A Summary of R v Clarke Case (1927)
Case name & citation: R v Clarke (1927) 40 CLR 227
Year of the case: 1927
Jurisdiction: High Court of Australia
Area of law: Communication of offer; acceptance
What is the case about?
This is an Australian contract law case that talks about the essence of knowing an offer in order to constitute its acceptance.
Facts of the case (R v Clarke)
The government of Western Australia had offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals who were responsible for the murders of two police officers. A suspect, Evan Clarke provided this information after being arrested for this offense, and it was discovered as a fact that his only objective was to protect himself from an unfounded charge, and that he had not acted on the basis of, or in reliance upon, the offer.
In other words, he gave the information that was necessary, but he acknowledged in Court that he merely did so to relieve himself of any potential accusations. Even though Clarke had once known about the offer, however, at the time when he provided the information, he had no intention of claiming any reward and had, in fact, forgotten about it.
But later, he decided to claim the money that was obviously available.
Can an offer be said to be accepted if the offeree is ignorant of the offer?
Governing rule behind the case
There can be no acceptance of an offer without knowledge of the offer, hence communication is necessary for an offer to be effective. This requirement is important because we say that a contract is an agreed-upon bargain and thus, there can never be an agreement without knowledge. A “meeting of the minds” is impossible if one mind is not aware of the other. Or, to put it another way, if the acceptance is made without knowledge of the offer or in ignorance, it cannot “mirror” the offer.
Judgment of the Court in “R v Clarke”
The Court decided that Clarke cannot recover the amount of reward.
The evidence he provided that he had forgotten about the reward was deemed by the Court to be the same as never knowing about the offer, and his claim for the reward was rejected by the High Court of Australia.
The Court said that how can there be consent or assent to something that the party has never heard of? Although Clarke had seen the offer, he had forgotten about it and had not given it any thought or consideration due to his intense anxiety as to his own personal danger. Assent cannot occur in the absence of knowledge of the offer; hence, ignorance of the offer is the same whether it results from never hearing about it or from forgetting it after hearing about it.
In order to come to the decision that he could not be compensated, the High Court had to distinguish the case from Williams v. Carwardine (1833), where the plaintiff had provided the needed information because she believed that she was about to die. According to the judgment of that case, she was entitled to the reward that had been offered because she was aware of it. Her motivation in providing the information was irrelevant because she had made a lawful acceptance of the offer with knowledge of the reward. Motive is not essential but knowledge is for the acceptance of an offer.
The legal point emerging from “R v Clarke”
An offer is not ‘accepted’ by doing the required act in ignorance of the offer. However, if the offeree responds with knowledge, his or her motive in so doing is irrelevant.
Also, if it is clear that a person had forgotten about an offer, this may be considered the same as not having known about it.
In the case of Gibbons v. Proctor (1891), it appears that a police officer who supplied information without being aware of the reward or offer was allowed to recover the reward. Nevertheless, the case is weak authority for saying that one can accept a contract in ignorance of an offer. Because by the time the information reached the required person, the police officer became aware of the offer.
Another similar case called Tinn v Hoffman (1873) deals with the problem of cross-offers.
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