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An offer is an expression of willingness to contract on certain terms with the intention that it shall become binding as soon as it is accepted by the person to whom it is deal with. It is a manifestation of a willingness to be bound by contract. Other than that, an offer means a signification by one person to another person of his willingness to enter into a contract with him on certain terms. The offer will usually indicate the form the acceptance should take and may indicate when the acceptance will be deemed to have occurred. In seeking to prove that a contract was in existence, it will be necessary to show that there was a definite offer.





Advertisements of unilateral contracts are treated as offers. An advertisement to general public for a reward to anyone who does something is treated as an offer. If the offer forms the basis for a unilateral contract, it can be difficult to revoke. Typically the offeror must take reasonable steps to revoke the offer in the same form as it was originally made. For example, if the offer was made in a newspaper, then it should probably be revoked the same way. Moreover, it is particularly problematic if a unilateral offer is revoked before full completion of the act that constitutes the acceptance. In Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co (18), Mrs. Carlill was able to demonstrate that she had completed the acceptance, so Carbolic could not have escaped its obligations be revoking the offer. However, suppose Mrs. Carlill had started using the Smoke Ball, and written to Carbolic expressing her wish to claim the compensation if it failed.


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An advertisement for reward to anyone who provides information leading to a conviction is treated as offer too. There is an R v Clarke (17) case where Clarke claimed a reward of ͘1000 for providing information, which resulted in the conviction of two murderers. The facts are set out in the head note to the case. Clarke knew of the reward offer but, it was alleged, he gave the information to get himself off the hook after he was arrested for the murder. So, this case does not illustrate the proposition that a person cannot accept an offer if that person did not know about it. Instead, the High Court was prepared to infer from the circumstance what Clarke’s state of mind was and came to the conclusion that he did not have the reward offer in his mind when he provided the vital information. He was responding to something quite different, namely, fear for his own fate.


On the other hand, an invitation to treat is an invitation to open negations with a view to forming a contract. In English Law, an invitation to treat is not an offer, and its acceptance does not constitute the formation of a contract. There are many instances where invitations to treat are misconstrued as offers. For example, if a shop displays goods for sale with a price label attached, they are not obligated to sell for the market price. This is because displaying goods for sale is an invitation to treat, not an offer. There are cases such as Fischer v Bell (161) and Partridge v Crittendon (168). In Fisher v Bell (161) case, the defendant, a shopkeeper, was prosecuted for displaying an illegal flick-knife for sale. Because it is an offense to offer such an item foe sale he was convicted. On appeal, however, it was held that “offer for sale” has a technical meaning in law, and a shop window display is an invitation to treat, no an offer in contractual terms. The conviction was therefore quashed. While in the case of Partridge v Crittendon (168), the defendant advertised in a newspaper “framble finch cocks and hens 5 shillings each” offering a wild bird for sale is contrary to the Protection of Birds Act (154). It was construed that this advertisement was an invitation to treat, not an offer in contractual terms, and he was acquitted.


Goods displayed on self-service shelves or counter in a shop or pharmacy is also invitation to treat. The case Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots (15) demonstrates the principle that in-point-of-sale transactions the offer for sale and acceptance of that offer is deemed to take place at the checkout, and that displaying goods on shelves does not constitute an offer for sale. The Pharmaceutical Society brought a case against Boots for selling “poisons” without the supervision of a registered pharmacist, contrary to the pharmacy and Poisons Act (1). Customers would place their intended purchases in a basket, then take them to the checkout for purchases. The plaintiffs argued that displaying the goods constituted an offer, and placing goods in the basket an acceptance of offer. This argument was not accepted, as the cashier was, by common practice, free to refuse the sale, so the selection of good for purchase could not be construed a contract.


Some kinds of request to tender will also be construed as invitation to treat. According to Blackpool and Flyde Aero Club v Blackpool Borough Club (10) a request to tender may, however, constitute an offer to consider the tender; such that a person who submits a tender, which is ignored, may have a cause of action.


In conclusion, an invitation to treat is preliminary to an offer. The different between an offer and an invitation to treat lies in the intention of the parties. It has to be noted that invitation to treat are not capable of being accepted. This is because invitation to treat does not display any sort of intention o be bound. It means that an invitation to treat is in law an invitation to make offer and it is not the offer itself for example where a party is merely inviting offers, which he is free to accept or reject.


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