George Mitchell (Chesterhall) Ltd v Finney Lock Seeds Ltd [1983]

George Mitchell (Chesterhall) Ltd v Finney Lock Seeds Ltd [1983] 2 AC 803 is an English contract law case involving the sale of goods and exclusion clauses. Decided under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Sale of Goods Act 1979, it centres around a dispute where defective cabbage seeds caused crop failure, leading to a claim for substantial loss. The case explores whether exclusion clauses in the contract are valid and reasonable.

Finney Lock Seeds Ltd agreed to supply George Mitchell (Chesterhall) Ltd with 30 lb of Dutch winter cabbage seed for £201.60. The invoice accompanying the delivery included clauses limiting liability for defective seeds and excluding liability for loss or damage from seed use. Crop failure occurred on 63 acres, resulting in a claim for £61,513 in production loss. The main issues were whether the limitation clause covered the defective seeds and whether, under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, the limitation was reasonable.

In the High Court, Parker J held that the goods sold were not considered seeds due to their complete failure, rendering the exclusion clause ineffective. In the Court of Appeal, the majority, Oliver LJ and Kerr LJ, agreed with Parker J that the limitation clause did not apply because the sold items were not functional seeds. However, Lord Denning MR dissented, arguing that the clause applied to limit liability even for defective seeds. Despite this, all agreed that the clause was invalid under the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973 (now SGA 1979 and UCTA 1977) as it was deemed unreasonable.

The House of Lords unanimously upheld Lord Denning MR's judgment that the limitation of liability was not effective and was unreasonable. Lord Denning emphasised the historical struggle against exemption clauses and the unfairness in contracts. Lord Bridge's leading judgment acknowledged the removal of judges' temptation to ascribe tortured meanings to exemption clauses after the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.

George Mitchell is notable as Lord Denning MR's last judgment before retiring. His dissenting opinion, upheld by the House of Lords, challenged the historical common law emphasis on freedom of contract. The case highlights the shift towards controlling unfair terms through legislation, eliminating the need for strained interpretations to achieve fairness. The decision emphasises the importance of scrutinising the reasonableness of exclusion clauses in contracts under legislative frameworks.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

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 
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

  • 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


    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


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