R V Clarke: Fact Summary, Issues and Decision of the Court

Facts, issues and decision of the court in R V Clarke [1927] 40 CLR 227: According to the general principle of contract law, for a valid contract to be entered into by parties, certain elements must be present and operative. The first three elements of a valid contract are offer, acceptance and intention to create legal relation. These three elements form the basis of the contention and the court’s decision in this case of R v Clarke.

Implicitly, the element of consideration was also highlighted in this case to the effect thatin a unilateral contract, the performance of the terms of the offer suffices as consideration. Basically, R v Clarke was a criminal matter that arose in the legal jurisdiction of Australia. As shall be shown from the facts of the case, the issue of contract also arose independently after the criminal matter was dispensed with. The holistic sum of what the court did was to analyse the law as to whether a party who is a co-accused and had given information can benefit from a unilateral offer made in favour of any person who provides information that was valid in the arrest of the persons that murdered a certain victim. The co-accused did in fact provide information which led to the conviction of the principal offenders.

However, the centre-point was the intention of the claimant at the time of performing the terms of the unilateral offer. The appellate court with stronger reasons took a similar turn and upheld the decision of the trial court, although one of the appellate judges dissented, still with stronger reasons.

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Facts of The Case

Treffene together with Clarke and Coulter were arrested in respect of the murder of two policemen, Walsh and Pitman. A unilateral offer was made by the crown on the terms that any person who gives valid information that would lead to the arrest of the murder would be entitled to the reward of 1,000 pounds. As at the time this unilateral offer was made, Evan Clarke was also being accused as an accessory to the murder.

r v clarke offer and acceptance
r v clarke offer and acceptance

Being a co-accused to the alleged murder, Evan Clarke was earlier withholding information and concealing the crime. He came across the unilateral offer but did not act on it, but subsequently he disclosed the information which links Treffene and Coulter as the principal offender of the crime. Having fulfilled the terms of the unilateral contract, Evan remembered the offer and then sued to claim the 1,000 pounds as promised by the crown to any person who gives valid information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. In fact, it was the inspector who advised Clarke to claim the reward.

Clarke earlier disclosed during his evidence at the criminal court trial that he gave the information so as to clear himself from the criminal charges. It was clear from his evidence that the claim for the reward was an afterthought which came after he had cleared himself. The bone of contention became whether he gave the information having in mind to claim the offer, or to clear himself. Clarke was in fact released as a result of the disclosure he made which actually led to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. The murderer’s appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal still failed.

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Issue for Determination

The issue for determination in this case was whether Evan Clarke was entitled to claim the reward, having in mind that he was an accessory to the crime, and having regard to his intention which prompted him to disclose the information. In order words, whether an acceptance must be given in reaction to the offer.

Facts, issues and decision of the court in R V Clarke [1927] 40 CLR 227
Facts, issues and decision of the court in R V Clarke [1927] 40 CLR 227
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Court’s Decision

The trial court held that Clarke was not entitled to the claim of the 1,000 pounds reward. The basis of the trial court’s decision was that Clarke disclosed the information because he was arrested as a co-accused, and he made the disclosure in order to be freed from the charge of murder. The trial court looked at his intention for the disclosure and found that his intention differ from that contemplated by the offeror. The trial court noted that there was no intention to enter into contract on the side of Clarke.
Being dissatisfied, Clarke filed an appeal.

r v clarke 1927 contract law
r v clarke 1927 contract law

The appeal was upheld by the majority decision. The majority decision held that a valid contract was entered into because Clarke had fulfilled the terms of the unilateral offer. On the dissenting view, Northmore J aligned his reasoning with that of the court below. He reasoned that based on the evidence given by Clarke, his intention at the time of disclosing the information was for him to be freed from the charge of murder, and not to claim the reward. He also viewed that since Clarke was a co-accused and had already been arrested together with Treffene, he had fallen short of the terms of the offer.

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The majority decision of appellate court of course stands. It can be deduced from the majority decision in this case that the mere performance of an act specified in a unilateral contract is enough to create a binding contract between the parties. It is best described that the intention of the performer at the time of performing the act is not necessarily a factor in a unilateral contract. This decision is in line with the basic principle of contract that a unilateral contract is an offer to the whole world. In other words, it is not an invitation to treat. It is rather a complete offer, and any person who fulfills the terms of the offer has by law entered into and performed the contract. And by for performing, the offeror is bound to fulfill his part of the bargain, unless the performance was done at a time when the contract had elapsed.