The BBC asked its legal correspondent to weigh in on the case of Alex Nash, the five-year-old who was billed £15.95 for failing to show up for a friend's birthday party. Although the party organizers (the friend's parents) have allegedly threatened to go to small-claims court to collect if necessary, Clive Coleman opines that the invitation could not have created a binding contract for two reasons:
Any claim would be on the basis that a contract had been created, which included a term that a "no show" fee would be charged.
However, for there to be a contract, there needs to be an intention to create legal relations. A child's party invitation would not create legal relations with either the child "guest" or its parents.
If it is being argued that the contract is with the child, it is inconceivable that a five-year-old would be seen by a court as capable of creating legal relations and entering into a contract with a "no show" charge.
Agreed that the five-year-old is off the hook, because despite the many crimes that infants commit, the so-called "criminal justice" system continues to give them a free pass. Not even attempted-murder charges will stick to these little monsters. See, e.g. "Baby Indicted" (Apr. 4, 2014); "Baby Fingerprinted," (Apr. 10, 2014); "Baby Walks" (Apr. 12, 2014). So of course they feel free to skip out on birthday parties—why wouldn't they?
As for the parents, though, I think a properly drafted party invitation certainly could demonstrate an "intention to create legal relations" so that, if accepted, a binding contract could be formed. (The BBC's expert does say that it would be "all but impossible" for the birthday boy's parents to recover, so I'm going to read that as "not impossible" and say that we agree on this.) But in this case the invitation does not appear to have been drafted in such a way. If it had been, that probably would have made the news to begin with. So although the party organizer has said that "[a]ll details were on the party invite," I'm guessing she didn't have her lawyers draft or review it.
Worldwide celebrity therefore had to await the drafting of the invoice that Alex apparently received from his friend's mother.
The BBC reports that his parents found the invoice in a brown envelope in his schoolbag last week. "It was a proper invoice with full official details and even her bank details on it," said Alex's father. "The money isn't the issue, it's the way she went about [it]."
That does seem to be the problem. The report states that the party was held at a local ski and snowboard center that the group had to pay a fee to reserve. So, depending on facts we don't have, the organizer might be able to argue that the invitation was an offer to organize an event conditioned on the accepting party's promise to pay a share of the total fee. If that was the understanding, then she might be able to recover her out-of-pocket expenses. So if this had been a million-dollar event, the legal threat might make some sense. Kid's birthday party, probably not.
The report says that Alex was a no-show because he was "due to spend time with his grandparents," so if there is a lawsuit I assume they'll also be getting a summons.