BetterLawNotes-5 (2)

CONTRACT LAW

Suppose that O has lost his dog. He posts an appeal on his Facebook page promising a reward of £50 for the dog’s safe return. C comes across O’s dog and learns of O’s address from the tag around the dog’s neck. By returning the dog to O safe and sound, C has performed the condition stipulated for the reward. But C never saw the Facebook’s page and was unaware of the reward. But C has now been told and wants the £50. Is it sufficient that he has performed the requested act and thereby satisfied the condition? After all, it can be argued, D has got what he asked for and that it has made no difference that C did not see the offer. The general rule is that the offeree must know of the offer when acceptance is communicated.

Gibbons v Proctor (1891) 64 LT 594

D published a handbill offering a £25 reward for information given to a Superintendent Penn leading to the arrest of the person who had committed a particular assault. C had passed on the relevant information to a colleague before the handbill had been published. That colleague passed on the information to another officer. By the time that officer gave the information to Penn, the handbill had been published and, it seems, C had knowledge of the reward.

Whether it is sufficient that the offeree knows of the offer or whether, in addition, the offeree must intend to accept to accept it is less clear. Arguably, Gibbons v Proctor and Williams v Carwardine suggest an intention to accept the offer is not necessary.

Williams v Carwardine (1833) 5 C & P 566; 4 B & Ad 621

In that case, William Carwardine published a handbill offering a reward of £20 for information leading to the conviction of the murderer of his brother, Walter Carwardine. The claimant, Mary Williams, had witnessed Walter Carwardine’s murder. She was seriously beaten by a man, William Williams. Fearing she had not long to live she gave a voluntary statement ‘to ease her conscience’. The statement led to the subsequent conviction of Williams and two other men. According to the report in Carrington & Payne, it was conceded that she had known of the reward. Patteson J said that C’s motive was not material. Littledale J said that she knew of the handbill and did the thing specified.

However, the High Court of Australia has held that an intention to accept the offer is necessary for a contract to be formed.

R v Clarke (1927) 40 CLR 227

A reward was offered for information leading to the conviction of the murderers of two police officers. Clarke gave such information and later claimed the reward. While Clarke had seen the offer of reward, he passed on the information so as to clear himself of a murder charge and did not so relying on or intending to claim the reward. The High Court of Australia held that Clarke could not claim the reward. Isaacs ACJ said (at 233) that to constitute acceptance of the offer, the information must have been given in exchange for the promise of payment. The High Court of Australia distinguished the English case of Williams v Carwardine. Higgins J said (at 240) in that Williams ‘knew of the offer when giving the information, and meant to accept the offer though she had also a motive in her guilty conscience’.

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