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Law Notes Contract Law Notes

Consideration Promissory Estoppel Notes

Updated Consideration Promissory Estoppel Notes

Contract Law Notes

Contract Law

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From the AuthorContract law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB contract law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

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Consideration & Promissory Estoppel

There is a fundamental distinction between a bargain and a gift. The latter is only enforceable if it is made by deed. The orthodox view (has been challenged) is that consideration is about reciprocity or bargains. There are five principal criticisms:

  1. It is too narrow in scope and so fails to give effect to promises that ought to have legal effect;

  2. The doctrine has become too technical;

  3. The doctrine is divorced from commercial reality i.e. can enforce where nominal consideration given, but could be something of commercial value which the law does not recognise;

  4. It is extremely difficult to reconcile the requirement with modern theoretical methods of contract law i.e. if contract is based on the will then why is there a requirement that something of value must always be handed over;

  5. The doctrine of consideration is over-broad and the work done by the doctrine could be better dealt with by others such as duress, unconscionability, estoppel and intention to create legal relations.

Yet it is not true to say that the doctrine is devoid of support; note that it can be satisfied by some benefit or a detriment. The effect of estoppel is to supplement the doctrine in deserving cases.

1. Consideration

(i) Something of Value

  • Chappell v NestlΓ© [1960] AC 87: N had offer that would sell records at reduced rate if sent in three chocolate bar wrappers. Issue as to whether they constituted part of the selling price.

    • Viscount Simonds & Lord Keith dissent as they think that the wrappers are not part of the selling price given that they are valueless and thrown away. Purchase of the chocolate bars constitutes an entirely separate transaction.

    • The main intention of the offer was to induce people to buy chocolate which would not have otherwise been bought. Sending of wrappers was therefore of great importance to Nestle. Unrealistic to divorce the transactions.

    • A peppercorn does not cease to be good consideration if it is established that the promisee does not like pepper and will throw away the corn. Basically consideration will be sufficient but need not be adequate.

(ii) Past Consideration

  • Lamplegh v Braithwait (1615) Hob 105, 80 ER 255: D had killed a man and asked P to ride to London to get him a pardon. Upon return D said he would give him money, but then never did.

    • Where a past benefit was conferred on request and where a reward would be reasonably expected; would be bound by promise to pay.

    • In this case there was an implied understanding that money would be paid.

  • Eastwood v Kenyon (1840) 11 Ad & El 438, 113 ER 482: E borrowed money to pay for sons education who promised to pay it back when came of age. Husband then promised to pay the money. E sued husband to make him pay.

    • Husband was in no way connected with E when the money was expended, so he received no consideration.

    • A promise without consideration cannot be binding.

  • Pao On v Lau Yiu [1980] AC 614: (PC) Agreement made for sale of building in return for shares. So as to not upset the market it was agreed that P should not be able to sell some shares for a period. P threatened not to carry out main contract unless indemnified against potential loss. Sub-contract made to keep P happy. Issue as to whether there was consideration for the indemnity contract.

    • A past act can be consideration if it was done at the request of the promissor and both parties understood that the act was to be remunerated either by payment or the conferring of a benefit: and the payment or benefit must have been legally enforceable if it had been promised in advance. All three features are present in this case.

    • A promise to perform, or the performance of a pre-existing contractual obligation can be valid consideration.

    • Court refused to adopt a rule to the effect that here there is a threat to repudiate there cannot be consideration as it would render the law too uncertain.

    • Commercial pressure is not enough for a finding of duress. In determining whether there was coercion of the will such that there was no true consent it is material to enquire whether the person alleged to have been coerced protested; whether he had an alternative course of action open to him such as an adequate legal remedy; whether he was independently advised; whether he took steps to avoid it.

    • A contract may be void on the basis of economic duress only where it satisfies the above conditions.

(iii) Pre-existing Duty

  • Glasbrook Bros v Glamorgan CC [1925] AC 270: Manager of colliery applied for police protection for his mine during a strike. Police said that it would only do so if it were paid at a special rate by M for doing so.

    • Payment for general protection is made through rates and taxes, and a person cannot lawfully be called upon to make a payment for that which is their right. However, the police may lend constables for special services at the request of a member of public.

    • Two dissents on the basis that they thought that on the facts these actions were part of the ordinary duty; police stated that the mine would have been protected anyway, although they would have done so in a different way.

  • Ward v Byham [1956] 1 WLR 496: Father offered mother money towards the maintenance of child so long as the child was well looked after and happy. Decision by Denning:

    • The mother, in looking after the child was only doing what she was legally bound to do.

    • Even so, there was sufficient consideration to support the promise. Denning says has always thought that a promise to perform an existing duty, or performance of it, should be regarded as good consideration because it is a benefit to the person to whom it is given.

    • In this case thinks the fathers promise should be regarded as a unilateral contract.

  • Williams v Williams [1957] 1 WLR 148: Husband agreed to pay deserted wife maintenance so for long as she was single and indemnified him against all debts incurred by her and not to use his name to obtain credit. Decision by Denning:

    • ...

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