Pearce v Brooks – Summary

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Pearce v Brooks (1865) LR 1 Ex 213

Lawful contracts made for immoral purposes are illegal.


The defendant was a prostitute who hired a carriage from the plaintiff, who was a coachbuilder, on hire purchase terms to be paid for in instalments. She wanted the carriage to attract customers. The defendant did not pay the second instalment on the carriage and returned it in a damaged condition, in breach of the agreement. At first instance the jury found on the evidence that the coachbuilder knew that she was a prostitute at the time the contract was made. The coachbuilder sued for non-payment and for the damage.


It was argued that, as the coachbuilder knew the defendant was a prostitute, he expected to be paid out of the profits of prostitution. He, therefore, knew of the immoral purpose to which the carriage was to be put and should not be allowed to recover on the contract. 


The court found for the defendant. It was immaterial that the immoral purpose was not part of the contract or whether the claimant was to be paid out of the proceeds. Bramwell B distinguished between a contract to supply a prostitute with a carriage to be used to attract customers and a contract to supply her a pair of shoes, as shoes were one of the necessities of life. It was part of the principle ex turpi causa non oritur actio that anyone who supplies something for the performance an illegal act with knowledge that it was to be used for that purpose cannot sue for the price of it. An immoral purpose was the same thing as an illegal purpose. Therefore, the plaintiff could not recover.

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