It’s one of the oldest stories in time: the deal with the Devil. Most versions involve people exchanging their soul to gain wealth, youth, knowledge, or power, with tragic results. But young Sydney solicitor Jonathan Faust did not learn from fables past. Like countless doomed, bright-eyed graduates before him, he agreed to swap his soul for career advancement in corporate law.
Satan v Faust (2021) 1 NSWLR 666
Catchwords: Contract law – absent consideration – #gradlawlife – value of a soul – Devil’s work
Jonathan was once known for his passion for social justice. A vocal class participant at university, if you played a drinking game for every time he said “intersectionality”, you’d soon be a comatose mess. He was social justice vice-president of the university law society. But in the end, everyone needs a job. He wound up working at a corporate firm, telling his friends, “I’ve sold my soul, haha”.
While updating his LinkedIn profile, Jonathan received an unusual offer to connect from none other than the Devil himself. The message said, “I can give you a fast track to partnership for the very small price of your soul (for real)!”
Jonathan hesitated but was convinced to sign the contract when Lucifer threw in an endorsement for Excel skills. Soon he stopped seeing his old pals, and began compromising his former morals. He represented banks against their elderly or financially disadvantaged customers. While he supported Black Lives Matter on Instagram, he advised mining companies on how to subvert environment and heritage laws. Worst of all, he described himself in his Tinder bio as a “corporate slave” – showing a fundamental misunderstanding of slavery (as he was actually quite well-paid).
After many long nights working for causes he didn’t believe in, Jonathan wanted out. Just as he drew up the Word document to quit the agreement, the Dark Lord appeared, reminding him of his obligations. Satan started a GoFundMe page to pay for litigation, but in a typically evil move, just took the money and represented himself. All present showed restraint by not referring to him as a “soul practitioner”.
The Supreme Court grappled with the question: had Jonathan (the respondent) made a legally binding promise to hand over his soul to the Devil (the appellant)? As established in L’Estrange v Graucob, a signature from both parties – Jonathan’s signature and the Devil’s mark – are generally sufficient to create such an agreement. The Deceiver’s offer was clear and certain, and detailed the career benefits for Jonathan. Jonathan agreed of his own free will and, although he was young enough to use words like “lit” and “fam” without irony, was found to have sufficient legal capacity at the time of the agreement.
It was on the question of consideration that caught the fallen angel unaware. The parties debated whether a modern soul – Jonathan’s – was tangible enough to be considered “something of value”. In a surprise alliance, the Evil One called an expert witness from the Catholic Church to vouch for the value of the soul. However, in the secular court, the contract was found to be void, as nothing of value had been exchanged.
Many lawyers rejoiced, as they too could be released from their agreements. Others were devastated, and quickly started drawing up MOUs in replacement. Standing on the court steps, the Prince of Darkness promised the awaiting media to lobby for reform via the Religious Discrimination Bill, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.