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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018

Parkinson v College of Ambulance Ltd [1925] 2 KB 1

Illegality and corruption in public life.


The defendant, Harrison, was secretary of the College of Ambulance, a charity. He told the plaintiff, Colonel Parkinson, that he could procure a knighthood for him in exchange for a donation to the College. He told the Colonel the College had already done this on a number of occasions. They plaintiff and defendant agreed that the Colonel should donate £3,000 to the College and make further donations in return for a knighthood. Subsequently, the Colonel never received his knighthood and sued the defendant and the College for fraudulent misrepresentation or breach of contract.


The plaintiff argued that he was entitled to reclaim the money he had paid as he had been induced by fraud to enter the contract. The College argued that the contract was illegal as it was against public policy. Harrison argued that a man cannot bring an action for fraudulent misrepresentation if the contract was illegal.   


Lush J held that the contract to purchase an honorary public title was improper and illegal. The problem here was that the plaintiff could only bring an action if he relied upon his own guilty conduct. The donation could only be characterized as a contract by acknowledging that it was an illegal contract. Similarly, he could only bring an action for misrepresentation by relying on the fact that he had entered into an illegal contract. Therefore, it was not possible to regard the agreement as a contract. If it was not an enforceable contract, the donation was only a gift which was irrecoverable once it was made. Therefore, the plaintiff could not recover anything.

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