Written By :- Akansha Yadav (Amity Law School)
Which considerations and objects are lawful, and those which are not (Section 23)
The consideration or object of an agreement is lawful, unless
- It is forbidden by law;
- Is of such a nature that, if permitted, it would defeat the provisions of any law;
- Is fraudulent;
- Involves injury to the person or property of another;
- The court regards it as immoral;
- Opposed to public policy.
In each of these cases, the consideration or object of an agreement is said to be unlawful. Every agreement of which the object or consideration is unlawful is void.
In the following examples, the agreement is void because the object is unlawful:
(i) A, B and C enter into an agreement for the division among them of gains acquired, or to be acquired, by them by fraud. The agreement is void, as its object, viz., acquisition of gains by fraud is unlawful.
(ii) A promises to B to abandon a prosecution which he had instituted against B for robbery and B promises in lieu thereof to restore the value of the property robbed. The agreement is void as its object, namely, the stifling of prosecution, is unlawful.
Section 10 of the Indian Contract Act provides for the legality of consideration and objects thereto. Section 23 of the Act also states that every agreement of which the object or consideration is unlawful is void.
The following is an example of the agreement which is void because of unlawful consideration.
A promises to obtain for B an employment in the public service and B promises, in return, to pay `1,00,000 to A. The agreement is void, as the consideration thereof is unlawful. Here A’s promise to procure for B an employment in the public services is the consideration for B’s promise to pay `1,00,000. The consideration, being opposed to public policy, is unlawful.
Under Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act, in each of the following cases the consideration or object of an agreement is said to be unlawful:
- When consideration or object is forbidden by law: Acts forbidden by law are those which are punishable under any statute as well as those prohibited by regulations or orders made in exercise of the authority conferred by the legislature.
Example: A licence to cut grass is given to X by the Forest Department under the Forest Act. One of the terms of licence is that the licence should not assign his interest under the licence without the permission of the Forest Officer, and a fine is prescribed for a breach of this condition. But the observance of the conditions of the licence is not obligatory under the Forest Act. If A in breach of the condition, agrees to assign his interest under the licence to B, that agreement will be valid. Here, the assignment is not prohibited by law, the condition against assignment has been imposed only for administrative purpose or solely for the protection of revenue.
- When consideration or object defeats the provision of law:The words ‘defeat the provisions of any law’ must be taken as limited to defeating the intention which the law has expressed. The court looks at the real intention of the parties to an agreement. If the intention of the parties is to defeat the provisions of law, the court will not enforce it. Legislative enactment would be defeated by an agreement by a debtor not to plead limitation, as the object is to defeat the provisions of the Limitation Act. The Hindu Law is defeated by an agreement to give son in adoption in consideration of annual allowance to the natural parents.
- When it is fraudulent:Agreements which are entered into to promote fraud are void. For example, an agreement for the sale of goods for the purpose of smuggling them out of the country is void and the price of the goods so sold, cannot be recovered.
- When consideration defeats any rule for the time being in force in India.
- When consideration involves injury to the person or property of another:
The general term “injury” means criminal or wrongful harm. In the following examples, the object or consideration is unlawful as it involves injury to the person or property of another.
(1) An agreement to print a book in violation of another’s copyright is void, as the object is to cause injury to the property of another. It is also void as the object of the agreement is forbidden by the law relating to copyright.
(2) A promises to repay his debt by doing manual labour daily for a special period and agrees to pay interest at an exorbitant rate in case of default. Here A’s promise to repay by manual labour is the consideration for the loan, and this consideration is illegal as it imposes what, in substance, amounts to slavery on the part of A. In other words, as the consideration involves injury to the person of A, the consideration is illegal. Here, the object too is illegal, as it seeks to impose slavery which is opposed to public policy. Hence, the agreement is void.
- When consideration is immoral: The following are the examples of agreements where the object or consideration is unlawful, being immoral.
(1) A landlord cannot recover the rent of a house knowingly let to prostitute who carries on her vocation there. Here, the object being immoral, the agreement to pay rent is void.
(2) Where P had advanced money to D, a married woman to enable her to obtain a divorce from her husband and D had agreed to marry him as soon as she could obtain the divorce, it was held that P was not entitled to recover the amount, since the agreement had for its object the divorce of D from her husband and the promise of marriage given under these circumstances was against good morals.
- When consideration is opposed to public policy: The expression ‘public policy’ can be interpreted either in a wide or in a narrow sense. The freedom to contract may become illusory, unless the scope of ‘public policy’ is restricted. In the name of public policy, freedom of contract is restricted by law only for the good for the community. In law, public policy covers certain specified topics, e.g., trading with an enemy, stifling of prosecutions, champerty, maintenance, interference with the course of justice, marriage brokerage, sales of public offices, etc. Agreements tending to create interest against duty, agreements tending to create monopolies and agreements not to bid at an auction are also opposed to public policy. An attempt to enlarge the scope of the doctrine is bound to result in the curtailment of individual freedom of contract.
Agreements opposed to public policy
Some of the agreements which are held to be opposed to public policy are
- Trading with enemy: Any trade with person owing allegiance to a Government at war with India without the licence of the Government of India is void, as the object is opposed to public policy. Here, the agreement to trade offends against the public policy by tending to prejudice the interest of the State in times of war.
- Stifling Prosecution: An agreement to stifle prosecution i.e. “an agreement to present proceedings already instituted from running their normal course using force” tends to be a perversion or an abuse of justice; therefore, such an agreement is void. The principle is that one should not make a trade of felony. The compromise of any public offence is generally illegal. Under the Indian Criminal Procedure Code, there is, however, a statutory list of compoundable offences and an agreement to drop proceeding relating to such offences with or without the permission of the Court, as the case may be, in consideration the accused promising to do something for the complainant, is not opposed to public policy. Thus, where A agrees to sell certain land to B in consideration of B abstaining from taking criminal proceeding against A with respect to an offence which is compoundable, the agreement is not opposed to public policy. But, it is otherwise, if the offence is uncompoundable.
- Maintenance and Champerty: Maintenance is an agreement in which a person promises to maintain suit in which he has no interest. Champerty is an agreement in which a person agrees to assist another in litigation in-exchange of a promise to hand over a portion of the proceeds of the action. The agreement for supplying funds by way of Maintenance or Champerty is valid unless
- It is unreasonable so as to be unjust to other party or
- It is made by a malicious motive like that of gambling in litigation or oppressing other party by encouraging unrighteous suits and not with the bona‑de object of assisting a claim believed to be just.
- Traffic relating to Public Offices: An agreement to traffic in public office is opposed to public policy, as it interferes with the appointment of a person best qualifed for the service of the public. Public policy requires that there should be no money consideration for the appointment to an office in which the public is interested. The following are the examples of agreements that are void; since they are tantamount to sale of public offices.
- An agreement to pay money to a public servant in order to induce him to retire from his office so that another person may secure the appointment is void.
- An agreement to procure a public recognition like Padma Vibhushan for reward is void.
- Agreements tending to create monopolies: Agreements having for their object the establishment of monopolies are opposed to public policy and therefore void.
- Marriage brokerage agreements: An agreement to negotiate marriage for reward, which is known as a marriage brokerage contract, is void, as it is opposed to public policy. For instance, an agreement to pay money to a person hired to procure a wife is opposed to public policy and therefore void. Note: Marriage bureau only provides information and doesn’t negotiate marriage for reward, therefore, it is not covered under this point.
- Interference with the course of justice: An agreement whose object is to induce any judicial officer of the State to act partially or corruptly is void, as it is opposed to public policy; so also is an agreement by A to reward B, who is an intended witness in a suit against A in consideration of B’s absenting himself from the trial. For the same reasons, an agreement which contemplates the use of under-hand means to influence legislation is void. Similarly, as agreement to induce any executive officer of the State to act partially or corruptly is void.
- Interest against obligation: The following are examples of agreement that are void as they tend to create an interest against obligation. The object of such agreements is opposed to public policy.
- An agreement by an agent to receive without his principal’s consent compensation from another for the performance of his agency is invalid.
- A, who is the manager of a ‑rm, agrees to pass a contract to X if X pays to A `200,000 privately; the agreement is void.
- Consideration Unlawful in Part: By virtue of Section 24, if any part of a single consideration for one or more objects, or any one or any part of any one of several considerations for a single object, is unlawful, the agreement is void.” This section is an obvious consequence of the general principle of Section 23. There is no promise for a lawful consideration if there is anything illegal in a consideration which must be taken as a whole. The general rule is that where the legal part of a contract can be severed from the illegal part, the bad part may be rejected and the good one can be retained. But where the illegal part cannot be severed, the contract is altogether void.
Example: A promises to superintend, on behalf of B, a legal manufacturer of indigo and an illegal trac in other articles. B promises to pay A salary of ` 20,000 per month. The agreement is void, the object of A’s promise and the consideration for B’s promise being in part unlawful.