The history of the law of contract in the UK is a long and complex one dating back to the Medieval times. Contracts can be defined as agreements between two or more parties to perform or refrain from performing certain acts, and the law of contract governs the creation, performance and enforcement of these agreements.
The early development of the law of contract in England can be traced back to the 12th century when the Norman Conquest of England introduced a new legal system. The common law, which developed during this period, recognized the importance of contracts and provided remedies for breaches of contract. These remedies included action in debt, which enabled the plaintiff to obtain a sum of money as compensation, and action in trespass or trespass on the case, which enabled the plaintiff to obtain damages for loss suffered.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the law of contract underwent significant changes, mainly due to the emergence of new business practices and the increasing trade with other countries. As a result, the courts had to adapt to the new forms of contract, such as bills of exchange, and develop new principles to govern them.
It was during this period that the doctrine of consideration emerged, which refers to the requirement that each party to a contract must give something of value to the other party. This principle ensured that contracts were not entered into lightly, and that both parties had something to lose if the contract was breached.
In the 18th century, the law of contract continued to develop and became more complex. The courts began to recognize the concept of implied terms, which are terms that are not expressly stated but are necessary to give effect to the contract. This principle was developed further in the 19th century, when the courts began to imply terms into contracts to ensure that they would be fair and reasonable.
The 20th century saw further developments in the law of contract, particularly with the introduction of consumer protection legislation. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 provided consumers with greater protection when entering into contracts for the sale of goods and services.
More recently, the European Union has had a significant impact on the law of contract in the UK, particularly with the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This act implemented the EU Consumer Rights Directive and provided consumers with additional rights, such as a 14-day cooling-off period for distance contracts.
In conclusion, the history of the law of contract in the UK is a complex one that has evolved over many centuries. From the early common law principles to the modern consumer protection legislation, the law of contract has adapted to the changing needs of society and the economy. Despite its complexity, the law of contract remains an essential part of the legal system, providing a framework for agreements between parties and ensuring that these agreements are binding and enforceable.