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Cases On Intention
Social and Domestic Agreements –
Lens v Devonshire Club (1914)
It was held that the winner of a competition held by a golf club could not
sue for his prize where “no one concerned with that competition ever
intended that there should be any legal results flowing from the conditions
posted and the acceptance by the competitor of those conditions”.
Balfour v Balfour (1919)
The defendant who worked in Ceylon, came to England with his wife on holiday.
He later returned to Ceylon alone, the wife remaining in England for health
reasons. The defendant promised to pay the plaintiff £30 per month as
maintenance, but failed to keep up the payments when the marriage broke up. The
wife sued. It was held that the wife could not succeed because: (1) she had
provided no consideration for the promise to pay £30; and (2) agreements
between husbands and wives are not contracts because the parties do not intend
them to be legally binding.
Merrit v Merrit (1970)
The husband left his wife. They met to make arrangements for the future. The
husband agreed to pay £40 per month maintenance, out of which the wife would
pay the mortgage. When the mortgage was paid off he would transfer the house
from joint names to the wife’s name. He wrote this down and signed the paper,
but later refused to transfer the house.
It was held that when the agreement was made, the husband and wife were no
longer living together, therefore they must have intended the agreement to be
binding, as they would base their future actions on it. This intention was
evidenced by the writing. The husband had to transfer the house to the wife.
Parker v Clarke (1960)
Mrs Parker was the niece of Mrs Clarke. An agreement was made that the
Parkers would sell their house and live with the Clarkes. They would share the
bills and the Clarkes would then leave the house to the Parkers. Mrs Clarke
wrote to the Parkers giving them the details of expenses and confirming the
agreement. The Parkers sold their house and moved in. Mr Clarke changed his will
leaving the house to the Parkers. Later the couples fell out and the Parkers
were asked to leave. They claimed damages for breach of contract.
It was held that the exchange of letters showed the two couples were serious
and the agreement was intended to be legally binding because (1) the Parkers had
sold their own home, and (2) Mr Clarke changed his will. Therefore the Parkers
were entitled to damages.
Tanner v Tanner (1975)
A man promised a woman that the house in which they had lived together
(without being married) should be available for her and the couple’s children.
It was held that the promise had contractual force because, in reliance on it,
the woman had moved out of her rent-controlled flat.
Jones v Padavatton (1969)
In 1962, Mrs Jones offered a monthly allowance to her daughter if she would
give up her job in America and come to England and study to become a barrister.
Because of accommodation problems Mrs Jones bought a house in London where the
daughter lived and received rents from other tenants. In 1967 they fell out and
Mrs Jones claimed the house even though the daughter had not even passed half of
It was held that the first agreement to study was a family arrangement and
not intended to be binding. Even if it was, it could only be deemed to be for a
reasonable time, in this case five years. The second agreement was only a family
agreement and there was no intention to create legal relations. Therefore, the
mother was not liable on the maintenance agreement and could also claim the
The defendant, her granddaughter, and the plaintiff, a paying lodger shared a
house. They all contributed one-third of the stake in entering a competition in
the defendant’s name. One week a prize of £750 was won but on the defendant’s
refusal to share the prize, the plaintiff sued for a third.
It was held that the presence of the outsider rebutted the presumption that
it was a family agreement and not intended to be binding. The mutual arrangement
was a joint enterprise to which cash was contributed in the expectation of
sharing any prize.
BUSINESS/COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS –
Rose v Crompton Bros (1925)
The defendants were paper manufacturers and entered into an agreement with
the plaintiffs whereby the plaintiffs were to act as sole agents for the sale of
the defendant’s paper in the US. The written agreement contained a clause that
it was not entered into as a formal or legal agreement and would not be subject
to legal jurisdiction in the courts but was a record of the purpose and
intention of the parties to which they honourably pledged themselves, that it
would be carried through with mutual loyalty and friendly co-operation. The
plaintiffs placed orders for paper which were accepted by the defendants. Before
the orders were sent, the defendants terminated the agency agreement and refused
to send the paper.
It was held that the sole agency agreement was not binding owing to the
inclusion of the “honourable pledge clause”. Regarding the orders
which had been placed and accepted, however, contracts had been created and the
defendants, in failing to execute them, were in breach of contract.
Jones v Vernon Pools (1938)
The plaintiff claimed to have won the football pools. The coupon stated that
the transaction was “binding in honour only”. It was held that the
plaintiff was not entitled to recover because the agreement was based on the
honour of the parties (and thus not legally binding).
Edwards v Skyways (1964)
The plaintiff pilot was made redundant by the defendant. He had been informed
by his pilots association that he would be given an ex gratia payment (ie, a
gift). The defendant failed to pay and the pilot sued. The defendant argued that
the use of the words “ex gratia” showed that there was no intention to
create legal relations.
It was held that this agreement related to business matters and was presumed
to be binding. The defendants had failed to rebut this presumption. The court
also stated that the words “ex gratia” or “without admission of
liability” are used simply to indicate that the party agreeing to pay does
not admit any pre-existing liability on his part; but he is certainly not
seeking to preclude the legal enforceability of the settlement itself by
describing the payment as “ex gratia”.
JH Milner v Percy Bilton (1966)
A property developer reached an “understanding” with a firm of
solicitors to employ them in connection with a proposed development, but neither
side entered into a definite commitment. The use of deliberately vague language
was held to negative contractual intention.
Weeks v Tybald (1605)
The defendant “affirmed and published that he would give £100 to him
that should marry his daughter with his consent.” The court held that
“It is not reasonable that the defendant should be bound by such general
words spoken to excite suitors.”
Heilbut, Symons & Co v Buckleton (1913)
The plaintiff said to the defendants’ manager that he understood the
defendants to be “bringing out a rubber company.” The manager replied
that they were, on the strength of which statement the plaintiff applied for,
and was allotted, shares in the company. It turned out not to be a rubber
company and the plaintiff claimed damages, alleging that the defendants had
warranted that it was a rubber company. The claim failed as nothing said by the
defendants’ manager was intended to have contractual effect.
Kleinwort Benson v Malaysia Mining Corp (1989)
The plaintiff bank agreed with the defendants to lend money to a subsidiary
of the defendants. As part of the arrangement, the defendants gave the
plaintiffs a letter of comfort which stated that it was the company’s policy to
ensure that the business of its subsidiary is at all times in a position to meet
its liabilities. The subsidiary went into liquidation and the plaintiffs claimed
payment from the defendants.
It was held that the letters of comfort were statements of the company’s
present policy, and not contractual promises as to future conduct. They were not
intended to create legal relations, and gave rise to no more than a moral
responsibility on the part of the defendants to meet the subsidiary’s debt.
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