The Importance of Currie v. Misa in Contract Law

If you are studying ILSPA’s Legal Secretaries Diploma course, you will be familiar with the elements of offer, acceptance and intention in regards to contracts. Whilst these elements of the law of contract should make perfect sense to you, the elements of consideration might be a little trickier to understand.

For many centuries, the English legal system struggled to produce a clear definition for the contractual element of consideration. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, the case of Currie v. Misa (1875) LR 10 Ex 153 came along and allowed Lush J to define consideration in the following way:

“A valuable consideration, in the sense of the law, may consist either of some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one party, or some forbearance, detriment loss or responsibility, given, suffered or undertaken by the other”. 

So Currie v. Misa basically asserted the “benefit gained and detriment suffered” principle in consideration and this case precedent remains extremely important in the law of contract to this day. 

Taking a further look at the concept of consideration in contract law, as an example of what this means, would you expect a person to come around to your house and clean your windows gratuitously? Moreover, if the window cleaner failed to clean the windows as promised, do you feel you would have a right to bring a claim against the window cleaner in court for breaching their promise? 

Currie v. Misa confirmed that a full contract will not exist unless some sort of consideration has been offered in return. Therefore, our example of the window cleaner offering to provide their service for free will mean that a viable contract is not in existence. As a consequence, a disappointed homeowner will not have a right to bring a claim against the window cleaner for their breach. 

Unless the promise has been made in a deed, it will not be legally binding until some form of consideration has been given in return. This need not always be in monetary terms either; a promise for another promise would be equally enforceable. Also, the value does not have to be at a certain level: the case of Thomas v. Thomas (1842) 2 QB 851 asserted the fact that consideration must be sufficient but need not be adequate (in other words, the peppercorn rent in this case was seen as sufficient but not necessarily adequate).

As you move through your studies of the doctrine of consideration, you will notice that there is a tremendous amount of case law that takes you hither and thither through this crucial element of contract law. Try not to let this overwhelm you; take clear notes as you go along and support every fact with the relevant legal authority. Many people find the concept of promissory estoppel to be especially tricky when dealing with consideration (I know I did); therefore, it may well be wise to ensure you study this section in a quiet environment that is especially conducive to learning. ILSPA provides advice on choosing the right learning environment in the Student Guidebook. 

Once you get past consideration in contract law, you can breathe a sigh of relief, as this is by far the most challenging part you will need to study in that unit. Everything else should prove to be a walk in the park in comparison, so make sure you stick with it and hang in there.