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“Agreement in principle” – is it binding?

By Andrew Behman, an Associate of Matthews Folbigg, in our Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group

When you’re negotiating the terms of a contract, settlement or payment arrangement, you might hear the term “agreement in principle”.  The obvious questions are:

  1. What does it mean?
  2. If you agree “in principle” to a person’s offer, or that person agrees “in principle” to your offer, can the agreement be enforced?

These are questions that are considered in numerous cases and various situations. The Courts have historically considered such cases in the context of different categories of agreement based on the decision in Masters v. Cameron. Recently the Supreme Court of New South Wales looked at these questions again in the matter of P J Leahy & Ors v A R Hill & Anor [2018] NSWSC 6. In this matter, Mr Leahy (and his related parties) commenced proceedings against Mr and Mrs Hill to recover an amount he claimed was due for repairs to a shed and arrears under a licence agreement.
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New – Fixed Term Contracts Expose Employers to Unfair Dismissal

In a decision that upends a decade of legal precedent, the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission has opened the door for employees engaged under fixed or specified-term contracts to bring unfair dismissal claims at the end of their contract term.

It has long been accepted that:

  • employers are free to structure their affairs, including the contracts they offer to employees, in the way that they think best suits their interests
  • this freedom has led to the proliferation of fixed-term or maximum-term contracts
  • where these types of employment agreements expire at the conclusion of their term, employees are not eligible to bring unfair dismissal claims because the expiry of the agreement does not result in a ‘termination of employment at the employer’s initiative’

However, in the recent decision of Khayam v Navitas English Pty Ltd:

  • a dark cloud has emerged over the above held principles
  • a distinction was drawn between: