Paradine v Jane [1647]

Paradine v Jane [1647] EWHC KB J5 is a significant English contract law case that established the principle of absolute liability for contractual debts. The case emerged during the English Civil War, involving Prince Rupert, commander of King Charles I's armies, and the looting of estates for supplies. In this context, the plaintiff, Paradine, owned land leased to the defendant, Jane, which was occupied by the Royalist forces (Cavaliers) for three years.

Paradine sued Jane for breach of the lease, specifically for rent arrears covering the three years of Royalist occupation. Jane's defence was rooted in the invasion led by Prince Rupert, claiming that he was an alien enemy and that the hostile army's actions prevented him from taking possession and deriving profits.

The justices of the King's Bench Division rejected Jane's plea, asserting that, despite the wartime circumstances, Jane remained liable for the rent. They emphasised a legal principle that when the law imposes a duty or charge and the party is disabled to perform it without any fault on their part, and there is no remedy available, the law will excuse them. This principle applied to cases of destruction by tempest or enemies, as illustrated in instances of waste or escape.

The court clarified that when a party, through their contract, creates a duty or charge upon themselves, they are obligated to fulfil it, even in the face of accidents or inevitable necessity. The court drew an analogy with cases of covenant to repair, stating that if a lessee covenants to repair a house and it is damaged by lightning or enemies, the lessee is still obligated to fulfil the covenant. The court reasoned that rent, being a duty created by the parties upon reservation, operated similarly to a covenant in law, making the lessee liable for it.

Furthermore, the court highlighted the lessee's responsibility to bear the risk of casual losses, considering that they enjoy the benefits of casual profits. The court cited precedent cases to support the notion that even in cases where land is surrounded by the sea, gained by the sea, or made barren by wildfire, the lessor is entitled to the full rent.

In summary, this case established the principle that contractual obligations, such as the payment of rent, remain binding even in extraordinary circumstances, unless the party can demonstrate a legal excuse based on the impossibility of performance beyond their control.
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