Fraudulent misrepresentation and the need for proof of inducement, may at first seem like prudent adjudication, however when the facts are properly assembled, there is little doubt as to whether the act itself was one of corroboration through personal gain, or a simple exploitation of the contractual arrangements between credit and debtor.
In the winter of 1980, the now respondent was convicted for obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception under s.16(1) of the Theft Act 1968 after an indictment on two counts, one of which was quashed, while the second occurred during a period after the lending bank had recalled the credit card used.
Having been granted use of the card in spring 1977, the bank had, after a period of time, requested its return after the respondent had incurred a debt far in excess of the prescribed limit of £200. On 6 December 1977, the respondent agreed to return the card, after which she entered into a transaction in a Mothercare store on 15 December 1977, before returning the card on 19 December, at which point the debt had increased to a princely £1005.
At the trial, the jury returned a verdict against the respondent, after which she appealed on grounds that the store clerk had, by her application of store policy regards their relationship with the bank, allowed the transaction to proceed, not because she had been falsely induced, but rather because the credit card was (i) within the expiration date, (ii) not on the store’s ‘stop list’ and (iii) the respondent’s signature matched that on the card. It was also argued that the mere presentation of the card did not indicate anything more than that of a right to use it, as opposed to any representation on behalf of the bank, therefore liability for deception could not stand.
With doubts as to the exactness of related precedent, the Court of Appeal reluctantly overturned the conviction, during which Cumming-Bruce LJ remarked:
“By their contract with the bank, Mothercare had bought from the bank the right to sell goods to Barclaycard holders without regard to the question whether the customer was complying with the terms of the contract between the customer and the bank.”
At which point the County Chief Constable appealed under s.33(2) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, and the matter was again presented before the House of Lords. Here, the facts of R v Charles were given deliberate consideration, in particular the commentary by Diplock LJ who had explained:
“By exhibiting to the payee a cheque card containing the undertaking by the bank to honour cheques drawn in compliance with the conditions endorsed on the back, and drawing the cheque accordingly, the drawer represents to the payee that he has actual authority from the bank to make a contract with the payee on the bank’s behalf that it will honour the cheque on presentment for payment.
What creates ostensible authority in a person who purports to enter into a contract as agent for a principal is a representation made to the other party that he has the actual authority of the principal for whom he claims to be acting to enter into the contract on that person’s behalf.
[T]hen, is he bound by the contract purportedly made on his behalf. The whole foundation of liability under the doctrine of ostensible authority is a representation, believed by the person to whom it is made, that the person claiming to contract as agent for a principal has the actual authority of the principal to enter into the contract on his behalf.”
Which meant that despite the protestations of exemption from the transaction, the respondent was inevitably liable for deception when using the card in the knowledge that it was the property of the issuing bank, and that the period for its used had since expired. It was also noted by the House that when introducing the concept of inducement into any act of fraud, the words of Humphrey J in R v Sullivan reminded the judiciary that:
“[I]t is patent that there was only one reason which anybody could suggest for the person alleged to have been defrauded parting with his money, and that is the false pretence, if it was a false pretence.”
At which point the House unanimously reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and awarded due judgment for the Crown, while holding that:
“[W]here the direct evidence of the witness is not and cannot reasonably be expected to be available, reliance upon a dishonest representation cannot be sufficiently established by proof of facts from where an irresistible inference of such reliance can be drawn.”