A nostrum much quoted in traditional contract law courses is ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware). Buyers had to look after themselves and protect their own interests. The laissez‐faire philosophy which lay behind this maxim took the view that the operation of unrestrained market forces was the best method for protecting consumers as a whole. Emphasis was placed on free competition providing alternative choices as the best way of satisfying consumer wants. In reality, even in the mid‐19th century when this philosophy was dominant, the consumer was not left without the protection of the law. Freedom of contract notionally existed and much judicial rhetoric was expended on justifying it but in reality the courts were quite astute in protecting consumers in situations where they were the victims of fraud, trading malpractice or unequal contracts.
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