Johnson v Agnew [1980]

Johnson v Agnew [1980]

Johnson v Agnew [1980] AC 367 is an English contract law case that played a crucial role in determining the date for assessing damages. The case established significant principles related to damages assessment in contract disputes, providing clarity on when damages should be evaluated.

Mrs Adeline Agnew failed to complete the purchase of Scheepcote Grange, a farm owned by Michael and Renee Johnson. The contract was to buy the farm for £117,000 on November 1, 1973. Despite the Johnsons being in financial trouble, Agnew took no action when everything was ready by January 1974. The Johnsons claimed specific performance in March 1974, won summary judgment in June, but the order was drawn up in November. Meanwhile, the mortgagees obtained orders for possession and sale. Advised that enforcing against Agnew was futile, the Johnsons left it. The property was sold for £48,000, insufficient to clear the mortgage debts, leading the Johnsons to bankruptcy.

The House of Lords, led by Lord Wilberforce, established five crucial principles related to the date for assessing damages in contract disputes:

Prospective termination: Termination for breach of contract is prospective, not retrospective. A repudiatory breach discharges both parties from future performance but preserves accrued rights, allowing for damages.

Specific performance and termination: The claimant seeking specific performance does not forfeit the right to terminate the contract by accepting a defendant's repudiatory breach. Acceptance of a repudiatory breach does not result in rescission ab initio.

Court oversight in specific performance: When a specific performance decree is made, the court has the sole jurisdiction to oversee performance and determine whether the obligation can be discharged.

Date of damages assessment: Common law damages are assessed at the date of the breach, but the court has the power to fix another date if justice requires. This flexibility is particularly relevant when the innocent party continues efforts to have the contract completed.

Equitable damages: The same principles for awarding common law damages apply to awarding equitable damages under Section 50 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, ensuring consistency in legal principles.

In summary, this case set essential principles in contract law, providing clarity on the prospective nature of termination for breach, the relationship between specific performance and termination, and the date for assessing damages in both common law and equitable contexts.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.