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In law, void means of no legal effect. An action, document or transaction which is void is of no legal effect whatsoever: an absolute nullity — the law treats it as if it had never existed or happened.
The term void ab initio, which means "to be treated as invalid from the outset," comes from adding the Latin phrase ab initio (from the beginning) as a qualifier. For example, in many jurisdictions where a person signs a contract under duress, that contract is treated as being void ab initio.
Void. Null; ineffectual; nugatory; having no legal force or binding effect; unable, in law, to support the purpose for which it was intended.
The dictionary further goes on to define void ab initio as:
Void ab initio. A contract is null from the beginning if it seriously offends law or public policy in contrast to a contract which is merely voidable at the election of one of the parties to the contract.
In practical terms, void is usually used in contradistinction to "voidable" and "unenforceable", the principal difference being that an action which is voidable remains valid until it is avoided. The significance of this usually lies in the possibility of third party rights being acquired in good faith. For example, in Cundy v Lindsay (1878), a con man posing as a retailer induced Messrs Lindsay & Co to deliver to him a quantity of handkerchiefs. The fraudster then sold the handkerchiefs on to an innocent third party, Mr Cundy, and did not repay Lindsay; in fact the money was never recovered. Lindsay, claiming ownership of the handkerchiefs, sued Cundy for their return. If the contract of sale was held to be voidable for fraud, then Lindsay & Co would only have recourse against the insolvent fraudster. However, if (as was in fact held) the contract of sale was void ab initio, then title did not pass from Lindsay to the fraudster in the first place, and Lindsay could claim back the handkerchiefs as their property. Mr Cundy was left with only a claim against the insolvent fraudster.
In every case, third parties involved with bad faith in void or voidable contracts not only are affected by nullity, but may also be liable for statutory damages.
However, the right to avoid a voidable transaction can be lost (usually lost by delay). These are sometimes referred to as "bars to rescission". Such considerations do not apply to matters affected by absolute nullity, or void ab initio.