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Famous cases: Phillips v Brooks

Famous cases: Phillips v BrooksHow did a con-man, a pawnbroker and an emerald ring help to cement British contract law?

The case

In April 1918, a man calling himself ‘Sir George Bullough’ strode into a London jewellers and said that he would like to purchase some jewellery for his wife. The jeweller, being very impressed with the man’s standing, showed him some items which he then agreed to buy. The jeweller had heard of ‘Sir George’, and on the strength of his reputation allowed him to pay for the jewellery with a cheque.

Unfortunately, Sir George was not who he claimed to be, and fraudster John North walked out of the shop with an emerald and diamond ring worth £450. He later pawned the ring for £350 and kept the cash. Meanwhile, when the jeweller tried to cash the cheque, it bounced.

The prosecution

The jeweller was suing North for the cost of the ring, or the ring itself if he could lay his hands on it. The case hinged on the jeweller’s claim that North would not have been allowed to take it from the shop if he hadn’t been posing as Sir George. Because of this, ownership of the ring had never passed from the jeweller to North, and so he was not in his rights to pawn it.

The ruling

Unfortunately for the swindled jeweller, the law was clear that, despite North’s deception, the ring had been passed to him, and hence he had legal ownership of it at the time. The contract had been made between the jeweller and the defendant, and the defendant was allowed to pawn his ring.

The jeweller did not get the ring back, or any compensation. He did, however, learn an important lesson – don’t judge just on appearances!