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CASE ANALYSIS: LAMPLEIGH VS BRATHWAIT (1615)

BACKGROUND

Lampleigh V Brathwait is a landmark case in English Law that established the principle of ‘Past Consideration’. This means that the acts done before the conclusion of the promise, if they were done at the request of the promisor and in the hope of receiving some kind of compensation, can be considered valid consideration for the promisor. This case shaped the current understanding of what constitutes legitimate consideration in contract law and it remains a significant precedent having long-term implications in the evolution of the concept of consideration in contract law.

FACTS

The issue, in this case, is whether there was past consideration between the defendant and the plaintiff. Thomas Brathwait, the defendant, culpably murdered a man named Patrick Mahume after a night of drinking. After the alleged crime, he asked Anthony Lampleigh, the plaintiff, to obtain a pardon from the king. Lampleigh then, at Brathwaite’s request, spent several days travelling with his charges from London to Royston to obtain a royal pardon for Brathwait (the accused) for the crime. After obtaining a pardon from the King, the defendant promised to pay the said plaintiff £100 for his services in gratitude. But when the plaintiff demanded payment, the defendant refused to pay, stating that there was no consideration for the promise. The plaintiff then sued the defendant for the promised sum of £100.[1]

ISSUES RAISED

The issues in this case primarily revolve around the validity of the contract and what constitutes consideration for a contract.

  • Whether or not Past Consideration is considered a valid consideration to create a valid contract?
  • Whether or not the past services of the plaintiff can be relied upon as a consideration for the defendant’s promise to pay later?[2]

RELEVANT RULES

Past Consideration in Indian Law

  1. Section 2(d) of the Indian Contract Act, 1872[3] states the definition of consideration, provides the expression “had done or abstained from doing at the desire of the promisor by the promisee or any other person” and is called past consideration. This clarifies that consideration can be past, present or future and can constitute a valid contract in Indian law.
  2. Section 25(2) of the Indian contract act, 1872[4] also provides an exception to the original rule that “an agreement made without consideration is void”.

Past Consideration in English Law

  1. English Law does not recognize past consideration as a valid form of consideration. Hence, consideration made in present, and future is valid but not in past.
  2. However, notwithstanding the established principle that past consideration is not legitimate form of consideration, there exists an exception to this. It states that past consideration is an act if it is done at the request of the promisor with the expectation of receiving some form of compensation then that act is a valid form of consideration.

Relevant Case laws

  1. In Pau On V Lau Yiu Long (1980)[5], the defendant asked the plaintiff to refrain from selling certain shares for one year, after which he undertook to compensate the plaintiff if the share price fell. The defendants then argued that the indemnity was past due and was not a valid consideration. However, the Privy Council outlined three conditions under which the exception would apply. The court has recognized that any act performed before the conclusion of the promise may constitute the consideration of the promise, but the following conditions must be met:
  • The action must be performed at the request of the promisor.
  • Parties must understand that their actions will bring benefits/payments.
  • Any payment or interest granted must be enforceable in the case of a prior promise.
  1. In Re Casey’s Patent (1892)[6], The owner of the patent rights promised their manager, Casey that they would pay him 1/3rd share of patents for the work he had already done for them. Later, when the manager registered to claim the interest, the owners removed the document from the register and subsequently didn’t pay. The court of appeal held that the parties must have assumed that the services by the manager raised the implications that he would be paid in return for these services. And the work done by Casey was not out of goodwill but out of expectation to be paid for his work later and hence, Casey’s past work was a good consideration to the agreement.

ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENTS MADE BY THE PARTIES

The defendant claimed that his promise to pay the plaintiff £100 for obtaining the king’s pardon was unheeded by the consideration for that promise. He argued that since the plaintiff had already completed the services before the promise to pay the £100 was made, the promise was unenforceable for the want of consideration. He contended that the plaintiff had performed the services without any expectation of payment, and therefore, the promise to pay the £100 was not supported by any new consideration.

However, the plaintiff claimed that he had given something of value to the defendant by carrying out the task of obtaining a pardon from the King, at the request of the defendant. And he also argued that his services had created an expectation of payment, and the defendant having recognised the expectation made the promise to pay £100 to him. He argued that the promise to pay the £100 was a valid consideration thereby it should be enforced by the court.

OBSERVATIONS MADE BY THE COURT

This case was decided by the court of King’s Bench by four judges consisting of Justice Warburton J and others.[7] In the Judgement, the judge stated the difference between executed and executory consideration. Executed Consideration is when “you cannot traverse the consideration by itself, because it is passed and incorporated and coupled with promise”.  For example, A offers a reward of Rs. 20,000/- to whosoever finds his dog, B finds the dog as promised and hands it over to A. This is called executed consideration. On the other hand, executory consideration is where no action can be taken until service has been performed. For example, A agrees to supply 100 kg of wheat to B at a fixed price and B agrees to pay for the wheat at a future date.

The court stated that although Lampleigh had performed the act before the promise was made, he had done so at the request of Brathwait, with the expectation of receiving some form of compensation. It further stated that the promise of £100 was made after the act had been performed, but it was made in recognition of the value of the act that had already been performed.[8]

RATIO

The judges held that “a Meer voluntary curtesie will not have a consideration to uphold an assumpsit. But if that curtesie were moved by a suit or request of the party that gives the assumpsit, it will bind”[9]. For example, If A performs an act for B upon B’s request, and B subsequently promises to compensate A for his efforts, then that commitment represents a valid consideration. The court held that the promise is enforceable and thus Lampleigh is entitled to the 100 pounds promised by Brathwait.

CONCLUSION

Overall, this case highlights that in certain circumstances, even if there is no contract, a party who has received a benefit at the expense of another may be required to pay for that benefit as a matter of justice. In my opinion, the defendant is rightly obligated to pay 100 pounds to the plaintiff, as other than the past consideration principle, the defendant’s promise was an implied promise as he knew that the plaintiff will be compensated for his labour of obtaining king’s pardon for him. Had he not made the promise he shall not be liable as there would be no binding contract.  

Author(s) Name: Manan Maheshwari (O.P. Jindal Global University)

References:

[1] Lampleigh v Brathwait, [1615] 80 E.R. 255

[2] Lampleigh v Brathwait, [1615] 80 E.R. 255

[3] Indian Contract act, 1872, s. 2(d)

[4] Indian Contract act, 1872, s. 25(2)

[5] Pao on and Others Appellants v Lau Yiu Long and Others Respondents, [1979] 3 W.L.R. 435, [1980] A.C. 614  

[6] Re Casey’s Patents, Stewart v Casey, [1892] 1 Ch 104

[7] Lampleigh v Brathwait, [1615] 80 E.R. 255

[8] Lampleigh v Brathwait, [1615] 80 E.R. 255

[9] Lampleigh v Brathwait, [1615] 80 E.R. 255