Fairness Comes First in Resolution of Contract Disputes

Where the rights and wrongs of a contract dispute are in no real doubt, the courts can swiftly deliver justice – however, where matters are less clear, fairness will usually demand a full trial. One case that illustrated the point involved a training company that was stripped of its right to award certain qualifications.

Under a written contract, the company was authorised to award the qualifications under the aegis of an educational charity that bore responsibility for maintaining standards. The charity withdrew that authorisation following an investigation into alleged plagiarism by students and inappropriate tutor intervention.

The company argued that that sanction was void, having been imposed in breach of a number of explicit or implied procedural safeguards contained within the contract. It sought summary judgment on its claim on the basis that the charity had no viable defence and that it was an open and shut case.

In rejecting that application, however, the Court found that it could not be said that the charity had no realistic prospect of resisting the claim, to which it had had very little time to respond. It would be wrong to determine the issues after what would amount to a mini-trial, without pleadings, disclosure or oral evidence. In the circumstances, a full trial of the action was required.