Case name & citation: Fisher v Bell  1 QB 394;  3 All ER 731
Jurisdiction: Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of England and Wales
The learned judge: Lord Parker C.J.
Area of law: Offer and invitation to treat
What does the case talk about?
This is a famous English contract law case that surrounds itself with the question: “Whether the display of goods in a shop is an offer for sale?”
Facts of the case (Fisher v Bell)
A flick knife was displayed in the window of a shop owned by the defendant, Bell. The knife was accompanied by a price tag. A police officer, Fisher, saw the display and sought prosecution of the defendant under Section 1(1) of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which prohibits the offering of flick knives for sale.
The plaintiff argued that the display of the knife and price ticket constituted an offer for sale. Whereas the defendant argued that the display of the knife was not an offer for sale, but rather an invitation to treat (an invitation for customers to make an offer to purchase the knife).
Whether the display of a flick knife in a shop window with a price tag attached to it constituted an offer for sale or an invitation to treat?
The decision of the Court in “Fisher v Bell”
The Court decided in favor of the defendant.
The Court ruled that the display was an invitation to treat, and therefore not an offer for sale. This meant that the defendant was not in violation of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which prohibits the offering of flick knives for sale.
Fisher sought an appeal of the decision. However, he failed.
Prohibition in Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act
According to Section 1(1) of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, it is illegal to manufacture, sell, hire, offer for sale or hire, lend, or give a flick knife to another person. However, the section does not contain any prohibition against exposing a flick knife for sale. Therefore, in the case of Fisher v. Bell, the Court found that the display of a flick knife in the window of a shop did not constitute an “offer for sale” within the meaning of the Act, and the defendant was found not guilty of the offense with which he had been charged. If the Act had contained the words “expose for sale,” the outcome of the case may have been different.
The reasoning through which the Court decided that it was not an “offer for sale”
The Court based this decision on the general principles of contract law, which state that an offer must be a definite and explicit statement of willingness to enter into a contract. In this case, the display of the knife and the price ticket did not constitute a definite and explicit offer to enter into a contract. Instead, the Court viewed the display as an invitation for customers to make an offer to purchase the knife.
The Court also recognized that in ordinary language, a layperson might consider the knife to be offered for sale. However, the Court emphasized that the law must be construed in accordance with the legal meaning of the terms.
In this context, Lord Parker C.J. further stated that any statute must be looked at in light of the general law of the country. It was found that since the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 did not extend the definition of “offer for sale” beyond its ordinary meaning in the law of contract, therefore the phrase should be given its ordinary meaning within that context (i.e., in contract law). It is well established in contract law that the display of an item in a shop window is generally considered to be an invitation to treat. Therefore, the Court ruled that the display of the flick knife was an invitation to treat, and not an offer for sale.
Final judgment (Fisher v Bell)
The display of the knife was not considered an “offer for sale” and hence, the defendant was not held guilty.
Was an amendment made for the loophole?
The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1961 amended the earlier Act by adding the words “exposes or has in possession for the purpose of sale or hire,” closing the loophole that had been identified in Fisher v. Bell. This means that under the 1961 Act, it is now illegal not only to offer offensive weapons for sale but also to expose them for sale or have them in possession for the purpose of sale or hire.
The addition of these words was intended to address the issue that had arisen in Fisher v. Bell, where the defendant was able to avoid prosecution by simply displaying a flick knife in his shop window without actually making an offer to sell it. By including the act of exposing an offensive weapon for sale within the scope of the Act, the 1961 legislation made it more difficult for individuals to evade prosecution for offering such weapons for sale.
List of references:
You might also like: