Define: Reasonable Time

Reasonable Time
Reasonable Time
Quick Summary of Reasonable Time

Reasonable time refers to a period of time that is considered fair, just, and appropriate under the circumstances. In legal contexts, the concept of reasonable time is often used to determine whether a party has fulfilled their obligations within a reasonable timeframe as required by a contract, statute, or common law principles. What constitutes reasonable time may vary depending on factors such as the nature of the transaction, industry standards, the parties’ intentions, and any relevant external circumstances. Courts may assess reasonableness based on objective standards or the specific circumstances of the case. Failing to act within a reasonable time frame may result in legal consequences such as breach of contract or forfeiture of rights, depending on the context of the situation.

What is the dictionary definition of Reasonable Time?
Dictionary Definition of Reasonable Time

In contracts, common custom in the business or under the circumstances will define “reasonable time” to perform or pay. It is bad practice to draft a contract using such a vague term.

Full Definition Of Reasonable Time

In legal matters and contracts, the term “reasonable time” is often important for carrying out responsibilities and enforcing duties. Its exact definition can vary and depends on the context, transaction nature, and specific case circumstances. This legal review delves into the concept of reasonable time, discussing its relevance in different areas of British law, such as contract law, statutory interpretation, and judicial proceedings.

Concept and Definition

The term “reasonable time” refers to an amount of time which is fairly necessary to do whatever is required, having regard to the nature of the obligation and the surrounding circumstances. What constitutes a reasonable time is determined on a case-by-case basis, with courts considering the facts and particulars of each situation.

Historical Background

The concept of reasonable time has deep roots in common law. Historically, courts have relied on this principle to inject flexibility and fairness into the interpretation of time-related obligations. The notion allows for the accommodation of unforeseen delays and the balancing of interests between contracting parties or litigants.

Reasonable Time in Contract Law

Implied Terms

In contract law, the principle of reasonable time is often invoked where a contract does not specify a timeframe for performance. Section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, for instance, implies that goods must be delivered within a reasonable time when no time is fixed by the contract. The determination of what constitutes a reasonable time depends on factors such as the nature of the goods, market conditions, and customary practices.

Case Law

The courts have developed extensive case law addressing reasonable time in the context of contractual performance. In the landmark case of Hick v Raymond & Reid [1893] AC 22, the House of Lords held that the interpretation of reasonable time must consider the circumstances of the case, including the parties’ intentions and the commercial context.

Breach of Contract

Failure to perform within a reasonable time can result in a breach of contract. In Union Eagle Ltd v Golden Achievement Ltd [1997] AC 514, the Privy Council highlighted that time could be of the essence in contracts, meaning that any failure to perform within a reasonable time could lead to termination and damages.

Reasonable Time in Statutory Interpretation

Legislative Framework

Legislation often incorporates the term “reasonable time” to allow for flexibility in the application of statutory duties. For example, the Limitation Act 1980 does not define a specific timeframe for certain actions, leaving it to the courts to determine what constitutes a reasonable period based on the facts of each case.

Judicial Interpretation

The courts play a pivotal role in interpreting reasonable time within statutes. In British Railways Board v Pickin [1974] AC 765, the House of Lords underscored the judiciary’s role in interpreting legislative provisions, including those involving reasonable time, to reflect the intent of Parliament and the practical realities of the situation.

Reasonable Time in Judicial Proceedings

Procedural Context

The concept of reasonable time is also significant in judicial proceedings. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 6(1) guarantees the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. This provision has been incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, requiring courts to ensure that proceedings are conducted expeditiously.

Delays and Fairness

Excessive delays in legal proceedings can infringe upon the right to a fair trial. In Barker v Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), although a US case, the principles are influential; the court established criteria for assessing whether a delay violates the right to a speedy trial, including the length of the delay, reasons for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of the right, and prejudice to the defendant.

Factors Influencing Reasonable Time

Nature of the Obligation

The nature and complexity of the obligation significantly influence what constitutes a reasonable time. Simple tasks may require shorter periods, while complex undertakings may necessitate longer durations.

Parties’ Conduct

The behaviour and expectations of the parties involved are also relevant. Courts consider whether parties have acted diligently and in good faith. In South Caribbean Trading Ltd v Trafigura Beheer BV [2004] EWHC 2676 (Comm), the court evaluated the parties’ conduct in determining what constituted a reasonable time for performance.

Industry Standards

Customary practices and industry standards provide important benchmarks. Courts often look at what is considered reasonable within a particular industry. In Charnock v Liverpool Corporation [1953] 1 WLR 1376, the court considered industry norms in determining reasonable time for the repair of a vehicle.

Reasonable Time in Specific Legal Areas

Employment Law

In employment law, reasonable time can impact various aspects, such as the timeframe for responding to grievances or the period within which an employee must raise a claim for unfair dismissal. The Employment Rights Act 1996, for instance, stipulates that claims must be brought within three months of the date of dismissal, generally considered a reasonable period for such actions.

Property Law

Reasonable time is also pertinent in property transactions. The Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970 requires that certain actions, such as the registration of deeds, be completed within a reasonable time. The determination of what is reasonable takes into account the complexity of the transaction and any potential delays in the conveyancing process.

Commercial Law

In commercial law, reasonable time affects the performance of trade obligations. The International Commercial Terms (Incoterms) provide guidelines on reasonable periods for the delivery of goods and the transfer of risk between buyers and sellers. The application of these terms requires careful consideration of what constitutes a reasonable timeframe in the context of international trade.

Remedies for Breach of Reasonable Time


If a party fails to perform an obligation within a reasonable time, the aggrieved party may seek damages. The measure of damages typically aims to place the injured party in the position they would have been in had the obligation been performed on time. In Hadley v. Baxendale [1854] EWHC J70, the court established the principle that damages must be foreseeable and directly resulting from the breach.

Specific Performance

In some cases, the court may order specific performance, compelling the defaulting party to fulfil their obligations within a new, reasonable timeframe. This remedy is particularly relevant in cases involving unique goods or properties where damages would be inadequate.


A significant delay in performance may justify the termination of the contract. The right to terminate depends on whether time is of the essence. In Charles Rickards Ltd. v. Oppenheim [1950] 1 KB 616, the court held that where time is of the essence, failure to perform within a reasonable time entitles the innocent party to terminate the contract.

Challenges and Criticisms


One of the main criticisms of the concept of reasonable time is its inherent ambiguity. The lack of a precise definition can lead to uncertainty and disputes. Critics argue that clearer statutory guidelines or contractual terms could mitigate this issue.

Judicial Discretion

The reliance on judicial discretion in determining a reasonable time can result in inconsistent outcomes. Different judges may interpret the same set of facts differently, leading to unpredictability in legal proceedings. Advocates for reform suggest that more standardised criteria could enhance consistency.

Practical Difficulties

Applying the concept of reasonable time can be practically challenging, particularly in complex transactions or multi-party disputes. The need to balance various factors and interests complicates the assessment process, sometimes resulting in protracted litigation.


The concept of “reasonable time” is a fundamental yet intricate aspect of British law that applies to various legal domains, from contract law to judicial procedures. Its application necessitates a careful analysis of the specific circumstances of each case, taking into account the nature of the obligation, the behaviour of the parties involved, industry standards, and other relevant factors.

While the flexibility of the concept allows for fair and context-sensitive outcomes, it also introduces elements of ambiguity and unpredictability. Ongoing legal developments and judicial interpretations continue to influence the understanding and application of reasonable time, seeking to balance the need for certainty with the demands of justice and fairness.

In summary, reasonable time is a crucial tool in the legal toolkit, ensuring that obligations are fulfilled promptly while accommodating the complexities and variations of real-world situations. Its interpretation will continue to evolve, reflecting changes in legal standards, societal expectations, and commercial practices. As such, it remains an indispensable and dynamic principle in the pursuit of legal equity and efficiency.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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