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Barton v Armstrong [1976] AC 104 Privy Council

Armstrong was the chairman and held the largest sharing holding in Landmark Corporation Ltd a public company. Barton was the managing director and also had a substantial shareholding in. There were two other directors Bovil and Cottrel. There had been a long history of ill will between the parties and a struggle over who should have controlling power with Armstrong being the most aggressive. The other directors in the company were also unhappy with Armstrong and wanted him to be removed for abusing certain privileges and they disagreed with the way he ran the company believing him to be putting the company at risk of insolvency. However, Armstrong refused to resign. The three managed to take control of subsidiary companies and removed all credit facilities from Landmark Corp. When Armstrong discovered the credit had been removed he made a number of death threats to Barton to pressure him into signing an agreement which contained various elements including the purchase by Barton of Armstrong's shares in the company at a substantial over value. Barton agreed to this partly due to the threats but also due to the fact that it would mean that Armstrong would no longer have controlling interest and he believed he would be able to turn the company around without Armstrong's dealings. However, the company became insolvent shortly after and Barton sought to have the contract set aside.

Held: The contract could be set aside. Where there is duress to the person there was no obligation to show that he would not have entered the agreement but for the threat, it simply being sufficient that the death threats were a cause.

Back to lecture outline on Duress in Contract Law