Friday, 25 April 2008

WRONG: You are legally obliged to pay all your debts

A peculiarity of contracts is that they can be valid – ie both parties agree to the terms – but still unenforceable. In the UK, gambling debts are the most famous example. Hard to believe though it sounds, you are not legally obliged to pay any losses incurred through gambling. This is why bookmakers laugh like hyenas and reach for the hammer at the mention of credit.

Prostitution is another instance. If a client refuses to pay for services rendered, the prostitute is out of luck, legally as well as financially, even though the transaction itself is not strictly illegal. The flip side is that if she takes her payment in advance, she can refuse to get down to business and be equally unassailable in law.

In the US, government spies’ employment contracts are officially unenforceable. In the case of Tenet Vs Doe in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that “John Doe”, a Russian diplomat who spied for the CIA, couldn’t sue to claim benefits owed him by the Agency because such a lawsuit would violate the condition of secrecy that the original contract demanded. All of which makes you wonder why they bothered with a contract in the first place.

Outside of these specific cases, however, you have to pay up, or file for bankruptcy, which means you won’t be able to sit in Parliament. Another life’s ambition thwarted.

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