself is taken
as a prime example. It is only in the second and third groups that an award based on
a user fee or “negotiating damages” can be supported.
129. Lord Sumption’s approach is more radical. He starts with an open challenge
to “the historic categorisation of legal rules” (para 103), which he regards as
problematic and economically unsound. This leads him to propose a new, avowedly
simpler, division into three inter-related categories, not to be “fragment(ed) into selfcontained sectors governed by arbitrary rules …” (para 109). As is apparent from
the judgment as a whole, this reformulation is in part a response to Lord Nicholls’
speech in Attorney General v Blake [2001] 1 AC 268, 283, and what Lord Sumption
sees as (at para 122) –
“the call … for a more coherent approach to the law of
damages, and in particular for an assimilation in appropriate
cases of the principles for awarding a notional release fee as
damages in property and contract cases.”
He adds that Lord Nicholls’ analysis has had –
“… the valuable effect of freeing the law of damages from
artificial categorisations which had turned the principles with
which we are presently concerned into an incoherent mass of
sub-rules for different categories which exhibit no real
differences in fact.” (at para 122)
It is symptomatic of their differences of approach that Lord Reed regards the same
passage in Lord Nicholls’ judgment as “not altogether easy to interpret”, for reasons
he explains but finds unnecessary to pursue further for the purposes of the present
case (paras 72-82).
Page 50
130. Lord Sumption’s second category (“damages in lieu of an injunction”: para
112ff) covers much of the same ground as Lord Reed’s discussion of the same topic
(paras 41ff), although there are significant differences of emphasis. The other two
categories are more innovative. The first category, headed “Interest extending
beyond financial reparation” (para 110ff), is in part based on the “user principle”
group of cases, starting from the “classic case” of invasion of property rights. That
is expanded into a new group not limited to such rights, but defined by the nonpecuniary nature of the claimant’s interest. The scope of the expansion is typified
by Blake itself, where the government’s only interest in protecting itself against
disclosure of information by an agent was “a non-pecuniary governmental interest”
(para 111).
131. Conversely, cases of patent infringement, traditionally associated with the
user principle, are carved out of the first category, and treated as the “paradigm”
example of Lord Sumption’s third category – “Notional release fee as the measure
of pecuniary loss” (paras 115ff). Although it is accepted that a patent is a species of
property, its status as such is said to be irrelevant to the issue of damages: “[t]he
infringer has not appropriated or used the patent like the man who trespasses on the
claimant’s land or takes or damages his chattels” (para 119). This category is
exemplified by Meters Ltd v Metropolitan Gas Meters Ltd (1911) 28 RPC 157, as
applied by Lord Wilberforce in General Tire & Rubber Co v Firestone Tyre &
Rubber Co Ltd [1975] 1 WLR 819, 825). Those cases are treated as supporting the
use of a notional release fee as “not a measure of damages but an evidential
technique for estimating the claimant’s loss” (para 124); a technique which in his
view should be available to the judge, if there is material on which the notional
release fee can be assessed, so far as “the trial judge finds it helpful, in the light of
such other evidence as may be before him” (para 124).
Discussion
132. Lord Sumption’s analysis provides some valuable insights, in particular in
relation to the special treatment of the government’s non-pecuniary interest in Blake
itself. However, I am unable with respect to accept his reformulation as a helpful
guide in the general run of cases.
133. In the first place it conflicts with the previous development of the law, up to
and including the description of the user principle by Nicholls LJ in Stoke-on-Trent
City Council v W & J Wass Ltd [1988] 1 WLR 1406, 1416. That is cited by both
Lord Reed (para 29) and Lord Sumption (para 110), and as I understand them treated
as an authoritative statement of the principle. Nicholls LJ cited, as examples of the
principle, the cases of Meters, General Tire, and Watson, Laidlaw noting that they
were patent infringement cases (pp 1416-17). Nothing in that judgment or the
previous cases justifies treating them as part of a separate category. Nor in my view
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does anything in Lord Nicholls’ speech in Attorney General v Blake [2001] 1 AC
268. He made no mention of the Stoke-on-Trent City Council case (which does not
appear to have been mentioned in argument). He did, however, cite Lord Shaw’s
statement of the equivalent principle in Watson, Laidlaw, noting that it was a patent
infringement case, and describing the principle as “established and not
controversial” (p 279A-D).
134. Secondly, the two cases on which Lord Sumption principally relies – Meters
and General Tire – do not to my mind support the use of a negotiated fee as an
“evidential technique” in other contexts. The observations of Fletcher-Moulton LJ
in the former case (quoted by Lord Sumption at para 117) were directed specifically
to cases of patent infringement. In that context, it was said to be almost “a rule of
law” that where permission is granted to make the infringing article at a fixed price,
that price, multiplied by the number of offending articles, is taken as the basis for
assessing damages. An equivalent approach was then applied by the Lord Justice to
cases where there was no such fixed price, by looking for “the price which – although
no price was actually quoted – could have reasonably been charged for that
permission …” It was in the same context that Lord Wilberforce in General Tire
(again in a passage quoted by Lord Sumption: para 118) spoke of the broad
categories of evidence which may be relevant to the “ultimate process … of judicial
estimation”. There is nothing in either passage which supports the use of a
negotiated fee, actual or hypothetical, as an evidential technique for assessing loss
more generally.
135. I accept that, if one were to turn the clock back 100 years one might question
the analogy drawn by Lord Shaw between borrowing a horse and infringement of a
patent. As Lord Sumption fairly says, patent infringement, although involving a
property right, is not the same as the appropriation or use of another’s land or
chattels. However, that has not hitherto been seen as a reason for separation.
Nicholls LJ himself, in the Stoke-on-Trent City Council case (at p 1416H), observed
that the principle was “not confined to the physical use of another’s property”, but
had been “applied in relation to incorporeal property, in particular patents”. He did
not see that anomaly, if anomaly it be, as requiring qualification of the principle.
Lord Sumption also observes that the principle has been applied to cases which
involve no invasion of any property right, as properly understood, for example
misuse of confidential information. There again, however, the principle has been
justified by analogy with the taking of property. In the first case he cites (Seager v
Copydex Ltd (No 2) [1969] 1 WLR 809, 813), the award was in terms justified by
Lord Denning MR (with the agreement of his colleagues) by “analogy” with
damages for conversion.
136. Thirdly, Lord Sumption appears to give no clear indication of the
circumstances which are expected to come within the third category. As I understand
it, the suggested criteria for use of this technique are twofold: whether there is
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material on which a negotiated release fee can be assessed, and, if so, whether the
trial judge finds it “helpful” in the light of the other evidence before him (para 124).
I cannot with respect regard that as providing adequate guidance to parties or to the
courts, on an issue which may have a substantial impact on the level of damages,
and accordingly on decisions about disclosure and about the evidence to be called.
This cannot be left as a matter depending simply on what, at the end of the day, the
judge may find helpful.
137. More generally, I am unpersuaded that it is necessary or helpful to redefine,
or break down the barriers between, the established categories; nor that to do so
offers any improvement in the coherence of the law. The concept of loss suffered,
or value diminished, is well understood in the law. So is the concept of a negotiated
fee, actual or hypothetical, for use of another’s property or for release from an
obligation. But they are different concepts, and the differences should not be blurred.
If in a particular context a negotiated fee basis of claim cannot be justified in its own
terms, the case is not improved by treating it as an evidential technique for assessing
something conceptually different.
Statutory compensation
138. A further concern, which needs to be taken into account before redefining the
traditional categories, is the possible impact of our reasoning on other related areas
of the law, for example compensation for statutory interference with property rights.
Arguments based on Wrotham Park have been deployed with mixed results in
support of claims for enhanced, negotiated fee compensation in two important
contexts: for “injurious affection” caused by statutory works on land subject to
restrictive covenants (Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 section 10); and for discharge
or modification of restrictive covenants by the Upper Tribunal (Law of Property Act
1925 section 84).
Injurious affection
139. The Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 section 10 (like its predecessor: Land
Clauses Act 1845 section 68) has been interpreted as permitting statutory works on
land subject to restrictive covenants, subject only to payment of compensation for
any diminution in value of the dominant tenement. In a case relating to land on the
same Wrotham Park estate (Wrotham Park Settled Estates v Hertsmere Borough
Council [1993] 2 EGLR 15 – “the Hertsmere case”) the Court of Appeal rejected an
argument that the compensation should include a sum reflecting “the price which
that the landowner could have exacted for allowing the development …” or “a
ransom price” (p 16H).
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140. In the leading judgment Sir Thomas Bingham MR expressed reservations
about the correctness of Brightman J’s judgment in the earlier Wrotham Park case
(p 18J), but held that it had no application to compensation under section 10. He
cited a comment by Professor Gareth Jones (“The recovery of benefits gained from
a breach of contract” (1983) 99 LQR 443, 450; referring to Tito v Waddell (No 2)
[1977] Ch 106, 335-336):
“In Wrotham Park Estate, the defendants had taken something
for nothing for which the plaintiffs could have required
payment, namely the release of the restrictive covenant; this
was not the case in Tito v Waddell (No 2) for the defendants
had done nothing which the plaintiffs had the right to prevent
…”
Sir Thomas Bingham thought the same reasoning could be applied to the instant
case: the authority had done nothing wrong nor taken anything to which it was not
entitled, but was simply performing its statutory duty to supply housing (p 18H). He
had earlier accepted that this might result in less than “perfect” compensation, but
that was acceptable “in the wider communal interests represented by the local
authority” (pp 17M-18A).
141. This case was considered by the Law Commission in its review of the law of
compensation for compulsory purchase of land (Towards a Compulsory Code: (1)
Compensation Final report (2003) Law Com No 286 para 9.6ff). It was suggested
that it seemed “somewhat anomalous” to treat the owner of the dominant tenement
in such a case as a person from who no land is taken. However, it was decided, in
line with the majority of responses (para 9.10), not to recommend a change to the
law in this respect. More recently the issue has been revisited by a leading textbook
(Michael Barnes QC The Law of Compulsory Purchase and Compensation (2014)
para 10.60-61). It is there argued that the Hertsmere case should be reconsidered,
following the “imprimatur” said to have been given by the House of Lords in
Attorney General v Blake [2001] 1 AC 268 to a “voluntary agreement” basis for
awards in private law.
142. Comment Under this statutory provision the law must in my view be taken as
settled for the time-being by the Court of Appeal decision in the Hertsmere case. As
far as I am aware, there has been no suggestion, then or since, that a negotiated fee
might be brought in by a different route, as an evidential technique for assessing loss
under the section. There are, as the Law Commission recognised, arguments for a
more generous basis of compensation. However, that is a matter properly left to
Parliament taking account of all the interests involved, including the public interest
considerations mentioned by the Master of the Rolls in Hertsmere.
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Restrictive covenants
143. A more confused picture emerges from the history of the Wrotham Park
analogy, in claims relating to statutory modification of restrictive covenants. The
authorities were reviewed by the Court of Appeal in Winter v Traditional &
Contemporary Contracts Ltd [2007] EWCA Civ 1088; [2008] 1 EGLR 80 (in which
I gave the judgment of the court).
144. The statutory framework for the power to discharge or modify restrictive
covenants is found in section 84 of the Law of Property Act 1925. Under section
84(1)(aa), the Lands Tribunal (now Upper Tribunal) was given power to discharge
or modify a restrictive covenant in order to allow “some reasonable user of land”,
where the restriction either (a) did not secure to the person entitled to the benefit
“any practical benefits of substantial value or advantage”; or (b) was “contrary to
the public interest”; and where, in either case, money would be an adequate
compensation for any “loss or disadvantage” suffered. The tribunal was empowered
to direct the payment of a sum “by way of consideration … to make up for any loss
or disadvantage suffered by that person in consequence of the discharge or
modification”.
145. A few months after the judgment in Wrotham Park, such a claim came before
the Lands Tribunal in In re SJC Construction Co Ltd’s Application (1974) 28 P &
CR 200. It concerned a development of six flats on land subject to a restrictive
covenant in favour of the local borough council. The development had been begun
without seeking a modification. The Tribunal (President Sir Douglas Frank QC)
refused to modify the covenant under ground (a) (no substantial benefit), but did so
under ground (b) (public interest). In relation to compensation, the President
mentioned the “free negotiation” approach adopted in Wrotham Park. This was seen
by him as equivalent to the familiar “Stokes v Cambridge” principle (Stokes v
Cambridge Corp (1962) 13 P & CR 77, 91).
146. “Stokes v Cambridge” is commonly relied on by valuers in assessing the
market value of land subject to compulsory acquisition (under the Land
Compensation Act 1961 section 5), where adjoining land holds the key to its
development. The value is treated typically as reduced by between one third and one
half, to reflect the likely cost of securing the necessary interest from the adjoining
landowner. This precedent was probably in the mind of the witness mentioned by
Brightman J (Wrotham Park, p 815E), who spoke of “one a half or a third of the
development value” being commonly demanded by an adjoining landowner,
although Brightman J adopted the much lower percentage of 5% for reasons he
explained.
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147. In SJC Construction the President favoured the “free negotiation” approach
over an approach limited to “loss or disadvantage … affecting the dominant land as
such” (p 206). He did so in part because he saw statutory modification of the
covenant as “in effect a compulsory expropriation of a right which together with the
servient land has a market value” (p 206). Assessing the development value at
£19,000, he fixed compensation at £9,500, on the basis that the likely outcome of
friendly negotiations would have been to split the development value equally (p
207).
148. In the Court of Appeal ((1975) 29 P & CR 322) the President’s award was
upheld, but on what seems a quite different conceptual basis. Lord Denning MR
(with whom the other members of the court agreed) noted the purpose of
compensation as being to make up for the “loss or disadvantage” suffered by the
person entitled, adding, at p 326:
“It is however, to be assessed for loss of amenities, loss of view
and so forth, which are things which it is hard to assess in terms
of money. It is similar to compensation for pain and suffering
…”
He approved the President’s reliance on Wrotham Park, as “a method by which he
was getting at the loss or disadvantage”, that being “an intangible matter which is
incapable of exact calculation …” (pp 326-327)
149. This reasoning is not easy to follow, given the President’s express refusal to
limit the award to loss or damage to the dominant land, and the lack of any hint in
his judgment of an attempt to assess “loss of amenities, loss of view and so forth”.
Lord Denning’s explanation of Wrotham Park is also difficult to reconcile with
Brightman J’s finding that in that case the plaintiff had suffered no loss.
150. Lip-service at least was paid to his approach in the next case in the Court of
Appeal (Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council v Alwiyah Developments (1983)
52 P & CR 278), but with a markedly less generous outcome in financial terms.
Dillon LJ saw ground (a) as concerned “with practical benefits on the land in the
nature of amenities and not with the merely financial bargaining position …” (p
284). However, he accepted that on the tribunal’s findings there was “a loss of
amenity to be valued” and that a possible method of assessment might have been by
reference to “some share, probably small, of the development value …” (p 285).
151. In the Winter case (para 28) those cases were treated as establishing, at least
up to Court of Appeal level, that compensation under section 84 was based on the
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impact of the development on the objectors’ land, not on the loss of the opportunity
to extract a share of the released development value (para 28); that the “negotiated
share approach” was “a permissible tool” (para 33), but that the percentage must
bear “a reasonable relationship to the actual loss suffered by the objector”; and that
the 50% percentage used in SJC established no precedent. SJC was described as
“undoubtedly a difficult decision”, because the Court of Appeal seemed to have “reinterpreted the tribunal’s award to fit its own different view of the law”, but the
Stockport case should have “dispelled any idea that objectors in cases of this kind
have any expectation of a windfall ‘Stokes percentage’ of the released development
value, or anything like it” (para 37). That more modest view seems thereafter to have
been reflected in the pattern of awards by the tribunal, as documented for example
in Preston and Newson: Restrictive Covenants affecting Freehold Land 10th ed
(2013) cap 14.
152. Comment Here again a case can be made for a more generous basis of award,
at least in some circumstances. Where as in SJC itself modification is made on public
interest grounds, it is easy to see the force of the President’s analogy with the refusal
of an injunction on similar grounds in Wrotham Park itself. It is less easy to see on
what principled basis one is to fix the appropriate percentage of development value,
within the range offered by those two cases (between 5% to 50%). The current law
may fairly be criticised as a somewhat uneasy compromise between two competing
concepts. However, as was pointed out by the Court of Appeal in Winter (para 34-
5) those conceptual problems seem to have been negotiated by experienced members
of the tribunal so, in subsequent cases, as to produce a reasonably consistent
practice. Again, in my view, if change is to be made it is for Parliament rather than
the courts to determine the appropriate balance.
Date of assessment
153. Finally, I would add a comment on an issue mentioned by Lord Reed (para
56), but not treated by him as needing to be resolved in this appeal. Lord Sumption
touches on the same issue, noting that the hypothetical release fee is “normally to be
assessed at the time of the breach” (para 108). He cites the statement by Neuberger
LJ in Lunn Poly Ltd v Liverpool and Lancashire Properties Ltd [2006] 2 EGLR 29,
para 29:
“Given that negotiating damages under the Act are meant to be
compensatory, and are normally to be assessed or valued at the
date of breach, principle and consistency indicate that postvaluation events are normally irrelevant. However, given the
quasi-equitable nature of such damages, the judge may, where
there are good reasons, direct a departure from the norm, either
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by selecting a different valuation date or by directing that a
specific post-valuation-date event be taken into account.”
154. As Lord Sumption notes, this passage was cited with approval by Lord
Walker in Pell Frischmann. However, neither he nor Neuberger LJ found it
necessary on the facts of their cases to look at events later than the date of breach,
nor to examine the flexibility allowed by the “quasi-equitable” nature of the remedy.
Although this is not an issue in the appeal, I note that at least one of the expert reports
in this case treats that passage as allowing the negotiated fee to be assessed taking
account of the “the eventual outcome”. Some comment may therefore be
appropriate.
155. In Lunn Poly itself the issue arose somewhat obliquely, and on unusual facts
relating to the breach of a covenant for quiet enjoyment in the lease of a unit in a
shopping centre. The breach in question involved works for the stopping up and
replacement of a fire door. An injunction to restrain the breach having been refused,
damages in lieu were assessed on the basis of a hypothetical negotiations for “sale”
of the tenant’s right to prevent the works. An issue then arose as to whether account
could be taken of the risk of subsequent forfeiture of the lease for a separate breach
of covenant by the tenant shortly before the landlord’s works. As Neuberger LJ
observed it was “a very weak point in practice” (para 15), in view of the strong
likelihood of relief being granted to the tenant. However, the court thought it right
to consider the point as a matter of principle, having regard to discussion in recent
cases.
156. Neuberger LJ referred in particular to AMEC Development v Jury’s Hotel
Management (UK) Ltd (2001) 82 P & CR 22. The judge (Anthony Mann QC, sitting
as a Deputy High Court judge) noted that Brightman J in Wrotham Park (p 815H)
had taken as his starting point for the hypothetical negotiation the profit which the
developer “with the benefit of foresight” would have assumed. As the deputy judge
commented, Brightman J seems to have imagined a negotiation before the
infringement, but using actual profits as evidence of what the parties would have
contemplated “before they actually accrued”. He took this as showing that the
negotiation analysis need not be pursued “rigorously to its logical end”, and that he
was not required to “guess at something which events have in fact made certain”
(para 13).
157. While declining to lay down any “firm general guidance”, Neuberger LJ did
not accept the deputy judge’s approach as generally applicable. Once the court had
decided on a particular date of valuation, “consistency, fairness and principle”
pointed against ignoring factors existing at that date or taking account of factors
which occurred afterwards (para 29). He then set out what he regarded as “the proper
analysis” in the passage cited above. As can be seen, he saw the “quasi-equitable”
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nature of the jurisdiction as permitting a relatively flexible approach, guided only (it
seems) by whether the judge sees “good reasons” to direct a departure from the
norm.
158. In my view, the more detailed examination by this court of the subject of
“negotiating damages” allows for more precise and principled guidance. Here again
there are useful statutory parallels. The Bwllfa case (Bwllfa and Merthyr Dare Steam
Collieries Ltd (1891) v Pontypridd Waterworks Co [1903] AC 426) established that,
in assessing compensation for loss caused by limits to mine-working imposed under
a statutory notice, the arbitrator was entitled to take account of evidence of increase
of prices since the date of the notice; he was “not required to conjecture on a matter
which has become an accomplished fact” (p 431 per Lord Macnaghten). That was
in a case where, as Lord Robertson observed (p 432) the statutory compensation was
not for an assumed sale of the coal at the date of the notice, but for “a continuing
embargo on working”.
159. In the same way, in the present context account must be taken of the nature
of the claim. Under the user principle, whether as applied to the taking of a horse or
infringement of a patent, the inquiry is as to the price or fee that the defendant would
have been expected to pay at the time of the taking or the infringement. Logically
the assumed knowledge should be limited to that which was available to the parties
at the time. The position is different where the award is by way of compensation for
the refusal of an injunction. This is a reflection not simply of the more flexible
(“quasi-equitable”) nature of the jurisdiction, but (as Lord Reed explains: para 47)
the different bases of the awards: “past, on the one hand, and future or continuing,
on the other”. Where the causes of the claimant’s loss are not limited to past
breaches, but include the judge’s refusal of an injunction to restrain future breaches,
there is no reason in principle to exclude information available to the parties up to
the time of the judge’s decision.