Contract Law Cases - Bisset v Wilkinson

Ewe wouldn't believe how many sheep there are!

Nobody could count if 2,000 sheep were on the lands before dozing off.
Nobody could count if 2,000 sheep were on the lands before dozing off. | Source

What Happened in Bisset v Wilkinson

  • Mr Bisset entered a contract to buy two plots of land from Mr Wilkinson.
  • Bisset intended to use the land to farm sheep. They agreed on a price and Bisset was content with it.
  • He then asked Wilkinson how many sheep he thought the land could hold.
  • Wilkinson had stated that he believed the land, if developed well, could hold 2,000 sheep.
  • But this turned out not to be true and Bisset brought an action for misrepresentation against Wilkinson.

The Courts Ruling on Wilkinson

The Privy Council ruled that there was no misrepresentation on Wilkinson's side due to the following facts:

  1. Mr Wilkinson had never farmed sheep on the land and Mr Bisset knew this during the time the contract was made.
  2. This implied that Wilkinson had no specialist knowledge on the matter and therefore anything he said pertaining to sheep farming was merely an estimate and not meant to be held as a fact.
  3. Bisset had not proved that if the farmland was handled better, more sheep (perhaps 2,000) could not have successfully been farmed there.

For a while, Wilkinson was looking Sheepish but it turns out he wasn't as Baaad as Bisset had said.
For a while, Wilkinson was looking Sheepish but it turns out he wasn't as Baaad as Bisset had said.

Lord Merrivale's Exact Words

'In ascertaining what meaning was conveyed to the minds of the now respondents by the appellant's statement as to the two thousand sheep, the most material fact to be remembered is that, as both parties were aware, the appellant had not and, so far as appears, no other person had at any time carried on sheep-farming upon the unit of land in question. That land as a distinct holding had never constituted a sheep-farm.'

He also added:

'[the] defendants failed to prove that the farm if properly managed was not capable of being occupied by two thousand sheep.’

Lessons to Take Away with you

  • When creating a contract, keep in mind that any informal estimates, which are identified by the fact that the person giving them has no expert knowledge, often no more than you yourself, are not legally binding and if they are not accurate you will no legal right to claim misrepresentation.
  • Dangers of the Law
    Sellers may try to fool you by offering estimates that they know are untrue but will not be legally binding in an attempt to convince you to buy something. Make sure you make their estimation part of the contract!

Final Comment

This case highlights the importance of voicing your expectations formally and not just as a sideline comment.

Had Mr. Bisset expressed the idea that he wanted land capable of farming 2,000 sheep in the written contract, Mr Wilkinson would have been legally bound and may have took the time to ensure a more accurate estimate (or rejected the contract).

Instead, Wilkinson was able to give an informal estimate which because of his past experiences (or lack thereof) was not bound.

For this reason this case is similar to Smith v Hughes - the case where Mr. Hughes did not tell Smith that the oats he was buying are not suitable for racehorses to eat.

The famous Flight of the Conchord poster! Classic.
The famous Flight of the Conchord poster! Classic.

What do you think?

Do you think the judges acted rightly or wrongly?

See results without voting

© 2013 DK

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