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Supply of Necessaries (Contract Act)

Supply of Necessaries (Contract Act)
Supply of Necessaries (Contract Act)


Quasi-Contracts, termed so for their nature akin to contracts yet distinct from both contractual and tortious obligations, hold enforceable terms in the Court of Law despite lacking a formal contract.

Dr. Jenks succinctly defines a quasi-contract as a circumstance where the law mandates an obligation resembling that of a true contract, even without explicit agreement.

Instances arise where legal and moral principles necessitate adherence to obligations without contractual or tortious infractions.

For instance, when goods are mistakenly left in someone's home, the recipient is obligated to return them, termed quasi-contractual obligations due to their unique nature.


The theoretical underpinning of quasi-contractual obligations, rooted in preventing unjust enrichment, remains open to interpretation. Lord Mansfield, attributed as the progenitor of such obligations, posited that law and justice should deter one party's unjust enrichment at the expense of another. 

In the case of Moses v. Macferlan, despite Moses's attempt to disclaim liability, he was held accountable, emphasising the principle of natural justice and equity in refunding money obtained through various circumstances, including mistake, failed consideration, imposition, or undue advantage.

Such liabilities straddle categories, resembling tort law for their non-contractual origin yet akin to contract law in their singular obligation. They find justification either through an implied contract or natural justice, with Lord Mansfield favouring the latter.


Theory of "Implied-in-Fact" Contract

The Sinclair v. Brougham case marked a shift towards reliance on implied-in-fact contracts, departing from Lord Mansfield's rationale. In this case, a building society engaged in banking beyond its scope, leading to its liquidation. 

The House of Lords, while allowing equitable distribution among claimants, dismissed quasi-contractual remedies. Lord Haldane clarified that common law recognizes personal actions based solely on contract or tort, relegating actions arising quasi ex contractu to a legal fiction.

This approach prevailed for some time, affirming the juridical basis of quasi-contracts as implied or fictional contracts. Yet, it imposed limitations on relief, constraining remedies available under the principles of natural justice and equity.

Restoration of the Theory of Unjust Enrichment

The association of quasi-contracts with implied contracts narrowed potential relief under the broader ambit of "natural justice and equity." This constraint was acknowledged in Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v. Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd., where the House of Lords permitted the recovery of advance payment due to a failed consideration. 

Lord Wright echoed Lord Mansfield's theory of unjust enrichment, highlighting the need for remedies preventing one from unjustly retaining another's benefits. He differentiated these remedies from those in contract or tort, categorising them under quasi-contract or restitution.

In light of Sinclair v. Brougham, Lord Wright emphasised the case's foundation on public policy rather than quasi-contract, signalling a resurgence of the theory of unjust enrichment. The House's decision aimed at equitable asset distribution to prevent shareholders' unjust enrichment at the expense of depositors.


Claims for Necessaries Supplied to an Incompetent Person

Consider a scenario where an individual lacks the capacity to enter into a contract, such as a person deemed incompetent due to mental illness. Section 68 addresses this, stating that if an incapable person is supplied with necessaries appropriate to their status in life by another party, that party is entitled to reimbursement from the incompetent person's estate. 

Additionally, if necessaries are provided to individuals reliant on the incompetent person for support, like their spouse and children, the supplier is entitled to reimbursement from the incompetent person's estate as well.


(a) S provides necessaries suited to L's condition as a lunatic. S can seek reimbursement from L's estate.

(b) S provides necessaries to L's wife and minor children. S can seek reimbursement from L's estate.

This section covers:

(a) Supply of necessaries,

(b) To an incompetent person (e.g., a minor, lunatic),

(c) To individuals dependent on the incompetent person for support (e.g., spouse and minor children),

(d) Reimbursement from the incompetent person's estate.

Legal Ramifications

  1. Only necessaries qualify for reimbursement. Anything beyond necessaries is not compensated. What constitutes necessaries depends on the individual's social status.

  2. The compensation comes solely from the incompetent person's estate; the incompetent person bears no personal liability. If the incompetent person lacks assets for compensation, the supplier receives nothing.

Definition of Necessaries

Necessaries extend beyond basic essentials to include items vital for maintaining an individual's social status and needs. Determination considers the person's fortune, circumstances, and holistic requirements, encompassing not only physical needs but also intellectual, moral, and religious education.

Criteria for Identifying Necessaries

For a minor's estate to be liable for necessaries, two conditions must be met: the goods must be reasonably necessary for their support in their social position, and they must lack a sufficient supply of these necessaries at the time of purchase. Luxuries are typically excluded, but certain luxurious yet useful items may qualify based on individual status and needs.

Examples of Necessaries

  • Educational and Study Materials: Items like books, educational tools, and materials necessary for intellectual growth.

  • Living Essentials: Housing, clothing, and personal care items essential for maintaining a decent standard of living.

  • Legal and Funeral Expenses: Costs incurred for legal defence or funeral rites, deemed necessary for societal obligations.

  • Special Circumstances: Wedding presents for a minor bride or expenses for apprenticeship-related tools like a racing cycle.


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