Holman v Johnson

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Holman v Johnson
Smugglers Tea Rooms, Upper Bonchurch - geograph.org.uk - 737532.jpg
Smugglers Tea Rooms
CourtCourt of King's Bench
Citation(s)(1775) 1 Cowp 341
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingLord Mansfield CJ
Contracts, illegality

Holman v Johnson (1775) 1 Cowp 341 is an English contract law case, concerning the principles behind illegal transactions.


The claimant, who lived in Dunkirk, sold tea to the defendant. The claimant knew it was intended to be smuggled into England, though was not concerned with the smuggling scheme. The method of payment was meant to be by bills of exchange drawn in England. The claimant brought an action for non-payment, and the defendant contended that it could not be enforced because the contract was unlawful.


Lord Mansfield CJ held that the agreement could be enforced because the seller had himself done nothing unlawful. He said the following.


The decision was cited with approval by the House of Lords in Government of India v Taylor [1955] AC 491.

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