Although a united state, the United Kingdom is made up of separate countries with individual legal systems. An individual or company that seeks to act under "British" contract law will therefore need to be clear about which legal system it comes under. Depending on which system applies, there are several important differences in the principle and application of contract law.
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"British" refers to the United Kingdom, a nation state made up of four constituent countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. England and Wales both come under English law, while Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own legal systems. Although many elements of the systems are similar or identical, there are some key differences.
Perhaps the most significant difference in contract law between the system used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that used in Scotland, is that Scotland does not require consideration in a contract. Consideration means that both parties offer something by way of exchange as part of the deal. The most common version of this is one party exchanging cash for the other party's goods or services. However, a valid contract could involve the two parties trading goods, or agreeing to each perform services for the other.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, it is not possible to sign a binding contract in which one party simply gives something to the other without getting anything in return. In Scotland, such a contract is valid (and known as a gratuitous contact), but must be signed or otherwise agreed by both parties.
In all forms of British law, a contract must be agreed by both parties. In Scottish law, however, there is provision for a "unilateral promise." This is not a contract, but rather a legally enforceable commitment by the party agreeing to the stated action, and does not require the other party's approval.
To be considered a legally binding unilateral promise, a declaration must include some form of commitment. A declaration that is merely a statement of intent or an offer will not count.
English law has a concept named "equity" that applies in most cases, including contract law. Equity means that a court has the power to override the strict letter of written (or statute) law where it believes that to apply the statute law strictly would be contrary to the interest of fairness and justice. Scottish law does not recognise this concept.
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