Simon Christopher Philip Barr v. Dunbar Assets Plc, 18 March 2016 –potential reduction of guarantee alleged to have been obtained by bank’s misrepresentations

Outer House case in which a property developer (Mr Barr) sought reduction of a personal guarantee executed by him in favour of Dunbar Bank in 2008.

In 2006 Mr Barr and his business partner sought to acquire land near Tain for a development. To do so they established a limited partnership (Edenroc) registered in the Isle of Man which was to purchase the property with funding from Dunbar Bank.

Extensive negotiations took place between the bank and Edenroc during which 6 facility letters (each of which superseded the previous letter and only the last of which was executed) constituting offers of loan were sent to Edenroc by the bank. The first four of the letters made reference to the requirement for a joint and several guarantee to be granted by Mr Barr and his business partner. However, this requirement was not included in the last two letters which made reference (as had the fourth letter) to a requirement for “[a]ny other security as we [the bank] may, at our absolute discretion, require.” The fifth facility letter had been sent with a further separate letter addressed to Edenroc confirming that there was to be a joint and several guarantee granted by Mr Barr and his business partner. That letter also included an annexed form which Mr Barr and his business partner had signed as evidence of their agreement to the proposal.

The formalities of the loan transaction were executed 5 days after the final (sixth) facility letter and Mr Barr attended at Edenroc’s solicitors’ office to sign the personal guarantee. The document he signed was an individual guarantee by him (including a cover page indicating that it was an individual guarantee) and not a joint and several guarantee granted with his business partner.

The development failed in 2011 and the bank sought to enforce the individual guarantee against Mr Barr who sought reduction of the guarantee on the basis that he had been induced into entering it by misrepresentations by the bank.

In particular he claimed that the prior facility letters (referring to the joint and several guarantee) were misrepresentations and that one of the bank’s employees (who was said by Mr Barr to have informed him that the bank never called up guarantees). Although Mr Barr accepted that he had signed the guarantee freely, he said he had signed the document without reading it and was unaware of the content and did not think it was necessary to obtain legal advice (although he had signed it in the presence of a friend who was usually his solicitor but in this case was acting for Edenroc).

Lord Armstrong rejected those arguments, holding that no misrepresentations were made to Mr Barr and that he had not been induced by the bank to sign the guarantee.

Lord Armstrong concluded that no express representation had been made by the bank in terms of the final facility letter that a joint and several guarantee would be required from Mr Barr. As each of the facility letters superseded the last, and only the final letter was executed, it was that letter which governed the documentation required at completion of the loan transaction. (The letters prior to the final letter merely represented ongoing negotiations and the signed form which had been sent with the fifth letter simply indicated Mr Barr’s (and his business partner’s) willingness to provide a joint and several guarantee if the funds had been advanced in terms of that letter (i.e. if the fifth letter had been the final letter)).

Moreover, there was no basis for inferring from the relevant documentation, however implicitly, that the guarantee required would be joint and several. In particular, Lord Armstrong noted that Mr Barr had not been a party to the facility letters (which had been between the Bank and Edenroc- a separate legal entity Mr Barr had gone to some trouble to set up).

Lord Armstrong also found that he did not believe Mr Barr’s evidence (taking account of his previous experience as a developer) that he had not read the document, did not appreciate the significance of what he was doing and, in particular, that he would not have signed the document without the bank’s alleged representations.

In coming to his conclusions Lord Armstrong noted:

“In the context of cautionary obligations it is well settled that as a general rule the cautioner is expected to look after his own interests and to make such enquiries as he considers necessary or appropriate.”

The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here.

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