Tweddle v Atkinson [1861]

Tweddle v Atkinson [1861]

Tweddle v Atkinson [1861] EWHC J57 (QB), (1861) 1 B&S 393 is a landmark decision in English contract law, particularly regarding the doctrines of privity of contract and consideration.

John Tweddle and William Guy entered into a written agreement where they mutually promised to pay sums of money (£100 and £200, respectively) to each other's respective sons. William Tweddle, the son of John Tweddle, was engaged to Guy's daughter. However, before the payments could be made, William Guy died. John Tweddle also passed away before he could sue for the promised money from Guy's estate. Subsequently, William Tweddle sued Mr. Atkinson, the executor of Guy's estate, seeking the promised £200.

The court held that the lawsuit would not succeed because a person who is a stranger to the consideration cannot enforce a contract, even if it was made for their benefit. The court emphasised the doctrine of privity of contract, stating that only those who are party to an agreement may sue or be sued on it, with limited exceptions for well-established relationships like agency, bailment, or trusteeship. Furthermore, the court ruled that consideration must flow from the promisee, and a promisee cannot bring an action unless the consideration moved from them.

In this case, since William Tweddle was not a party to the contract between his father and Guy, he had no legal standing to enforce the promise against Guy's estate. The court did not answer the question of whether the groom's father (John Tweddle) could have successfully sued the estate.

The doctrine of privity of contract in this case was upheld in subsequent cases such as Dunlop v Selfridge [1915] and Beswick v Beswick [1967]. However, the doctrine was frequently criticised for obstructing the intentions of the contracting parties. The Law Reform Committee proposed an amendment to the doctrine in the 1930s, but World War II intervened, and no action was taken.

In Beswick v Beswick [1967], Lord Denning attempted to challenge the doctrine, but the House of Lords Judicial Committee upheld the doctrine and criticised his interpretation. Various legal devices, including the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999, have been introduced to circumvent the doctrine, allowing beneficiaries or identified third parties to enforce terms in contracts made by others.
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