Fisher v Bell [1961]

Fisher v Bell [1961]

Fisher v Bell [1961] 1 QB 394 is a landmark English contract law case that deals with the distinction between an invitation to treat and an offer in the context of the formation of a contract. The case clarifies that the display of goods in a shop window is typically considered an invitation to treat rather than a binding offer.

The defendant, a shopkeeper, displayed a flick knife in his shop window with a price tag indicating "Ejector knife – 4s" (four shillings). This display occurred in the context of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which prohibited the offer for sale of certain types of knives.

As selling or offering for sale certain types of knives was a criminal offence under the Act, the prosecutor argued that the display of the knife with a price tag constituted an offer for sale, making the defendant liable under the Act.

The Bristol Justices, in the initial proceedings, rejected this argument, deeming the display as an invitation to treat rather than a binding offer. Subsequently, the Prosecutor appealed this decision, leading to a review by the Divisional Court, presided over by Lord Parker CJ.

Lord Parker CJ in the Divisional Court emphasised that the general law of the country considered displaying goods as an invitation to treat. He interpreted the statute narrowly, stating that the Act did not use the words "exposing for sale", and thus, a true offer was required to trigger the offence. The court dismissed the appeal, confirming that goods displayed in a shop window are an invitation to treat.

This case illustrated the importance of distinguishing between invitations to treat and offers in the formation of contracts. It solidified the principle that displaying goods in a shop window is typically regarded as an invitation to treat. This means that it invites customers to make an offer to buy, but it does not constitute a binding offer from the seller.

The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 was later amended in 1961 to include the phrase "or exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire". This clarified that exposing goods for sale in a manner like displaying them in a shop window would constitute an offence.

In conclusion, this case contributes to the understanding of the offer and acceptance process. It highlights the nuanced distinction between an invitation to treat and a binding offer, especially in the context of displaying goods for sale.
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