For an agreement to form a legally binding contract it must meet several criteria: an offer has been made and accepted; both parties are providing something to the other; and both parties intend the agreement to be a legal contract. Several factors can invalidate a contract, even if it appears to meet these criteria. A key example is a lack of binding consent.
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A person cannot be bound by a contract if he or she was not in a fit state to make an informed decision to consent to the contract. This could apply if the person had mental limitations. It could also apply if the person had suffered a serious physical illness that left him or her unable to make a rational choice.
A court may rule that a child was too young to consent to a contract, but this will usually be on a case by case basis. For example, a 17 year old would likely be considered fit to consent to a simple employment contract, but a younger child might not be considered fit to consent to a more complicated contract for buying or selling goods. With financial contracts such as for loans, courts do not have discretion: British law says anyone under 18 cannot consent to a finance agreement.
A person cannot be considered to have given consent to a contract if he or she did so under duress. This means that he or she made the agreement as a result of a threat of physical harm or damage to property. In some cases duress can apply if the person feared suffering economic harm if he or she did not consent, though this is more open to a court's judgment.
A person's consent is not valid if he or she gave it because of undue influence. This means the person wasn't acting under duress, but did give consent because of inappropriate pressure from somebody else. The rules for this depend on the relationship involved. If the person was influenced by somebody in a particular type of relationship such as parent, guardian, solicitor or trustee (but not spouse), the court will presume undue influence and the other party in the contract has to prove this isn't the case. If the person was influenced by somebody they didn't have this special relationship with, the burden is on the person to prove he or she acted under undue influence.
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