Commercial considerations on terminating contracts
Pannone Corporate

Commercial entities will, at some time or other, be faced with the termination of a contract they are a party to. Despite the parties’ best intentions at the outset of a contract, circumstances may change, whether through a change in the economy; rising cost of materials; an unforeseen situation whereby one party is unable to perform its obligations under the contract; or the effect of a global pandemic. In such circumstances, termination of the contract may become a consideration, whether for convenience or for breach.

Often the position on termination is more nuanced than might at first appear to be the case. This means careful consideration should be given to a number of issues, including:

  1. is termination the right option and are there any alternative outcomes available?
  2. whether a party is in fact able to terminate under the contract terms;
  3. the practical and procedural steps that will need to be followed in accordance with the contract; and
  4. the effects of termination.

Meaning of termination

Termination of a contract is where the contract is brought to an end, such that the parties are released from their continuing obligations effective from the termination date. Termination does not undo the contract and the contract will still be enforceable by both parties in respect of any historic rights or obligations which have accrued prior to the termination date. There are also often terms that will survive termination, for example, post-termination restrictive covenants and/or terms relating to misuse of confidential information. However, the future performance of obligations under the contract will cease on termination.

Entitlement to terminate

The starting point when considering termination is the terms of the contract itself. It may be possible to terminate for convenience, by either party giving notice in the required format and with the specified notice period.

If a party is looking to terminate based on the other party’s alleged breach of the contract, it is important to note that not every breach of a contract gives an entitlement to terminate. Often in commercial contracts, certain events will be specified as being a material breach which give rise to the ability to terminate, for example, the insolvency of the other party.

In the absence of any express termination provisions within the contact relating to breach, it is necessary to consider whether the breach committed entitles the innocent party to terminate. In doing so, it is necessary to consider whether the breached term is a condition, which will enable a party to terminate for breach, a warranty or an intermediate term.

A condition is a fundamental term of the contract, going to the heart of it, and a breach of which will enable the innocent party to terminate the contract and claim damages. Generally, a breach of a condition is not capable of remedy, for example, the main purpose of the contract has not been performed.

By way of contrast, a warranty does not go to the root of the contract and therefore if a warranty term is breached, this will not entitle the aggrieved party to terminate, but their remedy will be limited to damages for any loss suffered; the contract will continue.

There are other terms, which when breached, the remedy for which will depend on the nature and effect of the breach at the time it happens. In this sense the position following the breach will be fact specific and may give rise to an entitlement to terminate.

In the heat of the moment, it may be difficult for commercial parties to ascertain whether the affected term is a such that it gives rise to an entitlement to terminate the contract. Whilst parties will often seek to label a term as a ‘condition’ when looking to terminate a contract, whether or not a term actually is a condition will often require closer consideration. It is therefore often sensible, before taking the decision to terminate a contract, to seek independent legal advice as to your position.

Giving notice

Before taking any steps to terminate the contract, it is necessary to reconsider the specific terms around termination and the necessary steps that must be taken to ensure the termination is effective. Accordingly, it is necessary to have regard to:

  • whether the party in breach must first be given a chance to cure a breach of contract;
  • the time period within which notice can be given – commercially drafted contracts will often include provisions which preclude the termination of the contract where the innocent party has unduly delayed in exercising their rights under the contract, i.e. they will be taken to have affirmed the breach if the contract has not been terminated within the prescribed period;
  • the content of the notice – if terminating for breach, it will be important when giving notice of the termination to clearly set out the grounds for termination, including details of the breach and with reference to the contract terms;
  • another consideration on giving notice to terminate, including for convenience, is where a contract is subject to automatic renewal terms, it will be necessary for the party wishing to terminate the contract to consider the period of notice which it is required, so as to avoid the situation whereby the contract is automatically renewed for another period; and
  • the means of communicating notice – it will be necessary to consider:
  • who can give notice;
  • the form of the notice required, i.e. is there a requirement for the notice to be in writing?
  • the means of delivering the notice, i.e. is there a requirement for notice to be sent by email to a specified individual and/or by recorded delivery post, and/or by personal service?
  • when the notice will be deemed delivered.

Effect of a failure to properly terminate

If a party elects to terminate a contract without sufficient grounds or fails to do so in accordance with the prescribed procedures, it will not be sufficient to terminate the contract and the act of purported termination can itself be a repudiatory breach of the contract entitling the other party to terminate the contract and sue for damages. This is why it is often advisable to seek professional advice when considering the termination of a commercial contract.

Alternatives to termination

By terminating a contract, you are effectively terminating, or at the very least potentially prejudicing, any ongoing business relationship with the other party. In addition, there may be reasons not to terminate a contract if there has been a breach, for example, if you are due to receive payments from the other party and there are no concerns as to their solvency.

Whilst circumstances may allow for termination of a contract, this does not mean it is always the most appropriate course of action to take. If the parties want or need to salvage their ongoing business relationship, other alternatives can be considered, including:

  1. the renegotiation of the contract terms and a variation of the contract itself to reflect a change in circumstances; and
  2. if an alternative remedy is available and/or if there are any prescribed procedures within the contract in the event of a dispute, for example, arbitration or mediation.

All in all, the termination of commercial contracts should not be rushed, and it is important to ensure that sufficient thought and consideration is given to the position before taking any steps. Seeking advice as to the position and exploring the commercial implications of taking such a step is important, before moving forward to terminate.

If you would like to discuss this blog, please contact Jonny Scholes on 07824 435665 or by email to

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