Ingram v Little [1961]

Ingram v Little [1961] 1 QB 31 revolved around contract law, mistake, mistaken identity, fraud, and the enforceability of a contract. The key question before the court was whether the defendants could legitimately claim possessory title to the vehicle based on a contract made by mistaken identity.

The joint owners of a car, the plaintiffs, encountered a fraudster attempting to purchase the car using a cheque. Initially refusing the payment, the plaintiffs later accepted the cheque when the fraudster presented himself as a reputable businessman. However, the cheque bounced the next day. By then, the fraudster had already sold the car to the defendants, who were unaware of the fraudulent transaction. The plaintiffs sought to recover the car or its value from the defendants.

The court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, emphasising the general principle governing the formation of a binding contract. According to this principle, when an offeror extends an offer to a promisee, the offeror intends the offer solely for the person identified and no one else. In this case, the fraudster had impersonated a well-known businessman, and the plaintiffs accepted the payment by cheque solely due to this false representation. Consequently, the court held that the contract for the sale was made exclusively with the wealthy businessman, not the fraudster in his personal capacity. The use of someone else's identity by the fraudster prevented the formation of a valid contract, and as a result, possessory title did not pass to the fraudster or subsequently to the defendants.

The decision underscores the significance of genuine consent and identity in the formation of contracts. The court's reasoning reflects the principle that contracts hinge on the mutual assent and understanding between the contracting parties, and any misrepresentation or mistake that goes to the heart of the contract may render it voidable or unenforceable.
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