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Turner v Thomas [2022] EWHC 1239 (Ch) - Mannai and agricultural notices to quit

Turner v Thomas raised a (in the judge’s words) ‘short but interesting’ point on appeal concerning the validity of a ‘bare’ notice to quit an agricultural holding in North Wales subject to the protection of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.

The facts were straightforward: Mr Thomas was the tenant of an agricultural holding held under an oral tenancy from year to year. Through solicitors, he assigned the tenancy to a company of which he was the sole director and shareholder, and whose registered address was the same as his home address. The landlord was unaware of the existence of the company.

Three days later, his landlord having died, the landlord’s executor served a ‘bare’ notice to quit, without specifying any ground for possession under section 27, or case under Schedule 3, of the 1986 Act. The notice and its covering letter were addressed to ‘Mr Thomas’, not the company, and delivered to Mr Thomas by hand at the address shared by the company.

On first glance, therefore, the notice was invalid, as Mr Thomas was no longer the tenant of the holding at the date that the notice was served. The issue between the parties on appeal was whether the notice could nonetheless be ‘cured’ using the well-known test in Mannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Assurance Co Ltd  [1997] AC 747. Though a range of authorities were referred to by both sides, including the subsequent Court of Appeal decision in Pease v Carte r [2020], none really covered the particular circumstances of the present case: the landlord being unaware of the true tenant’s existence. The parties took fundamentally different positions as to the nature of the ‘Mannai’ test and how it applied to the facts of the case.

Zacaroli J, affirming the first instance decision of HHJ Jarman QC, held that the notice was valid. The manner in which, in doing so, the High Court formulated and applied the Mannai test will be of interest both to agricultural practitioners and to landlord and tenant lawyers generally.

Judgment can be viewed here.

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