Last edited 06 Dec 2019

Duress and undue influence

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In law, a contract can be rendered null and void if one of the parties was not a free agent when they entered into it. This can occur if duress or undue influence was exerted on them when the contract was drawn up. It is then up to them to nullify the contract if they so wish.

A party to a contract may be coerced by:

  • Violence.
  • Threats of violence.
  • Threats of criminal proceedings (even if this was just an empty threat).
  • Having property seized.
  • Similar threats applied to someone who is close enough to the party to the contract to make them feel the threat is to themselves. An example might be a threat to a next of kin or close friend which forces a party to sign a contract.

A contract is also voidable if one of the parties was influenced or guided by the other party, as may occur in parent/child, doctor/patient, trustee/beneficiary etc relationships. Where contracts have in such cases been entered into, the presumption is of undue influence by the stronger party on the weaker party who can therefore (and at their discretion) render the contract null and void. However, this can be refuted if it is established that the weaker party received independent legal advice before entering into the contract. The presumption of undue influence does not apply to husband/wife contracts.

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