What is Coercion? Is a threat to commit suicide coercion? What are the effect of coercion on a contract?

In simple words, coercion means the use of force by one party or compel a person to enter into a contract. Section 15 of the Contract Act defines ‘coercion’ as follows: Coercion is the committing or threatening to commit any act forbidden by Indian Penal Code, or the unlawful detaining or threatening to detain, any property, to the prejudice of any person whatever, with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement.

This section brings out the following characteristics of coercion.
  1. Coercion is the committing of any act forbidden by the Indian Penal Code with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement.
  2. Coercion may be threatening to commit any act forbidden by the Indian Penal Code, with the intention of causing the other person to enter into a contract.
  3. Coercion is also unlawful detaining or threatening to detain the property of another, to the prejudice of another.
  4. The threat amounting to coercion need not be necessarily initiated by a party to the contract. It may be initiated even by a third party. A threatens to kill B’s son if B does not agrees to sell his car to him for Rs. 60,000. B agrees to sell. B’s consent in this case has been taken by coercion. Similarly, if A threatens to shoot B if he does not enter into a contract to sell his watch to C. A’s threat amounts to coercion even though he is a stranger to agreement between B and C.
  5. The acts of coercion should be done with the intention of causing the other person to enter into a contract. If there is no intention to induce the other person to enter into a contract, there is no coercion.
  6. Threat to commit suicide amounts to coercion Neither ‘suicide’ nor ‘threat to commit suicide’ is punishable under IPC. But an attempt to commit suicide is an offence. However, in the case of Amiraju vs. Seshamma, a person held out a threat of suicide to his wife and son and induced them to write a release deed in regard to certain property in favor of his brothers. It was held that the deed was obtained by coercion. The court held that though a threat to commit suicide is not punishable under the IPC. But this does not mean that it is not forbidden by law. So threat to commit suicide amounts to coercion.

Effect of Coercion : Section 19 lays down: ‘When consent to an agreement is caused by coercion the agreement is a contract voidable at the option of the party whose consent was so caused.’ In other words, its upto aggrieved party to decide whether to set aside the contract perform it. According to Section 72, the party to whom money is paid or anything delivered under coercion must repay or return it to the party whose consent was so obtained. The burden of proving that the consent of a party was caused by coercion lies on the party who wants to avoid the contract. He has also to prove that he would not have entered into a contract had coercion not been employed.

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