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Pao On v Lau Yiu Long [1980] AC 614

When past consideration is good consideration.

Facts:

The plaintiffs (P) owned the shares of a private company which owned a building that the defendants (D) wanted to buy. The defendants were majority shareholders in a public company. P agreed to sell their shares in the private company to D so that D could acquire the building. In return P would get shares in the public company. Fearing a drop in share value of the public company would result, P and D made another agreement that P would not sell their shares for a while. However, P realized that D might profit from this agreement and demanded that this second agreement be replaced with one in which P was indemnified for any fall in share value but might also benefit from any rise in share value. Fearing that not agreeing to this would delay the main contract, D agreed. The share value did drop, and P sought to rely on the indemnity contract. D refused to comply with this, and the case reached the Privy Council.  

Issues:

The defendants claimed that the consideration for the indemnity agreement was past consideration and had only been agreed to under duress.

Held:

The court found for the plaintiffs. Applying the exception to the doctrine of past consideration in Lampleigh v Braithwaite (1615) Hob 105 Lord Scarman said that an act done before a promise was made was good consideration for that promise if it was done at the promisor’s request and the parties understood the act was to be paid for at a later date, and the payment or benefit would have been enforceable had it been promised in advance. 


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