public policy

public policy.

1. Broadly, principles and standards regarded by the legislature or by the courts as being of fundamental concern to the state and the whole of society. • Courts sometimes use the term to justify their decisions, as when declaring a contract void because it is “contrary to public policy.”

— Also termed policy of the law. [Cases: Contracts 108. C.J.S. Contracts §§ 215–218.]

“The policy of the law, or public policy, is a phrase of common use in estimating the validity of contracts. Its history is obscure; it is most likely that agreements which tended to restrain trade or to promote litigation were the first to elicit the principle that the courts would look to the interests of the public in giving efficacy to contracts. Wagers, while they continued to be legal, were a frequent provocative of judicial ingenuity on this point, as is sufficiently shown by the case of Gilbert v. Sykes [16 East 150 (1812)] … : but it does not seem probable that the doctrine of public policy began in the endeavor to elude their binding force. Whatever may have been its origin, it was applied very frequently, and not always with the happiest results, during the latter part of the eighteenth and the commencement of the nineteenth century. Modern decisions, however, while maintaining the duty of the courts to consider the public advantage, have tended more and more to limit the sphere within which this duty may be exercised.” William R. Anson, Principles of the Law of Contract 286 (Arthur L. Corbin ed., 3d Am. ed. 1919).

2. More narrowly, the principle that a person should not be allowed to do anything that would tend to injure the public at large.

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