Monday 28 July 2003

Honour your agreements - says the Sheriff

The business section of the Glasgow Herald has an interesting story today. Unfortunately there is no direct link.

Ossory Property Investments have won a legal case at Glasgow Sheriff Court against the retailer RS McColl who are tenants in an Ossory-owned shopping complex in the Easterhouse area of the city. Following their acquisition of a similar company operating in the centre, McColl decided to close down their existing shop. Although McColl continued to pay rent on their original shop, they were taken to court because they had signed a lease in which they had agreed to continue to trade in the original outlet, in their own name, and for the full lease term and not merely pay the rent. Ossory's lawyer said: "It simply wasn't enough for McColl's to continue to pay the rent on an empty unit. McColl's is a nationally recognised covenant and their continuing presence was important to the centre, which is why a keep-trading clause was insisted upon in the first instance." The Herald states that: "Under English law, such clauses are all but unenforceable" - damages being the usual remedy. The Glasgow Sheriff ruled differently under Scots law.

Bizarrely, the Herald states that these clauses are ones "which - on the face of it - co-exist uneasily with a supposedly free market." That is nonsense. Free markets can only exist if people keep their agreements and some form of social sanction is necessary to enforce contracts. If you don't like the clause, don't sign the lease. Unlike the Herald, the Sheriff knows that freedom doesn't mean that you can break your word whenever you feel like it.