Posts Tagged Property law

When does a deposit become a penalty?

Deposits hold a special place in contracts for the sale of land and do not fall within the general rules about penalties. Where a purchaser defaults the deposit (customarily 10 per cent) can be forfeited even though the amount of the deposit bears no reference to the anticipated loss to the vendor flowing from the breach of contract[1]. The vendor can forfeit the deposit as a minimum sum even if it makes a profit on the resale. On the purchaser’s breach, a vendor is also not limited to recovering the amount of the deposit; but may recover any deficiency on resale (after taking into account the forfeited deposit).

The special treatment afforded to deposits “derives from the ancient custom of providing an earnest for the performance of a contract in the form of giving either some physical token of earnest (such as a ring) or earnest money…”[2].

Where the principles governing deposits and the law governing penalties interact is where the contract provides, for example, for a deposit of less than 10 per cent to be paid and, in the event of a default, for the whole of the 10 per cent deposit to be paid. In such cases the requirement to pay the additional amount on default has been held to be a penalty[3].

In Simcevski v Dixon (No 2) [2017] VSC 531 Riordan J considered a contract for the sale of land that provided for the payment of a deposit equivalent to 5 per cent of the purchase price. Upon default by the purchaser, the vendor sought payment of a further 5 per cent of the purchase price relying on clause 28.4 of the contract which provided that:

‘If the contract ends by a default notice given by the vendor:

(a) the deposit up to 10% of the price is forfeited as the vendor’s absolute property, whether the deposit has been paid or not; and”

While His Honour accepted that the anomalous position of deposits in the law of penalties protected them in most circumstances, he held that the obligation in cl 28.4 to pay further sum of 5% of the price was void as a penalty because:

  • the obligation to pay a further sum of 5% of the purchase price did not purport to be by way of a deposit because the words in cl 28.4, being ‘the deposit up to’, had been deleted; and
  • the further sum of 5% was only payable ‘[i]f the contract ends by a default notice given by the vendor’.

His Honour said:

“In my opinion, the circumstances of this case lead to the position, described by the Court of Appeal, in Melbourne Linh Son Buddhist Society Inc v Gippsreal Ltd[4], as:

[t]he irresistible inference that arises from [the] evidence and the inherent circumstances of the … transaction is that the [payment is to be made] in order to punish the [breaching party] for the inconvenience its conduct caused to the [innocent party] … rather than to protect any legitimate commercial interest of the [innocent party] arising from a breach … by the [breaching party].

His Honour also held that cl 28.4 was not a penalty simply because it was not a liquidated damages clause (ie a clause that refers to a sum fixed by the contract as a genuine pre-estimate of damage in the event of breach), but rather because it imposed an obligation to pay without any limit on the vendor’s right to claim damages to the extent that they exceed that payment.

Drafters of contracts must make it clear what is and what is not a deposit and provide for that sum to be paid without any reference to a breach. The case contains an extensive discussion of all the relevant caselaw.

[1] See: Workers Trust and Merchant Bank Ltd v Dojap Investments Ltd [1993] AC 573; Kazacos v Shuangling International Development Pty Ltd (2016) 18 BPR 36,353.

[2] Workers Trust, 578-9.

[3] See, among others: Luu v Sovereign Developments Pty Ltd (2006) 12 BPR 23,629; Iannello v Sharpe (2007) 69 NSWLR 452.

[4] [2017] VSCA 161.

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Content of default notices under s27 of Retail Leases Act

At general law the question of whether a tenant has validly exercised an option for a further term depends upon whether the tenant has met the conditions contained in the lease for the exercise of the option. The general law has been altered by the Retail Leases Act 2003. Section 27(2) provides that:

” If a retail premises lease contains an option exercisable by the tenant to renew the lease for a further term the only circumstances in which the option is not exercisable is if –

(a)the tenant has not remedied any default about which the tenant has been given written notice; or

(b)the tenant has persistently defaulted under the lease throughout is term and the landlord has given the tenant written notice of the defaults.

Section 27 raises a number of questions: what does a notice need to say to be be a “notice” of default (ss.27(2)(a) and (b)) and how many defaults must there be for the defaults to be “persistent” and when in the term of the lease do they need to occur to be defaults “throughout the term”  (s.27(2)(b)).

In Leonard Joel Pty Ltd v Australian Technological Approvals Pty Ltd [2017] VCAT 1781 VCAT had to consider s.27(2)(a). The dispute concerned whether the tenant was in default by not furnishing the landlord with “as built” plans following alterations to the premises and whether the purported notices of default constituted “notice” of the default.  After deciding that the tenant had not been in default at the time it exercised the option, the Tribunal went on to consider whether the purported default notices given by the landlord constituted “notice” of the default. The landlord’s letters requesting “as built” plans made no mention of a “default” under the lease or a “breach” of the lease.

In determining that the landlord’s letters were not “notices” of a default, Member Josephs said [140]:

“….the potential consquences to the tenant of the landlord not being required to grant the option to renew are significant and serious and as such I find that a more narrow interpretation has to be applied to the sufficiency of the notice any default under the lease “about” which the landlord has given. It is necessary therefor that the landlord applies some rigour in its giving of notice which should make it expressly clear that a breach by the tenant is alleged and should be clear and consistent in its description of the nature of the breach, all of which is alleged to constitute the default.”

And at [142]:

“..the landlord’s letters do not in any way refer to the possible consequence of the landlord not granting the renewal option if the alleged default is not remedied.”

While the latter statement could be interpreted as requiring that a notice refer to a possible consequence of the breach as being that any option might not be exercisable, the Member does not appear to have intended that outcome because he refers to the notice given in Computer & Parts Land Pty Ltd v Property Sunrise Pt Ltd [2012] VCAT 1522 as being an example of “a very appropriate example of a notice”; the notice in that case did not refer to the possibility that an option might be exercisable.

What the decision does highlight is that for a notice to constitute “notice” of  a default under s.27 it must communicate with “obvious clarity and sufficiency” that there is a default or a breach which must be rectified. The default or breach should be identified clearly,  the relevant lease provision referred to and a request made to rectify the default. The notice should be given as soon as possible after the landlord becomes aware of the default.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Real estate agent not authorised to accept termination notice given under s.31 of Sale of Land Act 1962

A purchaser of land in Victoria may terminate the contract “at any time before the expiration of three clear business days” after signing the contract. See: s.31(2) of the Sale of Land Act 1962 (Vic). The termination notice must be “given to the vendor or his agent” or left at an address specified in the contract. See: s.31(3). Termination entitles the purchaser to the return of most of the moneys paid under the contract. See: s.31(4).

In Eng Kiat Tan and Cheng Lo v Thomas Russell [2016] VSC 93 the Supreme Court of Victoria had to decide whether the vendor’s real estate agent was an “agent” for the purpose of being given a termination notice.

The High Court has said that the employment of a real estate agent to find a buyer of property does not necessarily create any authority to do anything which will affect the legal position of the employer; an agent does not even have implied authority to receive the purchaser money. See: Peterson v Maloney (1951) 84 CLR 91. In Brien v Dwyer (1978) 141 CLR 378 Gibbs J said that the expression “agent”, when used in relation to a real estate agent, was misleading because “Such so-called agents do not have a general authority to act on behalf of a vendor in relation to a contract.”

In Eng Kiat Tan the purchasers gave the termination notice to the real estate before the expiration of three clear business days after signing the contract. The vendor refused to accept that the contract had been terminated pursuant to the Act. The sale price was $4,480,000. The vendor resold the land to another purchaser for $4,070,000. The purchasers commenced a proceeding seeking recovery of the deposit and the vendor counterclaimed seeking the balance of the deposit and the loss suffered on the resale of the property. The purchasers claim failed and the vendor’s claim succeeded.

The purchaser argued that s.31 was remedial legislation and that the expression “agent”in s.31 must extend to the vendor’s real estate because, among other things, the purchaser had only three days to make inquiries as whether a person was or was not an “agent” with authority to accept the termination notice. The purchaser also referred to Lloyd and Rimmer’s Sale of Land Act Victoria where the authors say that for the purpose of s.31 “agent” includes but is not limited to the estate agent engaged by the vendor in connection with the sale.

The vendor argued that s 31 did not create a statutory authority to receive a termination notice: the purchaser had to establish that the vendor’s real estate had actual or ostensible authority to accept the termination notice and there were no facts which established any authority in the vendor’s real estate agent beyond that usually granted to real estate agent.

The trial judge held that s.31 did not create a statutory authority in a real estate agent to accept a termination notice.

Purchasers need to ensure that the sale contract identifies the person or persons upon whom a termination notice under s. 31 can be given or the place where a notice can be left.

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Vendor not entitled to interest on unpaid contract price where contract terminated

Vendors who terminate contracts for the sale of land on the ground of a default by the purchaser often claim interest on moneys that have not been paid calculated from the date of the breach to the date of termination. Clause 25 of the general conditions of the standard form of contract concerning the sale of land prescribed by the Estate Agents (Contracts) Regulations 2008 (Vic)  provides that:

“A party who breaches this contract must pay to the other party on demand:

…… ; and

(b)       any interest due under this contract as a result of the breach.”

Does clause 25(b) entitle a vendor to interest on the contract price from the date of a breach by a purchaser to the date the vendor terminates the contract?

Two cases in the Supreme Court of Victoria suggest that the answer to this question is “yes”. In Portbury Development Co Pty Ltd v Mackali [2011] VSC 69 the plaintiff sold a property for $1,600,000 with a deposit of $60,000, with the balance of purchase price payable on a nominated date. The defendant failed to complete and the plaintiff terminated the contract. The court accepted that the plaintiff’s termination was valid. The plaintiff’s claim included damages being, among other things, the difference between the contract price and the value of the property at the time of termination and “interest between default and rescission” based on a clause similar to clause 25. The court awarded the amount of interest claimed to the plaintiff, noting that such interest was under the terms of the condition payable on demand and remarking at [27]:

“By the notice of rescission the plaintiff made an appropriate demand for that interest. Accordingly, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment against the defendant for the sum of interest claimed by it.”

In Pettiona v Whitbourne [2013] VSC 205  the facts were similar to those in Portbury. The price of the property was $5,850,000. The purchaser failed to pay the balance of purchase price on the date nominated for settlement. A notice of default was served and the contract was terminated. The plaintiff claimed, amongst other things, interest on the unpaid balance for the period of default. The claim for interest, which was made under the terms of the contract, was not disputed by the defendant.

A recent case in the County Court of Victoria suggests that the answer to the question posed is “no”. In Yvonne Maria Van Der Peet Bill v Allan James Clarke [2015] VCC 1721 Judge Macnamara declined to follow Portbury and Pettiona in deciding that a vendor of land was not entitled to interest from the date of the breach to the date of the termination of the contract. At [77] His Honour analysed the issue as follows:

“To put it in a nutshell, how can interest be awarded upon an alleged principal sum that ultimately was never payable?”

In answering that question His Honour said it was necessary to go to “some fundamental principles of the law of vendor and purchaser” and “one of Sir Owen Dixon’s most celebrated judgments” in McDonald v Dennys Lascelles Limited (1933) 48 CLR 457 at 477-479. In McDonald the guarantors of a purchaser’s obligations under a terms contract contended that upon termination by the vendor the contract was cancelled as to the future and, because there would be no transfer of the property, the purchaser’s obligation to pay an outstanding instalment of the purchaser price came to an end. The High Court accepted the guarantors’ contention. Because the guarantors’ obligation was a secondary one their obligation was also terminated.

His Honour also considered the decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal in Carpenter v McGrath (1996) 40 NSWLR 39 which he said accorded with the general principles that emerged from McDonald. In Carpenter the purchaser failed to complete a contract to buy land and the trial judge awarded damages to the vendor which included a claim for interest from default until termination. On appeal the Court of Appeal disallowed the claim for interest from default until termination. The Court’s reasoning was in effect that once the contract ended the vendor could not have sued for the purchase price and was relegated to a claim for the loss of the bargain. The interest operated to increase the amount payable on completion and because the purchase moneys were not payable interest could not be claimed.

Judge Macnamara said that while Portbury and Pettiona supported the award of interest, general principle flowing from the analysis in McDonald pointed away from an award being made and therefore the claim for interest failed.

A question that is unresolved is whether the position might have been different if the vendor had re-sold the land rather than retaining it because the vendor would, in determining the loss on any resale, arguably have been entitled to treat the purchase price as constituted both by the contract price and the interest payable under the contract.

 

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Wife’s title as joint proprietor with husband not defeasible by reason of husband’s fraud

In Cassegrain v Gerard [2015] HCA 2 the High Court of Australian had to decide whether a wife’s title as a joint proprietor with her husband was defeasible by reason of the husband’s fraud. The case contains an interesting discussion about when the fraudulent acts of an agent can be attributed to the principal and also the nature of a joint tenancy.

Section 42(1) of the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) provides that the estate of a registered proprietor is paramount. It provides that, subject to some exceptions:

“Notwithstanding the existence in any other person of any estate or interest which but for this Act might be held to be paramount or to have priority, the registered proprietor for the time being of any estate or interest in land recorded in a folio of the Register shall, except in case of fraud, hold the same, subject to such other estates and interests and such entries, if any, as are recorded in that folio, but absolutely free from all other estates and interests that are not so recorded“. (emphasis added)

Section 118(1) provides that:

“Proceedings for the possession or recovery of land do not lie against the registered proprietor of the land, except as follows:

(d)       proceedings brought by a person deprived of land by fraud against:

(i)        a person who has been registered as proprietor of the land though fraud; or

(ii)       a person deriving (otherwise as a transferee bona fide for valuable consideration) from or through a person registered as proprietor of the land through fraud.”

The vendor transferred the land to the husband and wife as joint tenants for consideration to be satisfied by debiting the husband’s loan account with the vendor. The husband knew that the vendor did not owe him the amount recorded in the loan account. The husband then transferred his interest in the land to his wife for a nominal consideration. The questions were whether the wife’s title, first as joint proprietor with her husband, or second deriving from or through her husband under the subsequent transfer, was defeasible by the vendor.

Much attention was given in argument to whether the husband was the wife’s “agent”. In Assets Company Ltd v Mere Roihi [1905] AC 176 at 210 Lord Lindley that:

“the fraud which must be proved in order to invalidate the title of a registered purchaser for value … must be brought home to the person whose registered title is impeached or to his agents. Fraud by persons from whom he claims does not affect him unless knowledge of it is brought home to him or his agents.” (emphasis added)

The argument was about whether the fraud was “brought home” to the wife because the husband was fraudulent and was her “agent”. It was not disputed that the husband acted fraudulently in both the first and second transfers.

The court rejected the contention that the husband’s fraud could be sheeted home to the wife as a matter of agency. The court referred to the statement by Street J in Schultz v Corwill Properties Pty Ltd 1969] 2 NSWR 576 where his Honour said :

“It is not enough simply to have a principal, a man who is acting as his agent, and knowledge in that man of the presence of a fraud. There must be the additional circumstance that the agent’s knowledge of the fraud is to be imputed to his principal. This approach is necessary in order to give full recognition to (a) the requirement that there must be a real, as distinct from a hypothetical or constructive, involvement by the person whose title is impeached, in the fraud, and (b) the extension allowed by the Privy Council that the exception of fraud under s 42 can be made out if ‘knowledge of it is brought home to him or his agents’.”

There was no evidence that the wife was knowingly engaged in the husband’s scheme to deprive the vendor its land for nothing.

The majority (French CJ, Hayne, Bell and Gaegler JJ) held that the wife’s title as joint tenant was not defeasible by showing that the husband had acted fraudulently because the fraud had not been brought home to her.

Keane J dissented on this issue. His Honour decided that the land was acquired by the wife and the husband as joint tenants and as joint tenants they acquired a single estate. The title was acquired by fraud “sheeted home” to the wife, not because the wife claimed the title through her husband, but by virtue of the joint tenancy of the single estate to which they were entitled.

The vendor succeeded in recovering the land because the whole court  decided that s.118(1)(d)(ii) applied: the wife had acquired an interest as tenant in common as to half from the husband who had been registered as proprietor through fraud.

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Solak not followed in Victorian fraud case

There have been many cases about whether a mortgage procured by fraud secured any money in circumstances where the mortgagee is innocent of the fraud. The latest case is Perpetual Trustees Victoria Limited v Xiao Hui Ying [2015] VSC 21 (Ying) where Hargrave J refused to follow the Victorian decision of Solak v Bank of Western Australia [2009] VSC 82.

There is no question that a lender mortgagee has an indefeasible mortgage when registered provided the mortgagee is not involved in the fraud. The question is whether any amount is secured?

In NSW and Victoria the issue has been resolved by determining whether the payment covenant in the forged collateral agreement is incorporated into the registered mortgage.

In Ying the mortgage incorporated a memorandum of common provisions which contained a covenant for payment by reference to any amounts owing under any other agreement between the mortgagor and the lender. The other agreements were also forged.

The thrust of the NSW decisions is that, where the loan agreement on which the lender relies is forged and therefore void, there is no “secured agreement” and therefore no “secured money” within the meaning of the payment covenant in the mortgage. See: Perpetual Trustees Victoria v English [2010] NSWCA 32. The same logic has been applied where the loan agreement (but not the mortgage) is forged. See: Perpetual Trustees Victoria Ltd v Cox [2014] NSWCA 328. In Solak Pagone J reached a contrary conclusion to the NSW courts. In Solak the mortgage and the loan agreement were forged. Pagone J distinguished the NSW cases on the basis that the mortgage, memorandum of common provisions and loan agreements all defined the mortgagor/borrower as ”You” and “You” was in each case the forger purporting to be Mr Solak. The mortgage was therefore effective as a security.

In Ying Hargrave J disagreed with Solak and followed the NSW decisions. His Honour said that Solak was “plainly wrong” and that there was nothing secured by the mortgage in Solak because there could be no amount owing under a forged loan agreement and there was also nothing secured by the mortgage in Ying. In Ying the plaintiff mortgagee was ultimately successful on the ground that the mortgagor held the mortgaged land on trust for the forger (the husband of the mortgagor) and that the mortgagee was entitled to have the value of the mortgaged land applied to partial repayment of its loans.

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Rent reviews – mandatory or at the landlord’s discretion?

The issue of whether a lease requires a rent review or whether the review is at the discretion of the landlord often arises. The problem can avoided by clear drafting. In Growthpoint Properties Australian Limited v Austalia Pacific Airports [2014] VSC 556 the court had to decide whether a rent review was mandatory under the lease or whether the review was at the discretion of the landlord.

Clause 4.2 of the lease provided that:

“On each Market Review Date, the Rent is to be adjusted by a market review in accordance with the Market Review Method….”

Part B of the Lease provided:

“On each Market Review Date, the Rent will be adjusted by a market review if:

(a) APAM gives written notice to the Tenant (“Rent Review Notice”) setting out APAM’s opinion of the market rent for the Premises as at the Market Review Date; and

(b) the Rent Review Notice is given to the Tenant in the period between 6 months before and 6 months after the Market Review Date.

New Rent applies unless a dispute notice is served.

The Rent stated in the Rent Review Notice applies from the Market Review Date unless the Tenant gives APAM a notice disputing the specified Rent (“Dispute Notice”) within 21 days after the Rent Review Notice is given.”

The controversy between the tenant and the landlord arose from the imperative language in clause 4.2 (“is to be adjusted”) and the use of the conditional language in Part B (“will be adjusted”).

The tenant contended that the clauses, when read together were ambiguous and that there was a conflict between the clauses. On the tenant’s construction of the lease the landlord was obliged to initiate a rent review.

The landlord submitted that the rent provisions gave the landlord an entitlement, but not an obligation, to give the lessee a rent review notice.

The court held that the rent provisions gave the landlord an entitlement, but not an obligation, to give the lessee a rent review notice.

The case is useful because it discusses in detail the principles governing the construction of leases and rent review clauses and highlights the need to examine the lease as a whole. Of particular interest is the discussion about the purpose of rent review clauses: the House of Lords in United Scientific Holdings Ltd v Burnley Borough Council [1978] AC 904 viewed the benefit of a rent review to the landlord as being the ability to adjust rent market with the benefit to the tenant being seen as the security of a long lease.

The lease in Growthpoint was a commercial lease. If the lease is a “retail premises lease” a tenant may initiate a rent review if the landlord fails to do so within 90 days after the period provided for in the lease for the review. See: s.35(5) of the Retail Leases Act 2003.

 

 

 

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Implied term that vendor must act in a reasonable manner when selling land pursuant to liquidated damages clause

There is a translation key(widget) on the mirrored blog for ease of reading for non-English speaking members of the public or professionals. The mirrored blog can be found at http://roberthaybarrister.blogspot.com.au/

 

What duties does a vendor have in selling land pursuant to a liquidated damages clause in the sale contract following a default by the purchaser?

There are three possibilities:

  • if a vendor acts unreasonably in failing to minimise loss arising from a purchaser’s breach, any damages will be reduced to the extent that the vendor’s loss would have been reduced had the vendor acted reasonably;
  • the duty imposed on a vendor is similar to that imposed on a mortgagee exercising a power of sale granted under a security, the duty being to act in good faith;
  • there is an implied term in the contract for the sale of duty that a vendor will exercise the power of resale in a reasonable manner.

In Portbury Development Co Pty Ltd v Ottedin Investments Pty Ltd [2014] VSC 57 Garde J rejected the first two possibilities and held that there was an implied term in the contract that the vendor would act reasonably in the exercise of its power of resale and that this implied term extended to all aspects of the resale. The contractual provision considered by the court was general condition 28.4 of the general conditions which provides:

“If the contract ends by a default notice given by the vendor:

(a)        the deposit up to 10% of the price is forfeited to the vendor as the vendor’s absolute property, whether the deposit has been paid or not; and

(b)       the vendor is entitled to possession of the property; and

(c)        in addition to any other remedy, the vendor may within one year of the contract ending either:

(i)        retain the property and sue for damages for breach of contract; or

(ii)       resell the property in any manner and recover any deficiency in the price on the resale and any resulting expenses by way of liquidated damages; and

(d)       the vendor may retain any part of the price paid until the vendor’s damages have been determined and may apply that money towards those damages; and

(e)        any determination of the vendor’s damages must take into account the amount forfeited to the vendor.”

His Honour held that the implied duty to act in a reasonable manner in exercising the power of resale did not mean that a vendor had to put the interests of the defaulting purchaser ahead of his own. At [175] His Honour said:

“Where the interests of a vendor and the purchaser in breach are in conflict, for example as to the urgency or method of the resale, the vendor is entitled to prefer his own interests to those of the purchaser in breach, provided that in so doing the vendor acts in a reasonable manner. The obligation on the vendor to act in a reasonable manner has been held to apply to price, time of resale and conduct in the form or method of resale. It would also extend to the terms of resale to be offered by the vendor.”

 

My clerk can be contacted via this link for bookings  http://www.greenslist.com.au/

 

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Property Law ( Sale of Land) – Everything must be in writing

There is a translation key (widget) on the mirrored blog for ease of reading for non-English speaking members of the public or professionals. The mirrored blog can be found at http://roberthaybarrister.blogspot.com.au/

 

It is extraordinary how often lawyers overlook the cardinal rule when dealing with land:

anything intended to have legal effect must be in writing. See: s.53 of the Property Law Act 1958 and s.126 of the Instruments Act 1958.

 

The most overlooked rule appears to be that where an agent is to sign a contract or enter into an agreement that will affect an interest in land the agent must also be authorised in writing to sign the contract or enter into the agreement.

In Federation Properties Pty Ltd v Tzioras [2001] VSC 135 Byrne J held that a contract for the sale of land was unenforceable because the agent who made the contract had not been authorised in writing.

Lawyers settling court proceedings should be particularly careful about ensuring that they have written instructions to sign terms of settlement. See: Grummitt v Natalisio  [1968] VR 156; Collin v Holden [1989] VR 510.

 

land

 

My clerk can be contacted via this link for bookings  http://www.greenslist.com.au/

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