In our daily life knowingly or unknowingly we enter into a contract when we buy an article or appoint a person as a servant or moving from one place to another place by bus journey etc. The agreement which we enter becomes binding when we enter it through consent. The consent must be free. The contracting parties should agree upon the same things in the same sense which is known as consensus ad idem. According to section 2(h) of the Indian contract act 1872, an agreement which is enforceable by law is known as a contract. Section 10 of the Indian contract act defines essential elements of a contract one of the essential element is free consent. Consent is said to be free when it is not obtained by coercion, undue influence, fraud, misrepresentation, or mistake. Coercion is an act or process of persuading someone forcefully to do something that they do not want to do. If the consent to an agreement is not free then the agreement is not valid. If the consent is obtained through coercion (section 15), undue influence (section 16), fraud (section 17), and misrepresentation (section 18) are voidable at the option of the party whose consent was so caused. A voidable contract means an agreement enforceable at the option of one or more of the parties thereto, but not at the option of the other or others defined in section 2(i) of the Indian contract act 1872. Where the consent is caused by mistake, the agreement is void. A void agreement is not enforceable at the option of either party.
According to section 15 of the Indian contract act 1872 ”coercion is the committing or threatening to commit any act forbidden by the Indian penal code,1860 or the unlawful detaining or threatening to detain any property to the prejudice of any person whatever with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement”.
For example, A threatens B pointing a pistol toward him, if he doesn’t sell his house for rupees 10 lakhs which has a worth of 30 lakhs. B agrees, here the consent of the B obtained by intimidating or threatening him. Agreements of such kind are voidable at the option of the aggrieved party.
It is immaterial whether the Indian penal code 1860 is or is not in force in the place where the coercion is employed. For example, John by intimidating Ram enters into a contract on a ship that is in the Atlantic Ocean. John has obtained consent through coercion under the Indian penal code (IPC) it is immaterial whether IPC was not in force at the time when or place where the act was done.
Let us analyze section 15 of the Indian contract act 1872 which defines coercion. Consent is said to be obtained through coercion if it is caused by
- Committing or threatening to commit any act forbidden by the Indian penal code,1860 or by
- Unlawful detaining or threatening to detain any property
If the consent is obtained by committing or threatening to commit an act forbidden by the Indian penal code then the consent is said to be obtained through coercion. Coercion involves physical /psychological compulsion or force upon the party. When the consent is obtained to an agreement by blackmailing, threatening to kill, or by beating any person torturing, or harming the family or loved ones of the contracting party i.e. through the acts forbidden by law are voidable contracts.
For example, A, the husband of B threatens the parents of B that he will torture their daughter if they won’t give him the property they own as a gift. Here the consent of the parties was obtained by threatening their daughter, which is forbidden by the Indian penal code.
There is an interesting case called Chikham Amiraju v Chikham Sheshamma. There is a question of law that threatening to commit suicide comes under coercion which is not forbidden by the Indian penal code. In IPC attempt to commit suicide is a punishable offense whereas suicide is not punishable. The question was before the Madras high court, there is a difference of opinion that an attempt to suicide is punishable under IPC but suicide is not punishable as there is no person left to punish, this doesn’t mean suicide is not forbidden by IPC. It was held by the majority that the threat of suicide amounted to coercion hence the contract is voidable.
In another case, if a person on whose against criminal prosecution is admitted fearing the result of the prosecution and enters into an agreement with the person who initiated the prosecution in his favor with consideration of withdrawing the prosecution doesn’t fall under coercion. To threaten a criminal prosecution is not forbidden by the Indian penal code.
Unlawful Detention of property
Section 15 of the Indian contract act states that coercion can also be caused through detaining or threatening to detain the property to the prejudice of any person whatever with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement. For example, A, the owner of a competing company induces B to enter into a contract by threatening to possess B’s company on his failure to enter into a contract such consent is said to be obtained by coercion
In English law, coercion is called duress or menace. Duress is an actual or threatened violence or imprisonment of the contracting party or his wife or children by another party. The English law only includes force used upon a person but the Indian law is much wider it includes unlawful detention of property also. In India, coercion may come from the person who is not even a part of the contract. It may be directed against the stranger to the contract. But in English law, duress should come from the party of the contract and be directed towards the party or his family not on a stranger. If force is applied to a stranger it doesn’t come under duress.
In general, a contract means an agreement between 2 parties to do or not to do something. The agreement should be made through free consent by competent parties for a lawful object. The contract becomes binding when all the essentials mentioned in section 10 of the Indian contract act are fulfilled. One of the essentials is free consent. For a valid contract, there must be no coercion. The consent should be free. Coercion is defined in section 15 of the Indian contract act 1872, which means committing or threatening to commit any act forbidden by law or unlawful detaining of property to obtain the assent of the party.
- Contract and Specific Relief by Avtar Singh (12th edition).
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