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  1. What is Contract Law?

The law of contract is a set of rules governing the relationship, content and validity of an agreement between two or more persons (individuals, companies or other institution) regarding the sale of goods, provision of services or exchange of interests or ownership. While this is a wide definition it does not cover the full ambit of situations in which contract law will apply. The reason for this is due to the vast number of examples in which contracts can arise in everyday life. Contract law has been more formally defined as a promise or set of promises which the law will enforce. Another definition and a somewhat competing view, is that a contract is an agreement giving rise to obligations which are enforced or recognized by law. Either definition confirms the involvement of the law by way of enforcement, suggesting that should there be an infraction or breach of the terms of the agreement then the aggrieved party may seek recourse via the Courts. As is noted above, a contract can arise is a plethora of scenarios; from buying a loaf of bread in the corner shop, to the sale of a house. It is unsurprising therefore that certainty is needed before the Courts will intervene to enforce any agreement. The law of contract has confirmed the basic foundations of any contract, regardless of its complexity and substance, that it must contain to make the agreement enforceable in law. There must be an offer and this must be accepted to make an agreement. While this would in the first instance appear to be self explanatory, it is important to distinguish between what the law says amounts to a valid offer. An offer can be made orally, in writing or by way of conduct. Regardless as to the manner of the offer, it is the willingness or intention of the person making the offer (the offeree) which is of importance, and that is clearly subjective. If a person says that I want to sell this orange for £1.00 but then mistakenly advertises it for 1p, and that offer is accepted, then a valid agreement will be upheld. Simply because there was a mistake in the offer, it does not invalidate the contract. There was an intention to sell on the part of the offeree. It is important to distinguish at this point however between an offer and an “invitation to treat”. Parties may enter into preliminary negotiations or pre-emptive talks before entering into a contract. The issues they cover will not necessarily form part of the contract and are considered to be invitations to treat. A classic example of this is the produce on display at Supermarkets and on shelves. The price highlighted amounts to an invitation to treat only. The offer does not materialize until the goods are taken to the checkout and the price confirmed. At that point the customer can accept the goods and pay the total amount, thereby completing the transaction and formalizing the contract.

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