Break clause: implied term that rent paid in advance in respect of a period after termination should be repaid?

In Marks & Spencer plc v BNP Paribas Securities Services Trust Co (Jersey) Ltd ([2015] UKSC 72) BNP granted a lease to M & S. The lease contained a break clause. The lease required M & S to pay rent quarterly in advance. The break right could only be validly exercised if there were no rent arrears at the time when the lease would end assuming the valid exercise of the break right (the ‘break date’). M & S had also to make a further payment to BNP if it exercised the break right. M & S served a clause to trigger the break right, paid the quarterly rent due immediately before the break date and made the further required payment. It now sought to recover the proportion of the rent attributable to the period from the break date up to what would have been the next quarter date under the lease. It argued that a term requiring BNP to make such a repayment should be implied into the lease. The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision that there was no such implied term.

Lord Neuberger gave the main judgment. The decisive factor was ‘the established legal background against which the Lease was entered into, and in particular the general attitude of the law to the apportionability of rent payable in advance.’ ([42]) Rent is not apportionable in time in common law ([43]). Section 2 of the Apportionment Act 1870 varied this with regard to rent payable in arrear but not rent payable in advance ([45]). Thus:

‘Save in a very clear case indeed, it would be wrong to attribute to a landlord and a tenant, particularly when they have entered into a full and professionally drafted lease, an intention that the tenant should receive an apportioned part of the rent payable and paid in advance, when the non-apportionability of such rent has been so long and clearly established. Given that it is so clear that the effect of the case-law is that rent payable and paid in advance can be retained by the landlord, save in very exceptional circumstances (eg where the contract could not work or would lead to an absurdity) express words would be needed before it would be right to imply a term to the contrary.’ ([50])

There was a broader discussion of Lord Hoffmann’s statement in Belize Telecom that the process of implying terms into a contract was part of the general process of contractual interpretation. Lord Neuberger was critical of this view. He saw construction of the express terms of the contract as being logically prior to the question as to whether or not a term was to be implied ([28]) and as being ‘a rather different exercise’ ([29]). Lords Carnwath and Clarke, on the other hand, expressed support for Lord Hoffmann’s formulation. Lord Carnwath expressed the view that Lord Hoffmann’s formulation did not involve any watering down of the previous authorities to the effect that the implication of terms is based on necessity ([58] – [60]). Thus:

‘While I accept that more stringent rules apply to the process of implication, it can be a useful discipline to remind onseself that the object remains to discover what the parties have agreed or (in Lady Hale’s words) “must have intended” to agree. In that respect it remains, and must be justified as, a process internal to the relationship between the parties, rather than one imposed from outside by statute or the common law’. ([69])

Lord Clarke said:

‘like Lord Neuberger (at para 26) I accept that both (i) construing the words which the parties have used in their contract and (ii) implying terms into the contract, involve determining the scope and meaning of the contract. On that basis it can properly be said that both processes are part of construction of the contract in a broad sense.’ ([76]).

Michael Lower

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