Lewis v Averay [1972] 1 QB 198

Contract – Title – Mistaken Identity – Good Faith – Fraud – Identity – Voidable


The complainant, Mr Lewis, was a postgraduate that wanted to sell his car. He met with somebody interested in buying the car, who was actually a rogue that was impersonating a famous actor, Richard Greene. They agreed on the price of £450 for the car and the rogue wanted to pay by cheque. Mr Lewis asked for identification before he agreed to accepting the cheque, with the rogue presenting a pass for Pinewood Studios and his name and photograph. Once the rogue had the car, he sold it onto the defendant, Mr Averay, for £200. The cheque he had given to Mr Lewis bounced, but the rogue had disappeared and could not be found.


The complainant argued that there was a mistake to the identity of the buyer, which meant that the contract with the rogue did not exist. Mr Lewis argued that the title had not passed, which means the car was still his property. The issue in this case was what the effect of mistaken identity was on a contract and whether there was a valid contract between Mr Lewis and the rogue for the car.


It was held that the mistake to the real identity of the rogue did not prevent a valid contract being created between him and Mr Lewis. There was a face to face interaction, where the law presumes contract. However, this was fraud and impersonation by the rogue, which would render a contract voidable and it could be set aside. Yet, this must be done before a third party acquires the rights. In this case, the contract was not set aside before Mr Averay, in good faith, purchased the car.