Although you may not think of it in legal terms, when you get on a bus, buy a packet of crisps or board an aeroplane, you are entering into a contract.  When something goes wrong it is often the case that your complaint in law is founded on what lawyers call a breach of contract.  As a general rule I am a great believer in complaining whatever the law of contract says but sometimes it is worth knowing something about the law of contract.  He are some basic principles.
  • A contract is an agreement between individual or companies that the law recognises and which the civil courts will uphold.
  • Some agreements are not contracts eg. agreements that are made very casually with no intention to create a binding commitment
  • As a general rule contracts do not have to be in writing to be binding.  You can agree to buy a car on the basis of a handshake and an oral agreement.  Some contracts have to be in writing such as those to do with land.
  • If one party fails to do what he has contracted to do, it is open to the other party to complain that a breach of contract has been committed and to sue if necessary.
  • Although some contracts are very simple, others can be immensely long and complex.  If you enter into an insurance contract for example you will find that it is inevitably bound up with details terms and condition.  Beware, since the large print giveth but the small print taketh away.
  • Sometimes the small print is not at all obvious but is written down somewhere else.  When you buy a train ticket for example you will find that the ticket refers to the train company’s general conditions.  In fact terms conditions are contained in a very large book and deal with everything from delays to spitting on the floor.  You can ask for a copy at the booking office if you wish.
  • Contracts usually involve what lawyers call consideration ie. there has to be a mutual exchange of something valuable.  A bare promise to do something is not enforceable as a contract.
  • Some contracts are unenforceable eg. gambling contracts.  In theory, the bookmakers could refuse to pay up.  The only reason they don’t is to preserve their reputation.