Pharmaceutical Society of GB v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd

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Pharmaceutical Society v Boots
Court Court of Appeal
Full case name Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd
Decided 5 February 1953
Citation(s) EWCA Civ 6, [1953] 1 QB 401, [1953] 1 All ER 482, [1953] 2 WLR 427
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Somervell LJ, Birkett LJ and Romer LJ
Keywords
offer, invitation to treat, display of goods for sale, self-service

Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd [1953] EWCA Civ 6 is a famous English contract law decision on the nature of an offer. The Court held that the display of a product in a store with a price attached is not sufficient to be considered an offer, but rather is an invitation to treat.

Facts[edit]

Boots Cash Chemists had just instituted a new method for its customers to buy certain medicines. The company would let shoppers pick drugs off the shelves in the chemist and then pay for them at the till. Before then, all medicines were stored behind a counter and an assistant had to get what was requested. The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain objected and argued that under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933, that was an unlawful practice. Under s 18(1), a pharmacist needed to supervise at the point where "the sale is effected" when the product was one listed on the 1933 Act's schedule of poisons. The Society argued that displays of goods were an "offer" and when a shopper selected and put the drugs into their shopping basket, that was an "acceptance". Therefore because no pharmacist had supervised the transaction at this point, Boots was in breach of the Act. Boots argued that the sale was effected only at the till.

Judgment[edit]

Both the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court and the Court of Appeal sided with Boots. They held that the display of goods was not an offer. Rather, by placing the goods into the basket, it was the customer that made the offer to buy the goods. This offer could be either accepted or rejected by the pharmacist at the cash desk. The moment of the completion of contract was at the cash desk, in the presence of the supervising pharmacist. Therefore, there was no violation of the Act.

Somervell LJ said,

Birkett LJ followed on by saying,

Subsequent Legal Developments[edit]

Whilst this case did uphold the legal concept of invitation to treat way back in 1953, some jurisdictions have since enacted legislation in either consumer protection or fair trading that would either make such a situation a legally binding offer by the retailer, or an offence for the retailer to refuse to carry out the transaction (bait advertising or misleading/deceptive conduct).

The concept of invitation to treat can still be used for a some situations, for example for things outside their control such as a customer switching price tags, and where it would be illegal to carry out the transaction such as selling alcohol to a minor.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]