Stilk v Myrick, Facts, Decison, Significance, Criticisms

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Stilk v Myrick is one of the main cases of the contract law, but before discussing its facts I will briefly explain about consideration, its rules and a contract

As we know that a contract his formed when there is a valid offer and, an acceptance to that offer. And consideration is the price of a promise or also some scholars say that it gives the contract a badge of enforceability.

Thus we can see that consideration is also a strong component of a contract as a contract can’t be formed without having any consideration.

There are many rules of consideration but the rule that is relevant over here is the Existing contractual duty, as it says that existing contractual duty is not a good consideration, this rule is not a popular one and Patterson (scholar) said that this rule has made a bad name for consideration

As one the most important case of this rule is Stilk v Myrick

Facts of Stilk v Myrick

The facts of the case are that Stilk was seamen who agreed with the defendants to sail to the Baltic and come back at a rate of pay of 5 pounds per month. Initially, there were 11 men in the crew but the two men left or deserted during the voyage.

The master of the ship was unable to find the replacement of the other two men so he had a contract with the other 9 members of the ship that if they would help him to take the ship back to London he will equally distribute the wage of those two men among those 9, So the remaining crew accepted his offer and started working with him, As the ship reached London. Stilk demanded his share and the owner of the ship refused to pay.

As Stilk went to the court and sued the man for the money, but his claim went un-successful, as this case was reported twice in the court and unfortunately the two reports differ as to the reason of the failure of the Stilk’s claim


The two reports that came after the the two unsuccessful claim of Stilk Are the espinasse report and the Campbell report

Espinasse Report

The first report was the espinasse report which was rejected on the grounds of policy. The policy being that if it would have been successful then it would have opened the grounds of duress. As every other sailor on the boat would have started to make unreasonable and extortionate demands to the master, for the price of performing their contractual duty to bring the ship back to the port.

Campbells Report

The second report was the campbell’s report which was rejected not rejected on the grounds of policy but it was said that stilk has provided no consideration to his master , as he only did his existing contractual duty which he was obliged to do , that was to bring the ship back with his master to the port.

The distinction between the two reports is important. As if the espinasse report would have been followed then it would lead to the possibility of duress, as espinasse is not a popular report and it is not highly regarded.

As the rule laid down in the campbells report was later accepted into the English law, that the existing contractual duty is not a good consideration.

Criticisms on Stilk V Myrick

But this rule was highly criticized as professor atiyah says that I found no reason that why the courts hadn’t found any consideration in Stilk v Myrick as there was a benefit to the promisor and a detriment to the promisee.

The courts attempted to meet this requirement by saying that it is a legal benefit or a legal detriment which is important not a factual benefit or a factual detriment.

But Corbin still says that this point does not explain that why the courts have resorted to the concepts of legal benefit and detriment.

But after all these criticisms Stilk was not over ruled and for a long period stilk was followed

Is Stilk v Myrick still good law? (Or what is the significance of Stilk v Myrick)

As Mckendrick gave us two reasons that why Stilk v Myrick is still good law

The first reason he gave through a case he cited was the Raggow vs Scougall, The concept that was held in this case was that giving up of contract 1 is automatic consideration for contract 2. We can see in Stilk v Myric when the 9 seamen agreed to the work of 11 they have ended their First contract and made a second contract so according to the rule established in Raggow VS Scougall, there was no extra consideration.

 As this case is very rarely cited, but was only used for an attack on the basis on the decision in Stilk v Myrick.

The second reason comes from two cases that are Hanson v Royden and Hartley V Ponsonby

In the first case the seamen was promoted to a second mate and it was held that in carrying out the job of the second mate, he had done more than what he was oblige to do under his contract and so he had provided consideration for the promise of extra pay.

The second situation arises where, before the new promise was made, circumstances had arisen which entitled the promisee to refuse to carry out his obligations under his contract.

Stilk v myrick contrast with Hartley v Ponsonby

So in the case of Hartley V Ponsonby , a crew of 36 deserted and only four or five of the remaining crew were able seamen . The desertation of such a large proportion of the crew rendered it Insafe to continue the voyage and would have entitled the remaining seamen to abandon the voyage.

The seamen agreed to continue the voyage on being promised extra pay on its completion. The master refused to fulfil the promise on their return to the home port but it was held that the seamen were entitled to enforce the masters promise because , in agreeing to continue with voyage when they were not obliged by the terms of their contract to do so, so they had provided consideration.

Stilk v Myrick and William v Roffey Bros

However a more wide ranging attack on Stilk v Myrick was launched by the court of appeal in what is now the seminal case of Williams vs Roffey  Bros .

The Court of appeal adopted a very pragmatic approach to the issue in William v Roffey Bros. They held that the defendants had obtained a practical benefit as a result of the claimant’s promise to complete the work on time and that practical benefit was, for this purpose at least, sufficient to constitute consideration.

Has William vs Roffey bros overruled Stilk V Myrick?

The Court of Appeal (COA) in Williams’s vs roffey Bros was adamant that Stilk V Myrick had not been over-ruled, rather it had been refined and limited. Yet the two cases are very similar. If the defendants in William v roffey received a practical benefit so the same can be said to the master of the ship in Stilk v Myrick.

He was practically benefitted by the promise of Stilk to work the ship back home, yet that benefit was held not to constitute consideration.

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Related Readings

Hanson v Royden

Raggow v Scougall

Hartley v Ponsonby

William V Roffey

The Eurymedon