Beswick v Beswick [1967]

Beswick v Beswick [1967] UKHL 2, [1968] AC 58 is a landmark English contract law case that dealt with the issue of privity of contract and specific performance. The House of Lords, in its decision, overruled the judgment of Lord Denning in the Court of Appeal, establishing that a person not party to a contract had no independent standing to sue to enforce it, even if the contract was intended for their benefit. The case's significance extends beyond its specific facts, as it has been codified by statute in the United Kingdom and remains relevant in many Commonwealth common law jurisdictions.

Old Peter Beswick, a coal merchant in Lancashire, entered into an agreement with his nephew, John Joseph Beswick, regarding the transfer of the business. The agreement stipulated that Peter would assign his business to John in exchange for John employing him for the rest of his life and paying a weekly annuity to Peter's wife, Mrs Beswick. Since the annuity provision benefited someone not party to the contract, John did not believe it was enforceable and made only one payment.

Lord Denning in the Court of Appeal held that Mrs Beswick, as a third party intended to benefit from the contract, was entitled to claim. He emphasised that when a contract is made for the benefit of a third person who has a legitimate interest in enforcing it, that person can enforce it in the name of the contracting party. The court viewed the third person as having a right arising by way of contract.

The House of Lords disagreed with Lord Denning, ruling that the law did not allow third parties to sue to enforce benefits under a contract. However, they held that Mrs Beswick, in her capacity as Mr Beswick's administratrix, could enforce the nephew's promise to pay the annuity. The court also granted Mrs Beswick the right to specific performance of the contract.

The case is significant in the context of privity of contract, highlighting the traditional rule that only parties to a contract could enforce its terms. The judgment's impact resonated beyond the specific case, contributing to the ongoing discussion on the need for reform in contract law to address the limitations imposed by privity.

The judgment's influence is evident in subsequent legislative developments, particularly the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 in the United Kingdom. This Act provides a general right for third parties to enforce a contract when expressly identified or intended to benefit, representing a shift away from the strict privity rule.

In conclusion, this case remains a notable case in contract law history, reflecting the tension between the traditional privity doctrine and the recognition of third-party interests in contractual arrangements. The subsequent legislative changes in the UK demonstrate a response to the challenges posed by the privity rule, aiming to strike a balance between contractual autonomy and the protection of third-party interests.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham
ESSEC Business School

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.