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Review Your SQE 1 Practice Records

Examination Timing: 00H01M11S

An advertisement for the sale of a car for £10,000 was posted on a local message board online. Sarah saw the advert and called the seller, Tom, who agreed to reduce the price to £9,000 as long as Sarah notified him by email within 24 hours that she was accepting the offer. Two hours later, Sarah sent an email to Tom saying she agreed to buy the car for £9,000. Immediately afterwards, Sarah received a delivery receipt confirming the message was delivered to Tom's email server. It was only two days later when Tom checked his email inbox and read the email, following which Sarah received a read receipt confirming the recipient viewed the message. Tom now claims the agreement was never formed. 

What is likely to be the legal position?

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A binding contract was formed between the parties at the time the message was delivered to the recipient's email server. The general rule as to acceptance is that no contract comes into existence unless and until the offeree's acceptance is communicated to the offeror. In the case of communication by instantaneous means, such as email, acceptance will generally take place when the message is received, even if not read, per Entores Ltd v Miles Far Eastern Corporation [1955] 2 All ER 493 (where an acceptance by telex was deemed to have been accepted only when the telex message was printed out on the offeror's terminal). The case law does, however, acknowledge that there is no universal rule strictly applicable to every case, but rather cases must be resolved by reference to the intention of the parties, the relevant business practices, and the risks in the particular matter. In this scenario, it is highly likely that communication of the acceptance would be considered complete upon the delivery of the email to the offeror given the clear condition that acceptance be by email within 24 hours. Therefore, the contract was formed between the parties at the time the message was delivered to the seller's email server. 

Key Point: Acceptance via instantaneous communication, such as email, generally takes effect when the message is received by the offeror's server, even if not read immediately.

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