Define: Self-Induced Frustration

Self-Induced Frustration
Self-Induced Frustration
Quick Summary of Self-Induced Frustration

Self-induced frustration refers to a situation where one party’s actions result in a breach of contract by preventing the performance of the agreed-upon obligations. For instance, if a contractor fails to complete a house construction project due to their failure to order the necessary materials, it would be classified as self-induced frustration. In this case, the contractor’s actions hindered the fulfilment of the contract. It is important to note that self-induced frustration is not a distinct form of frustration, but rather a breach of contract. Another example could involve a musician who agrees to perform at a concert but decides to go on vacation instead, thereby failing to show up. This would also be considered self-induced frustration. In summary, self-induced frustration occurs when one party’s actions impede the execution of a contract, resulting in a breach of contract.

What is the dictionary definition of Self-Induced Frustration?
Dictionary Definition of Self-Induced Frustration

Self-induced frustration occurs when an individual intentionally prevents themselves from fulfilling their obligations stated in a contract, akin to purposefully breaking a promise. This is distinct from temporary frustration, which arises when an unforeseen event hinders someone from fulfilling their commitments, but they still possess the intention to do so. In the event that an unexpected circumstance obstructs the primary purpose of entering into a contract, the individual may no longer be obligated to uphold their promise. This is referred to as frustration of purpose.

Full Definition Of Self-Induced Frustration

In contract law, the doctrine of frustration operates to discharge parties from their contractual obligations when an unforeseen event occurs, rendering the contract impossible to perform or fundamentally altering the nature of the performance. However, frustration must not be self-induced by either party. Self-induced frustration, a concept arising from the broader frustration doctrine, ensures that parties cannot benefit from their own default or deliberate actions that prevent contractual performance. This legal overview will explore the principles, case law, and implications of self-induced frustration within the context of British contract law.

Principles of Frustration

The doctrine of frustration discharges parties from further performance of their contractual obligations when an unforeseen event, not attributable to either party, fundamentally changes the nature of the contract. Lord Radcliffe in Davis Contractors Ltd v Fareham Urban District Council (1956) described frustration as occurring when:

“…there supervenes an event (without default of either party and for which the contract makes no sufficient provision) which so significantly changes the nature of the outstanding contractual rights and/or obligations from what the parties could reasonably have contemplated at the time of its execution that it would be unjust to hold them to the literal sense of its stipulations in the new circumstances.”

Self-Induced Frustration: Definition and Application

Self-induced frustration refers to a situation where a party’s own actions or omissions lead to the frustrating event. In such cases, the doctrine of frustration does not apply, and the party cannot claim discharge from their contractual obligations. The underlying principle is that a party should not benefit from its own wrongdoing or default.

Key Case Law on Self-Induced Frustration

Maritime National Fish Ltd v Ocean Trawlers Ltd (1935)

One of the seminal cases illustrating self-induced frustration is Maritime National Fish Ltd v Ocean Trawlers Ltd (1935). In this case, the plaintiffs hired a trawler from the defendants, contingent on the trawler being licensed. The plaintiffs, owning other trawlers, applied for five licenses but received only three. They chose to allocate the licenses to their own trawlers, leaving the defendants’ trawler without a license. The plaintiffs then claimed frustration, arguing that the contract could not be performed due to the lack of a license.

The Privy Council held that the frustration was self-induced. The plaintiffs had the power to allocate the licenses and chose not to license the defendants’ trawler. Hence, they could not rely on frustration to escape their contractual obligations.

The Super Servant Two (1990)

Another notable case is The Super Servant Two (1990). In this case, the defendant contracted to transport the claimant’s drilling rig using either of its two vessels, the Super Servant One or the Super Servant Two. The Super Servant Two sank before the performance of the contract, and the defendant claimed that the contract was frustrated.

The Court of Appeal held that the frustration was self-induced. The defendant had the option to perform the contract using the Super Servant One but chose to allocate it to another contract. The sinking of the Super Servant Two did not excuse the defendant from performance because the frustrating event was within the defendant’s control.

Analysis of Self-Induced Frustration

Control and Choice

A key factor in determining self-induced frustration is whether the frustrating event was within the control of the party seeking to rely on frustration. If the party had a choice and opted for a course of action leading to the frustration, the doctrine will not apply. This principle prevents parties from manipulating circumstances to avoid their contractual obligations.

Foreseeability and Risk Allocation

Another consideration is whether the risk of the frustrating event was foreseeable and could have been allocated by the parties at the time of contracting. If the risk was foreseeable and the parties chose not to address it in their contract, it is less likely that frustration will apply. However, self-induced frustration specifically focuses on deliberate actions or choices that lead to the frustrating event, rather than mere foreseeability.

Exceptions and Limitations

Unintentional Acts

If the frustrating event arises from an unintentional act or omission that is not deemed negligent or deliberate, the frustration may still be recognized. The courts will examine the context and nature of the act to determine whether it qualifies as self-induced frustration.

External Influences

In some cases, external influences or third-party actions can complicate the analysis. If a party’s actions were influenced or compelled by third-party actions, the courts may differentiate between self-induced frustration and frustration caused by external factors beyond the party’s control.

Implications for Contractual Parties

Drafting Contracts

To mitigate the risk of disputes related to self-induced frustration, parties should carefully draft their contracts to allocate risks and address potential unforeseen events. Including force majeure clauses and specifying the allocation of licenses, permits, or resources can provide clarity and reduce the likelihood of litigation.

Risk Management

Parties should also adopt robust risk management practices to anticipate and address potential frustrating events. This includes assessing the likelihood of certain events, considering alternative performance options, and ensuring clear communication and documentation.


The doctrine of self-induced frustration in British contract law ensures that parties cannot evade their contractual obligations through their own actions or deliberate choices. By preventing parties from benefiting from their default or manipulation of circumstances, the courts uphold the integrity of contractual agreements. Understanding the principles and implications of self-induced frustration is crucial for parties to navigate their contractual relationships effectively and mitigate risks. The key cases of Maritime National Fish Ltd v Ocean Trawlers Ltd and The Super Servant Two underscore the importance of control, choice, and risk allocation in determining the applicability of frustration. By adopting careful drafting and risk management practices, parties can minimize the potential for disputes and ensure a fair and predictable contractual environment.

Further Exploration: Case Law and Statutory Developments

Case Law Developments

Exploring further, recent case law continues to refine the boundaries of self-induced frustration. For instance, in Edwinton Commercial Corporation v Tsavliris Russ (Worldwide Salvage & Towage) Ltd (The Sea Angel) (2007), the court emphasized the importance of context and the multifactorial approach in determining frustration. The case involved a delay in the return of a chartered vessel due to government detention, and the court found that the delay, while significant, did not frustrate the contract given the parties’ risk allocation and the commercial context.

Statutory Interventions

While the doctrine of frustration primarily evolves through case law, statutory interventions occasionally influence its application. The Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 provides a framework for addressing the financial consequences of frustration, ensuring that losses and gains are fairly apportioned between the parties. This legislation, however, does not alter the fundamental principles of frustration or self-induced frustration but offers guidance on handling the aftermath of a frustrated contract.

Practical Considerations for Legal Practitioners

Advising Clients

Legal practitioners advising clients on contract matters should emphasize the importance of foresight and risk allocation. When drafting contracts, clear provisions addressing potential frustrating events and force majeure can provide a safeguard. Additionally, advising clients on their conduct and decision-making throughout the contract’s performance can help avoid actions that might lead to self-induced frustration.

Litigation Strategies

In litigation involving allegations of self-induced frustration, a thorough examination of the factual matrix is essential. Gathering evidence of the parties’ actions, decisions, and the context in which they were made can significantly impact the court’s determination. Practitioners should be prepared to argue the nuances of control, choice, and foreseeability to establish or refute claims of self-induced frustration.

Comparative Perspective: International Approaches to Self-Induced Frustration

United States

In the United States, the doctrine of frustration of purpose, akin to frustration in British law, also precludes parties from claiming frustration if the event was self-induced. The American Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 261 outlines the principle, emphasizing that performance must be made impracticable by an event whose non-occurrence was a basic assumption of the contract. Similar to British law, if the party’s actions contributed to the event, frustration will not apply.


Australian contract law also recognizes the concept of self-induced frustration. The High Court of Australia in Codelfa Construction Pty Ltd v State Rail Authority of New South Wales (1982) affirmed that frustration must not be self-induced, aligning closely with British principles. Australian courts, like their British counterparts, scrutinize the actions and decisions of the parties to determine whether frustration was genuinely unavoidable.


Self-induced frustration remains a critical doctrine in British contract law, reinforcing the principle that parties must not benefit from their own default or deliberate actions. Through key case law and ongoing legal developments, the boundaries of this doctrine continue to be refined, ensuring a fair and predictable contractual landscape. Legal practitioners must navigate these principles with care, advising clients on risk management, contract drafting, and prudent decision-making to avoid the pitfalls of self-induced frustration. By understanding and applying the principles of self-induced frustration, parties can uphold the integrity of their contractual agreements and foster a stable commercial environment.

Self-Induced Frustration FAQ'S

Self-induced frustration refers to a situation where an individual intentionally creates obstacles or impediments that prevent the fulfillment of a contractual obligation or legal duty.

No, self-induced frustration is generally not considered a valid defence. Courts are unlikely to excuse a party’s deliberate actions that lead to frustration of a contract or legal obligation.

In most cases, self-induced frustration cannot be used as a defence in a breach of contract case. Parties are expected to fulfill their contractual obligations, and intentionally causing frustration will not excuse non-performance.

The consequences of self-induced frustration can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the applicable laws. However, it is generally not a favorable position for the party responsible, as they may be held liable for any resulting damages or losses.

Self-induced frustration can potentially lead to the termination of a contract if the frustrated party decides to invoke a termination clause or if the other party agrees to terminate the contract due to the intentional actions of the frustrated party.

Yes, the party affected by self-induced frustration may be entitled to seek legal remedies such as damages or specific performance. However, the availability of these remedies will depend on the specific circumstances and the applicable laws.

Self-induced frustration is not typically considered a form of fraud. Fraud generally involves intentional misrepresentation or deceit, whereas self-induced frustration involves intentional actions that hinder the fulfillment of a legal obligation.

Self-induced frustration is unlikely to be a valid defence in a criminal case. Criminal offenses typically require proof of intent or knowledge, and intentionally causing frustration would not absolve a person from criminal liability.

Self-induced frustration is generally not a valid defence in a personal injury case. The injured party may still be entitled to compensation for their injuries, regardless of whether the frustration was self-induced or not.

To avoid self-induced frustration in legal matters, it is important to act in good faith, fulfill contractual obligations, and seek legal advice when facing challenges or disputes. It is also crucial to understand the potential consequences of intentional actions that may lead to frustration.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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