It is a question to excite the repressed student in every lawyer: which cases have most shaped British law over the past 200 years?
To celebrate the launch of The Times Archive, we asked Gary Slapper, Professor of Law, and director of the Centre for Law, at the Open University and long-time Times Law columnist, to trawl through more than two centuries of Times Law Reports (which, thanks to the Archive, you can now read as they originally appeared) and to pull out the 100 most important, influential and colourful cases since the newspaper began publishing in 1785.
The series will be presented in five parts over the next week, starting today. Everyone will have their favourites, from the Paisley snail to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company: leave a comment if you disagree with any of our choices, or if you think we have missed any. Click on the case names to read the original law report as it appeared in The Times. Click here to go to the Archive and search for any article from the newspaper from 1785-198 .
Davies v East
January 8, 1788
This decision was a classic early example of the courts holding someone to the terms of a commercial bargain over goods whose quality he had inspected and accepted. The action was in Westminster, the defendant a cabinet maker who had agreed to purchase 13 mahogany logs for £18. The seller argued that the wood should be paid for as agreed but the buyer said that the batch of logs was worthless, as it differed from some of the samples he had inspected. There were holes in it “so great that you might put your head into them”; according to one wood expert, it was the “worst he ever saw”. But the verdict went in favour of the claimant, who was entitled to be paid the agreed price of £18 by the cabinet maker because the sale batch was, in general, the quality of wood he had agreed to buy.
Ormond v Payne
July 9, 1789
This colourful case involving a butcher and a prince’s coachman embodied the metropolitan bustle of the age; it was also notable in the development of personal injury actions. It concerned an ordinary man who was injured by a royal carriage. The claimant, George Ormond, was a butcher who lived in Turnham Green, West London. The defendant, Don Payne, looked after the affairs of the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. The butcher sued Payne after the Prince’s coachman, George Smith — for whom he was legally responsible under civil law — drove into the butcher’s cart, breaking his leg. The coachman, according to Ormond’s claim, was in a terrible hurry and “in liquor”. The moment the horses were harnessed and he had mounted the box, he had “called for a glass of gin, drank it, threw the glass violently upon the pavement, flogged his horses” and sped away at a gallop. The jury found that Payne was liable for the coachman’s actions and awarded £100 damages.
The King v Dodd
May 30, 1808
In the early 18th-century, investors poured money into the South Sea Company on the strengths of its hopes of a great trade with South America. In 1720 it collapsed. Many other companies failed around the same time, and joint stock organisations — whereby a company’s capital comes from shareholders — were discredited and eventually banned under the so-called “Bubble Act”. In 1808 the Act was used controversially against a businessman named Dodd. He had published a couple of prospectuses hoping to raise £50,000 by issuing shares but Lord Ellenborough, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that such a scheme was unlawful. He said he hoped others would not engage in similar “mischievous and illegal projects”. In other words, commercial activity in 1808 was restricted to unincorporated partnerships, under which each partner is liable for all the business. Companies as we know them did not really become popular until the Companies Act 1844.
R v Burdett
November 28, 1820
The defendant, Sir Francis Burdett, was charged with seditious libel after he wrote a letter containing strong expressions about the conduct of the Government in dispersing the “mutiny” at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester on August 16, 1819. The letter claimed that unarmed men and women had been “inhumanly cut down, maimed and killed by the King’s Troops”. On the direction of Mr Justice Best that the letter was a poisonous libel, the defendant was found guilty, fined £2,000 and sentenced to three month’s imprisonment. It was upheld on appeal.
Collins v Godefroy
January 18, 1831
Collins, a London lawyer, agreed to testify in a civil trial on behalf of the defendant, Godefroy, in exchange for a fee of six guineas. A subpoena was issued. After the trial, however, Godefroy said he did not need to pay as Collins was legally obliged to attend once the subpoena was issued. The court agreed, finding that Collins would have given no value (known in legal terms as “consideration”) in return for the promised fee.
Vaughan v Menlove
August 2, 1836
In this case, heard on the Oxford circuit, a man sued his neighbour after two cottages burnt down because of a fire that started on the neighbour’s property. The neighbour had been told that a hayrick was a fire risk but ignored the advice. The court held that the claimant was entitled to compensation for his two cottages because the neighbour had been negligent. The case was notable for the test of negligence it used, which was to later become very influential. Mr Justice Patteson told the jury that they must decide whether the defendant, the hayrick owner, had acted as a man of “ordinary skill and judgment” would have acted under the circumstances.
Priestly v Fowler
January 17, 1837
In this case, a butcher was sued by an employee who broke his thigh and collarbone after he was thrown off a van loaded with meat. The court ruled that the employer was not liable under common law for an injury done to an employee because of the negligence of a fellow employee. The injured worker was presumed to have entered into his contract of employment with the full knowledge of the risks involved. This doctrine of “common employment” set the legal scene for the entire Industrial Revolution and prevented millions of negligently injured workers from suing. It was not abolished until 1948.
Attwood v Small
March 27, 1838
This case established an important point on the principle of misrepresentation in contract law. Mr Small purchased a mine and ironworks in Staffordshire from Mr Attwood. The sale went through after the property had been inspected by Small’s own experts. Six months later, he discovered that he had been misled. He sought to rescind the contract on the ground of misrepresentation. The House of Lords held that the action must fail because Small had not just relied on the statements of the defendant but on the reassurance of independent reports he had commissioned.
M’Kinnell v Robinson
May 1, 1838
The defendant borrowed £30 from the claimant. In lending it, the claimant knew that the money was to be used in playing Hazard, an illegal game of chance. It was held that the claimant could not recover this sum as it was lent for the express purpose of a violation of the law. The decision consolidated the principle that the law will not enforce a contract for an illegal purpose.
Stockdale v Hansard
April 26, 1839
This case was important for the way it clarified the powers of Parliament. Stockdale, who published an explicit medical book, sued Hansard, the publisher of Parliamentary proceedings, for defamation. He claimed he had been libelled in a prison inspector’s report published by Hansard that said his medical text was “disgusting and obscene”. Hansard said it was entitled to publish the inspector’s report as it was protected by parliamentary privilege. The court held that such a protective privilege did not exist. Publication of the report in question was not authorised by an Act of Parliament but merely by a vote of the House of Commons. In other words: an Act is supreme and can create law, but a simple resolution from the House of Commons, such as in this case, does not bind the courts.
Inquest into death of Bridget Groke
January 4, 1840
This coroner’s case is a vivid example of the sort of deprivation common to the era. Headed “Horrid case of destitution”, this harrowing inquest looked at the death of a three-year-old girl who had died in Sandgate, London. The verdict of the jury was one of “death by natural causes”, although a number of factors were cited in the case including the general and social conditions at the time and the behaviour of an “inhuman mother”. Something of the flavour of the story can be gathered from the opening paragraph: “It is almost impossible to convey the slightest idea of the retched hovel in which the decreased child was found . . . The room was low and naturally dark; and the light of a fire sent an unearthly glare around the place where the author of the recently published Fortunes of Godolphin [Nicholas Michell] might have gained many an idea, which might have enabled him to make the Sepulchre more descriptive where the gypsy was entombed alive.”
R v St George
August 10, 1840
At a trial for attempting to fire a loaded firearm, the court considered whether, by pointing an unloaded pistol at someone, a common law assault had been committed. George Hanbury St George had been indicted for pointing the pistol at Bruce Ernest Darant and attempting to pull the trigger with intent to murder him. The court decided that it was an assault if the weapon had the appearance of being loaded (thus causing “fear and alarm”) and the range was such that it would have endangered life if it had been fired.
Merry v Green
February 13, 1841
Finder’s keepers? Not in this case. The claimant purchased a bureau at a public auction sale and afterwards discovered a secret drawer that, unknown to anyone at the time of the sale, contained a considerable sum of money. The Court held that lawful possession of the money had not passed to the claimant.
Quarrier v Coulson
January 28, 1842
This case arose from the gambling of an army captain who was alleged to be “of intemperate habits” and addicted to gambling “when in a state of intoxication”. Money was lent to him for the purposes of gaming at public tables in Germany, where it was lawful. The court held that his debts could be recovered in the English courts as such an action could have been maintained successfully in Germany.
Foss v Harbottle
March 27, 1843
This was a ruling of major significance in company law. The law has since been revised but this case is necessary to understand many company cases as it is always referred to. Two shareholders in the Victoria Park Company brought an action against the company’s directors for fraudulently acquiring, at inflated prices, property in which the directors had a personal interest. They were also sued for making false statements at company meetings. What this case decided was that when a director of a company acted in breach of his duty, only the company — and not individuals — could be the claimant in an action to secure a remedy. A similar rule applies today, although there are now, under the Companies Act 2006, circumstances in which individual shareholders can pursue actions against directors for some breaches of duty.
R v Millis
February 24, April 4, 1844
In this dispute over whether a marriage was valid, the House of Lords ruled that a marriage must be contracted per verba de praesenti. That means by words exchanged as an agreement in the present tense as opposed to in the future tense. The betrothal words had to be in phrases such as “I take thee to be my wife” and “I take thee to be my husband” — not “I will take thee”. That had been recognised before but in this case the Lords decided that for a valid marriage such betrothals also had to be done in front of a priest.
R v Hall (alias Rollins)
April 3, 1845
Thomas Hall, alias Rollins, “a poor man not possessed of a farthing, or a farthing’s worth in the world”, was indicted for bigamy. His first wife, Mary Ann, had robbed him then “sallied forth” with their child and set up another family with another man. Hall went to try to have her apprehended but was beaten up by Mary Ann’s new lover. Hall gave up trying to get her back and eventually remarried, but without divorcing Mary Ann first. In an unusually sardonic judgment, Mr Justice Maule, sitting at Warwick, said his later marriage was understandable but that Hall should have procured a divorce in the way a rich man would — by going to the House of Lords and ecclesiastic courts and spending up to £600. Being poor was not an excuse, the judge said. He hoped the four months hard labour he gave Hall would be a warning about the dangers of trifling with matrimony.
Hartley v Ponsonby
June 5, 1857
If you want to sue over a contract, you must prove you have given the other party something of value, as this ruling demonstrates. The facts were these: 19 out of 36 of a ship’s crew deserted, leaving it short of hands to complete its voyage safely. In order to persuade the rest of the crew to keep going, the master promised to pay each an additional £40. When the ship was safely back in port, the master refused to pay, saying the seamen had merely done their jobs. But a court held that the men were entitled to the money. Their original agreement didn’t require them to sail the ship if it became unseaworthy, therefore the master’s promise constituted a new contract.
Pearce v Brooks
April 18, 1866
Another landmark case demonstrating that the courts will not enforce contracts that have been made for an unlawful purpose. A firm of coachbuilders supplied a prostitute, Miss Brooks, with a brougham, a closed carriage. She did not pay the hire charge, so they sued her. But the court decided that the claimant’s action must fail: the contract was void because, in supplying the brougham in the knowledge that it was to be used for prostitution, the firm had contributed to an immoral act.
Foster v Mackinnon
December 15, 1868
This was a key decision in illustrating the idea that someone can’t be held to an agreement if he was tricked into entering it. To be held to a contract you must have made it freely and voluntarily. In this case, an old and feeble man was induced into signing his name on the back of a bill of exchange, believing that he was signing a guarantee. The court decided that because he signed without knowing it was a bill of exchange and hadn’t been negligent in signing, he should be released from liability.
The Times reported on three trials involving Oscar Wilde in 1895
Gorris v Smith
April 23, 1874
Statute law can only be applied to do what Parliament passed it to do. In this case, a ship owner agreed to take the claimant’s sheep from Hamburg to Newcastle, but some of them were washed overboard. The owner of the sheep sued. He argued that no pens had been provided on the ship, in breach of a statutory duty under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1869, which required pens to be installed on the decks of ships used to transfer animals. If there had been pens on the decks, the sheep would have survived. However, the court ruled that the claimant could not claim damages on such grounds because the object of the statute was to protect animals from contagious disease, not from falling into the sea. The case is often cited by anyone seeking to show that once a law has been made for a particular purpose, it would be wrong to apply it for another.
Dickinson v Dodds
April 3, 1876
This was a classic decision that informed millions of commercial and contractual negotiations since. It says that if you make an offer you can withdraw it at any time before it is accepted. The case concerned the sale of a property by the defendant, John Dodds. Initially, Dodds agreed to sell it for £800 to George Dickinson, giving him a couple of days to accept. But Dickinson’s letter of acceptance wasn’t received until it was too late, and in the mean time Dodds sold the property to another man. Dickinson sought a court order to force Dodds to sell him the property but the court refused. It held that anyone making an offer was entitled to retract it at any time before it was accepted. By selling the property to someone else, Dodds had retracted his offer.
Seaman v Netherclift
December 16, 1876
In order to get the fairest and truest results from cases, it is very important that expert witnesses should speak freely and fearlessly. This case, in an era in which the use of expert witnesses was growing significantly, was a good illustration of how the courts were careful to give protection to witnesses against defamation actions. The defendant was a handwriting expert. He had given evidence in a case that a signature on a will was a forgery, though his view was not shared by the court. Later, in another case, also about a witness contesting a will, he expressed his opinion again during cross examination that the signature in the earlier case had been a “rank forgery”. That led to one of the attesting witnesses to that earlier will suing for slander. However, this case of slander was dismissed, as the remark was uttered in court while giving expert evidence and was therefore “privileged”.
Cundy v Lindsay
March 4, 1878
This landmark judgment upheld the principle that you can’t pass on what you don’t own. Lindsay & Co was a linen manufacturer based in Belfast. Alfred Blenkarn, a resident of Cheapside in London, wrote to Lindsay proposing to buy a quantity of goods. He gave his address as “37, Wood Street, Cheapside” and signed the letters without using an initial or first name so that his signature appeared to read “Blenkiron & Co”. Lindsay knew there was a respectable firm, W Blenkiron & Son, based at 123 Wood Street, so it sent the goods. But Blenkarn didn’t pay, and instead sold the goods to the defendant. Lindsay sued the defendant for the value of the goods. The House of Lords held that because of the trick no contract had been concluded between Lindsay and Alfred Blenkarn. And because Blenkarn didn’t legally own the goods, he couldn’t legally transfer them to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant was ordered to pay Lindsay for the full value of the goods. Needless to say, as news of the decision percolated out into the commercial world, in which capitalism was rapidly developing, commercial buyers began to get very particular about ensuring sellers actually owned the goods they were selling.
Sturges v Bridgman
July 2, 1879
In a drama that sounds more like a story from an old British film comedy, this case formulated an important principle in the law of nuisance. A confectioner and physician occupied adjoining premises in London. Dr Octavius Sturges lived at 85 Wimpole Street and Mr Bridgman at 30 Wigmore Street. As part of his business activity, for more than 20 years, the confectioner used two large mortar and pestles. The noise and vibration hadn’t seemed to the physician to be a nuisance until he built a consulting room at the end of his garden, against the wall of the confectioner’s kitchen, in which the mortars and pestles operated. Dr Sturges sought an injunction to stop the noise and won. The court decided that the confectioner, Bridgman, could not claim that long usage of the equipment had established a right to make such a noise. Rather, the nuisance had only begun when the new consulting room was — quite lawfully — built close to the source of the noise.
Munster v Lamb
May 9, 1883
For justice to be achieved, it is important that lawyers are uninhibited in their courtroom advocacy. The principle was illuminated in this case, made especially vivid by the fact that both the claimant and defendant were themselves lawyers. Munster was a barrister. During the trial of people accused of burgling his Brighton home, the defendants’ solicitor, Lamb, suggested that Munster kept drugs in his home for immoral purposes. Munster later sued him for defamation. However, it was decided that Munster wasn’t entitled to damages as Lamb’s statement was made by a lawyer within the bounds of the privilege extended to advocates.
R. v Dudley and Stephens
November 7, 1884; December 10; 1884
This was one of the most famous and gruesome cases in English law. Can necessity ever be recognised as a reason for killing someone? The defendants, Thomas Dudley and Edward Stephens, were shipwrecked 1600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope along with another man and a cabin boy, Richard Parker. After 18 days adrift in an open boat, for seven of which they were without food, Dudley and Stephens decided to kill Parker and eat him. The other man refused to take part in the plan but on the 20th day adrift, Dudley and Stephens cut Parker’s throat. They lived off his flesh and blood for another four days before they were picked up by a passing ship. Dudley and Stephens were arrested and tried. The court ruled that the killing Parker was an act of wilful murder; even the extreme situation they found themselves in was no defence. Both were sentenced to death, but there was another twist to the story: out of compassion, their sentences were later commuted to six months.
Robinson v Kilvert
March 16, 1889
This case decided an essential point of law about what happens when, in an action for nuisance, it is clear that the claimant has only suffered because he or his goods are unusually sensitive. There is no nuisance if the claim has more to do with the claimant’s sensitivity than the conduct of the defendant. Robert Henry Robinson occupied the ground floor of the defendant’s premises in Garden Street, Manchester, for the purposes of storing brown paper. The defendant, a paper box maker, operated a boiler in the basement. After the boiler ruined Robinson’s brown paper — even though it wouldn’t have harmed any other paper and did not inconvenience his employees — he sought an injunction to restrain its use. But the court refused, holding that a man who carries on “an exceptionally delicate trade” cannot complain if it is spoiled by his neighbour doing something lawful in his property if it wouldn’t harm an ordinary trade.
R v Tolson
May 13, 1889
An exemplary instance of an appeal court using the common law inventively to prevent a manifest injustice. Martha Tolson received word that her husband, who had deserted her, had been lost at sea during a voyage to America. Five years after she last saw him, believing him to be dead, she remarried. But her first husband later returned from the US very much alive and she was prosecuted for bigamy. Under Section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which defined the crime, she did not have to have committed bigamy knowingly or intentionally for it to have been a crime. On the face of it, it was enough for a conviction for her to have remarried within seven years of her husband having deserted her. However, her conviction was quashed. The appeal court said that despite the absence of words such as “knowingly committing bigamy” or “intentionally committing bigamy”, which would have excused her, Ms Tolson was saved in this situation by an old common law rule. An “honest and reasonable belief” in the existence of circumstances that, if true, would make the accused’s acts innocent, was a proper defence, the court ruled.
R v Halliday
December 16, 1889
A decision that shaped a key principle of criminal law. James Halliday terrified his wife and daughter with threats of violence. His wife, in order to escape, began climbing out a window but her daughter grabbed her. Halliday shouted, “Let the bugger go”; the daughter did, and his wife fell and broke her leg. The appeal confirmed convictions against Halliday for an assault occasioning actual bodily harm and for maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. The law was expressed in this way: if someone creates in another person’s mind “an immediate sense of danger” causing that terrified person to try to escape, and in doing so the person sustains an injury, “the person who creates such a state of mind is responsible for the injuries which result”.
Christie v Davey
December 7, 1892
Everybody needs good neighbours. At what point the law can intervene when neighbours are not good is a matter of some importance; this case clarified the law in a way that has settled millions of disputes since. The case concerned a property at in Brixton. Holder Christie, the claimant, lived at the address with his musical family. His wife gave music and singing lessons; his daughter taught piano and violin; and his son played the cello until 11pm at night. In the adjoining semi-detached house, Fitzer Davey, an engraver, became irritated by the din. He described singing that resembled “the howlings of a dog” and dreadful “catgut vibrations”. To get his revenge, he maliciously blew whistles, shrieked and knocked on trays during the music lessons. The court held that such sabotage could be restrained by an injunction. The malice in Davey’s behaviour made his conduct unreasonable and a nuisance.
Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company
December 8, 1892
This was a hugely influential decision that went right to the heart of contract law. It is still cited every year in law exams and essays by thousands of law students. During a flu epidemic, Elizabeth Carlill, a writer and lawyer’s wife, bought a “smoke ball” from the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. The company claimed its product — a small rubber ball with a tube attached, filled with carbolic acid that was flushed into the user’s nose — could cure the flu. Its adverts promised to pay £100 to anyone who used the ball but still got sick. Mrs Carlill bought a smoke ball, used it, and caught a cold. She successfully sued the company. Her case confirmed many modern contract principles. Incidentally, Mrs Carlill died 50 years later, aged 96, from influenza.
Wilde v John Sholto Douglas, Marquis of Queensbury
April 5, 6, 1895
In 1895, The Times reported on three trials of Oscar Wilde. It was the celebrity scandal of the century. The Marquis of Queensbury, who thought his son was being corrupted by Wilde, sent a card to Wilde’s club saying: “To Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite” [sic]. Wilde sued for criminal libel. Queensbury pleaded justification, accusing Wilde of soliciting more than 12 boys. The case had many marvellous episodes, particularly when Wilde was cross-examined:
COUNSEL: Have you ever adored a young man madly?
WILDE: I have never given adoration to anybody except myself.
Wilde lost after a fatal slip in cross-examination in which he seemed to say he hadn’t kissed a boy not because he was a boy but because he was ugly. Soon after, he was arrested for indecency. Wilde was eventually convicted after a second trial — the first jury failed to agree on most of the charges — and sentenced to two years with hard labour. The case included many shocking travesties of justice. For example, it came to light that throughout the proceedings, the young men who were testifying against Wilde were each being paid £5 a week by the police, an enormous sum at the time. Nevertheless, Wilde’s courtroom wit was bountiful. Asked by the seasoned 44-year old prosecutor Charles Gill whether he exalted youth, Wilde said he did and added, to courtroom laughter: “I should enjoy, for instance, the society of a beardless, briefless barrister quite as much as that of the most accomplished QC.” He was asked later whether his habit of giving cigarette cases to working class youths was not strangely expensive. Wilde replied that it was “less extravagant than giving jewelled garters to ladies”.
Salomon v Salomon
November 17, 1896
Salomon v Salomon was an important case in clarifying the legal definition of a company. Aron Salomon, a boot manufacturer and leather merchant, set up a company in which he held nearly all the shares and was managing director. He loaned the company his own money and received debentures in return. He was therefore entitled to a sum of the company’s assets. After the company later went into liquidation, Salomon sought to be treated as a “secured” creditor and to have his claim settled before those of other creditors. The House of Lords upheld his claim. It ruled that a company is separate from the individuals that compose it.
Wilkinson v Downton
May 10, 1897
The law against harming people is of immense importance in a civilised society. In defining a civil wrong in a new and clear way, this case was innovative. It created a tort of intentional infliction of mental shock. Thomas Wilkinson was a pub landlord on St Paul’s Road in east London. One day, while he was at the races, a regular named Downton decided to play a practical joke on his wife, Lavinia. Downton “falsely, fraudulently and maliciously” told Lavinia that her husband had had a “smash up” and was lying injured at the Elms Public House in Leytonstone. On hearing this, Lavinia experienced a violent nervous shock. Even after the truth became apparent, she experienced weeks of suffering and incapacity. The court ruled that she was entitled to damages as the defendant had wilfully, calculatedly, caused her distress.
Percival v Wright
June 24, 1902
This case shaped company law for decades by limiting the legal power of shareholders. It involved a group of shareholders in a colliery company called Nixons Navigation that wrote to the company secretary offering to sell their shares. The chairman and two other directors bought the shares at a favourable price. They quietly rubbed their hands with glee, knowing that an offer was soon to be made by a third party for a substantially higher price. Shareholders later discovered their dubious behaviour and applied to the court to cancel the sale. They argued that the directors should have acted in a trustworthy way. However, the shareholders lost the case because the duty owed by the directors was to the company, not to them. The ruling curtailed shareholder power for much of the 20th-century, though shareholders can today sue in such circumstances.
Nash v Inman
March 6, 1908
A case loved by law students for its archaic language of social class. It is a nice illustration of how the social axioms of an era become embedded in law. The action was brought by a Savile Row tailor for £145 for clothes supplied to the defendant while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The son of an architect who had a town house in Hampstead and a country house near Havant, the defendant was legally a minor at the time and therefore only legally liable for contracts that were for “necessaries”. The clothes supplied included, among other things, eleven fancy waistcoats at two guineas each. It was shown that the defendant already had a good supply of clothes suitable to his status in life so the new ones were not “necessaries”. That meant the tailor lost his claim.
Walters v WH Smith & Son
October 30, 1913
How far people other than the police have the power to arrest each other is an intriguing question. This case set the rules for decades. A private shop detective arrested the claimant on suspicion that he had stolen a book from one of the defendant’s shops. It turned out he hadn’t. It was held that a citizen can make an arrest after an offence has been committed but the arrest will be lawful only if the accused was guilty and the arrester had “reasonable and probable cause” for his suspicion. That wasn’t so in this case and the claimant was awarded £75 damages for false imprisonment. Today, you can make a citizen’s arrest only if you satisfy a string of requirements, including that that there were reasonable grounds for your suspicion and that you had reasonable grounds for believing that it was necessary to prevent injury, property damage or loss.
De Keyser’s Royal Hotel v Spicer Bros
January 24, 1914
There is nothing like noise nuisance to get people resorting to the law. The law here hinges on that most assuring and magical word: reasonable. This case sent soothing news to the sleep-deprived and sent reverberations through the construction industry. The defendants used a steam pile-driving machine during the night on a building site near the claimant’s hotel. It was held that in conducting building operations it is not reasonable and proper to operate a pile-driver at night if it means residents in an adjoining building cannot sleep. Such conduct was liable to be restrained by injunction. The injunction was granted to stop the work between 10.00pm and 6.30am.
R v Casement
July 19, 28, 1916
Sir Roger Casement, it is sometimes said, was hanged by a comma. This was a rip-roaring case about war, treason, syntax, punctuation, an ancient document and the noose. Casement was convicted during the First World War of conspiring with the Germans to further an Irish insurrection. The contentious punctuation mark appeared in some but not all versions of the law under which Casement was prosecuted, the Treason Act 1351. Ultimately, the comma allowed the definition of a traitor to include someone whose treachery, such as Casement’s, was committed outside the realm. In this case, Casement had made his plans in Germany. Before the final decision, two judges went to the Public Record Office to check with a magnifying glass what was on the original Statute Roll and Parliamentary Roll. Casement’s appeal was rejected and on August 3, 1916, he was hanged at Pentonville prison.
Bette Davis’s legal fight with studio Warner Brothers established an important point of contract law
Bowman and others v Secular Society Ltd
May 15, 1917
This case was of considerable historic significance in supporting the freedom of a citizen to leave his wealth to whom he wanted. It is also solidified a great principle of British freedom of expression by ensuring that no legal disadvantage fell on those with dissentient ideas. The House of Lords upheld the lawfulness of a bequest to a company whose aim was opposing Christian dogma. In making this decision the Lords overruled precedents going back over 50 years. The next-of-kin of a testator challenged the bequest to the society on the grounds that its objects were unlawful. The House of Lords decided that there is nothing contrary to the policy of the law in an attack on or a denial of the truth of Christianity or any of its fundamental doctrines, provided that such an attack or denial is couched in temperate language and did not constitute blasphemy as defined by the common law.
Phillips v Brooks Ltd
April 12, 1919
This is a classic case in the field of contract law. It was an alarm bell for any star-struck retailers prone to be a bit too impressed by any display self-importance. A man bought pearls and rings worth £3,000 from a jeweller’s shop in Wardour Street, London after passing himself off as a wealthy gentleman from St James’s Square. The cheque was dishonoured — the man was in fact an imposter named North, who pawned one of the rings for £350. After the jeweller sued, the court held that as the jeweller intended to make a contract with the man in the shop, even though he was not who he said he was, the property had legally passed to him. North was legally entitled to sell it to a pawnbroker. The jeweller’s attempt to get the ring back failed.
R v Hurst and other Justices of Sussex, ex party McCarthy
November 10, 1923
This is, indirectly, one of the most often quoted cases in English law. It was famous for the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart’s comment: “There is no doubt that it is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental importance, that justice must be done, and be manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done”. A driving conviction was quashed because one of the magistrates’ clerks had an apparent conflict of interest: he worked for a law firm that acted for someone who was suing the driver in another case. No-one suggested the clerk behaved improperly, but it looked bad to have someone involved who was potentially partisan. The case cements a principle of fundamental significance to a civilised legal system: namely that all judicial processes must not just be fair but must never even be seen to raise a suspicion of unfairness. Public confidence in the law demands nothing less.
Parkinson v College of Ambulance Ltd and Harrison
August 1, 1924
In the realms of the oxymoronic, “buying honour” must sit alongside “open secret” and “larger half”. But the attempt to purchase honours is not a recent development in British public life. In this case, the law set a clear precedent in how it should be treated. The secretary of a charity fraudulently promised Colonel Parkinson a knighthood if he made a large donation. Parkinson, accordingly, gave £3,000. But after he didn’t receive a knighthood, he sued the charity and its secretary for breach of contract. It was held that a contract for the purchase of an honourable title is an improper and illegal contract since it is against public policy. As Parkinson knew he was entering into an improper and illegal contract he could not recover the money. A year later, such activity was also criminalised by statute law.
R v Betts and Ridley
December 20, 1930
Victor Betts and Herbert Ridley agreed to rob a man. The plan was simple: Betts would push him to the ground and seize his bag while Ridley waited in an escape car round the corner. But Betts struck the man with such force that the man died. They were both convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Ridley’s appeal failed. It was held that to be convicted it was not necessary that an accessory should be actually present when the offence was carried out. If the main criminal actor departed wholly from the scope of the agreement then he alone would be liable. But where the principal substantially complied with the plan and there was a departure only in the time, place or manner of execution of it, then the person soliciting the offence would be guilty of that offence, either as an “accessory before the fact” if he were absent and as a principal if he were present or nearby.
This colourful case helped put advertisers on guard against unlawfully exploiting the reputation of public figures without their consent. It encompassed several elements cherished in Britain — sport, chocolate and scandal — and so its legal principle became widely understood. The defendant, a chocolate manufacturer, published an advertisement featuring a caricature of Cyril Tolley, a prominent amateur golfer. It depicted him playing golf with a packet of their chocolate protruding from his pocket. Pictured with him was a caddy, who likened the excellence of the chocolate to that of Tolley’s drive. The ad was published without Tolley’s knowledge or consent. He sued, alleging it constituted a libel. He said the ad was understood to mean that he had permitted his portrait to be exhibited for the purpose of advertising chocolate and that that he’d done so for gain and reward. This would mean that he’d prostituted his reputation as an amateur golf player for advertising purposes. He was awarded £500.
Bell and another v Lever Brothers Ltd and others
December 16, 1931
This case on directors’ contracts caused quite a stir at the time. It concerned what happens when both sides to a contract make a mistake. Lever Brothers, the largest shareholder in the Niger Company, appointed Ernest Bell chairman of Niger’s board at a salary of £8,000 a year. It appointed Walter Snelling as vice-chairman at a salary of £6,000 a year. Behind the company’s back, the two executives speculated in cocoa, a commodity in which Niger dealt, which would have justified both being sacked. But it was for other reasons that their appointments were later cancelled. Unaware of their breaches of duty, Lever agreed to pay Bell £30,000 and Snelling £20,000 — a lot of money at the time — as compensation for terminating their services. Later, Lever said it would have sacked them without pay if it had been aware of their breaches of duty. The company tried to get the money back but the House of Lords said the company’s mistake wasn’t sufficiently fundamental to allow it to avoid the contractual obligation to pay the compensation.
Fardon v Harcourt-Rivington
January 22, 1932
An important ruling on the law of negligence involving cars, pets, shopping and gore. Mr and Mrs Harcourt-Rivington of Langhan Street, London, left their car outside an entrance of Selfridges off Oxford Street. They left their large Airedale dog in the car while they popped in to the department store. For reasons unknown, the dog became excited and started jumping around, barking furiously. It pawed the rear glass window, shattering the window pane. Improbably, a shard of glass flew off into the eye of a passer-by, Oliver Fardon. Fardon’s eye had to be removed. Were the couple liable to pay compensation? The House of Lords ruled that people should take care to guard against “realistic possibilities” but are not liable if we fail to guard against “fantastic possibilities”. The accident in this case, the judges ruled, was a “fantastic possibility”.
Donoghue v Stevenson
May 27, 1932
Among lawyers and law students this is probably the most famous case in British history. Never have so many cases flowed from a single formulation of law. On August 26, 1928, May Donoghue sat in the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley and drank the defendant manufacturer’s ginger beer, which her friend had purchased for her. The bottle contained the decomposed remains of a snail. After drinking it, Donoghue suffered from shock and severe gastro-enteritis. As she could not sue under contract law since it was her friend, and not she, who had purchased the drink, she brought a claim on the alleged negligence of the ginger beer manufacturer. The case settled for £200. Lord Atkin, hearing the case, stated: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.” Seventy-five years on, a mountain of cases has arisen from actions brought by citizens under this principle. Negligence cases in their millions have been brought against manufacturers, drivers, employers, government departments, doctors, local authorities, accountants, and even lawyers.
Haynes v G Harwood & Son
April 28, 1934
This classic case concerned the duty a negligent person owes to someone who acts to rescue a victim of the negligence. The claimant, Thomas John Haynes, was a Metropolitan police constable. On August 24, 1932, a two-horse van belonging to the defendants was left unattended in Paradise Street, Rotherhithe. The driver had put a chain on one of the wheels (which was afterwards found broken), but for some reason, possibly because of a stone having been thrown at them by a boy, the horses bolted along the street, which was frequented by children. Constable Haynes was on duty inside the local police station. Seeing the runaway horses with a van attached coming down the street, he rushed out and eventually stopped them, sustaining a severe injury. It was decided that the defendants’ employee was guilty of negligence in leaving the horses unattended in a busy street and that the constable’s injuries were the natural and probable consequence of their negligence. He won £350 in damages.
Duncan v Jones
October 17, 1935
In depressed economic times and with growing social discontent, the law dealt firmly with people wanting to exercise free speech. This case curtailed the extent of freedom of speech for decades. On May 25, 1933, Katherine Duncan addressed a meeting in Nynehead Street in London’s New Cross, opposite the entrance of an unemployed training centre. The meeting led to a disturbance at the training centre and the superintendant called the police. A year later, about 30 people including Duncan held another meeting in the same street. Duncan was about to mount a box placed in the roadway when the chief constable told her that the congregation had to move to another street 175 yards away. She ignored him and began to step on the box to address the meeting; she was swiftly arrested and prosecuted for unlawfully and wilfully obstructing the police officer when in the execution of his duty. There was no obstruction of the highway except for the box and the presence of the people surrounding it. Neither Duncan nor any of the persons present at the meeting had either committed, incited or provoked a breach of the peace. Nevertheless, Duncan was convicted and fined. Her appeal was dismissed.
Sim v Stretch
July 23, 1936
Although resembling a vivid 1930s theatrical farce, this case decided an important point of defamation law, clarifying how much can be read into certain types of communication. Herbert Stretch’s housemaid left his service and returned to work for another man, Sim, for whom she had previously worked. She re-entered Sim’s service on April 12, 1934. On that date, Sim sent a telegram to Stretch informing him that “Edith has resumed her service with us today. Please send her possessions and the money you borrowed, also her wages to Old Barton.” Stretch claimed these words were defamatory and that Sim was insinuating he had money troubles that forced him to borrow from his housemaid. It was held that the words complained of were not reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning and he lost the action.
Warner Brothers Pictures Inc v Nelson
October 20, 1936
This case formulated an important part of contract law. It said that an injunction will be granted to stop someone breaking a contract and going to work for a rival company if the term in their contract was not so severe as to face them with starvation unless they kept the contract. Before she was famous, the film star Bette Davis (original name Bette Nelson) signed a contract with Warner Brothers for one year. The studio had the option of extending it and Davis agreed she would not undertake other film work without its written consent. When she tried to make a film with another company, Warner sought an injunction. The court granted an injunction for the remainder of the contract or for three years, whichever was the shorter. Davis wasn’t faced with the option “work for Warner or starve” because she could work for other companies so long as she didn’t make films. In other words, the contract was not too oppressive, so she was bound by it.
Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation
November 11, 1937
This was a landmark case in the development of judicial review. A local council had granted a licence to the claimants for them to open their cinema on Sundays. But the council imposed the condition that children under 15 were not to be allowed in. The company said that was “unreasonable” and therefore beyond the powers of the council. The Court of Appeal found that the condition was reasonable — however, Lord Greene, the Master of the Rolls, stated that in certain circumstances courts could declare administrative or governmental actions as unauthorised or unreasonable. His words crystallised into a hallowed and frequently cited proposition. He said the courts couldn’t simply substitute their own opinion for that of the public body or official but they could invalidate a decision if it had been made in an unreasonable way. To be unreasonable, the decision would have to be one in which an authority had “taken into account matters which it ought not to take into account”, or, conversely, has “refused to take into account or neglected to take into account matters which it ought to take into account”. The number of judicial review cases has risen dramatically from just a few a year in the 1950s, through 500 a year in the 1980s, to about 6,000 a year now.
Liversidge v Anderson
November 4, 1941
A graphic instance of a legal decision being influenced by the social environment in which it takes place. A ministerial power to make subjective judgments about a citizen’s freedom was permitted in this controversial House of Lords’ decision. During the Second World War, Robert William Liversidge of St James’s Close in London’s Regents Park, who was in Brixton Prison at the time of the action, challenged the legality of his incarceration. There was a defence regulation providing that a Secretary of State could make orders for the detention of people whom he had “reasonable cause” to believe were “of hostile origin or associations” and in need of subjection to preventative control. Liversidge was such a suspect. The regulation was interpreted as establishing a subjective test of reasonableness. In other words, it all depended on what the minister thought was reasonable, not what an outside, objective person might think. To establish the invalidity of a detention order, a detainee would have to prove that the Secretary of State did not genuinely believe he had reasonable cause. The case is also famous for a very powerful and florid dissenting speech from Lord Atkin, who said that even during war a minister should not have uncontrolled powers of imprisonment: “In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent.”
Young v Bristol Aeroplane Company
July 29, 1944
This case was originally about a man, Young, who lost three fingers in an industrial injury involving unfenced machinery. But the judgment is important because it explains the circumstances in which the Court of Appeal can go against one of its earlier decisions. In addition to saying something about how factory machinery should work, the case sets the law on how the legal machinery should work. It decides, for example, that the Court of Appeal is not bound to follow a previous decision of its own if there are two earlier Court of Appeal decisions inconsistent with one another. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Greene, said the court is not bound to follow a decision of its own if it is satisfied that the decision was “given per incuriam [through an error], for example, where a statute or rule having statutory effect which would have affected the decision was not brought to the attention of the earlier court”.
Joyce v The Director of Public Prosecutions
February 2, 1946
This case settled a key point in the definition of the oldest statutory offence in England: treason. William Joyce broadcast fascist propaganda on the radio from Germany. He was popularly known as “Lord Haw-Haw”. The phrase had been used by Daily Express radio critic Jonah Barrington to describe the nasal tone of another broadcaster of propaganda, but eventually came to be associated with Joyce. He was an American citizen who moved to Ireland, then England and who got a British passport by falsely stating he was born in Britain. During the war, Joyce was captured by the British, brought back to England and charged with high treason. The charge said that, while owing allegiance to the Crown, he had “adhered to the King’s enemies”. But did Joyce remain under a duty of allegiance to the Crown as alleged? The jury said yes and so did the House of Lords. He was hanged at Wandsworth prison.
Hibbert v McKiernan
April 23, 1948
An early 17th-century proverb had it that “possession is nine points of the law”. This case is a good illustration of those important property disputes arising in every age that require clarification of the law. Harold Hibbert trespassed on some golf links owned by the Reddish Vale Golf Club and helped himself to some abandoned golf balls. In this appeal, it was held that he had been rightly convicted of larceny (the old name for theft) by the magistrates at Stockport. As owners of the land, members of the golf club had a prioprietary right to goods left on the course.
Bolton v Stone
May 11, 1951
On August 9, 1947, Miss Bessie Stone was hit by a cricket ball while standing near her front gate on Beckenham Road in Manchester, 100 yards from the neighbouring cricket pitch fence. She sued the cricket club and lost. Balls had been hit over the 17-foot-high fence only about six times in the previous 30 years and never hit anyone. The House of Lords said that to get compensation for an injury, it had to be caused by something that could be anticipated by a reasonable man, whereas the risk taken by the club was limited and not unreasonable. The law requires citizens to be careful toward one another but cases such as this have been helpful in determining just how far we are permitted to take risks.
Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd
July 17, 1952, February 6, 1953
Changes in the economy require the law to adapt to suit new circumstances. This case is a classic instance of adaptation. The advent of supermarket-style shops mean that it became necessary to determine where in the shop a contract of sale was finalised: when a customer places goods in their shopping basket or at the till? The Boots store in Edgware, London had been accused by the Pharmaceutical Society of selling prescription medicines to the public without the supervision of a registered pharmacist, as was legally required. On April 13, 1951, two people (acting for the Pharmaceutical Society) bought medicines containing a tiny amount of strychnine and codeine. That would have been an illegal sale if not supervised by a pharmacist. Was it in fact supervised? The Pharmaceutical Society said it wasn’t supervised as the customers bought the products when they put them in their wire baskets. But the Court of Appeal ruled that the point of sale was at the till rather than when the customer puts something in their basket or trolley. As there was a registered pharmacist at the till, Boots had committed no offence.
In 1960, queues formed outside the Old Bailey as Penguin Books went on trial for obscenity over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Entores Ltd v Miles Far East Corporation
May 18, 1955
Another key case in which the law adapted to a social change: this time the advent of the telex (electric typewriters connected via cable systems). The decision had a huge impact on business. Under general principles in the law of contract, if there is to be an enforceable agreement, acceptance of an offer must be communicated to the person who has made the offer. Here, the court was concerned with the technicality of precisely where a deal for 100 tons of Japanese cathodes had been completed. The court had to consider at what point an acceptance made by telex (a precursor of the fax machine) in Amsterdam was “communicated” to the person receiving the message in London. Was it communicated when it was typed by the sender or when it was printed at the other end? The Court of Appeal decided the deal was made in London when the telex message was printed in that office.
Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee
February 27, 1957
In cases of alleged medical negligence there are commonly various schools of medical thought about how something should be done. This case gave guidance about how far a treatment must be accepted among doctors in order for it not to be seen as negligent if it goes wrong. An action for damages was brought by a psychiatric patient, John Bolam, for a fracture sustained during electro-convulsive therapy. Although he had signed a consent form, Bolam hadn’t been warned of the risk of fracture, which was one in 10,000. Nor had he been given relaxant drugs, which would have excluded the risk of fracture. However, the lawsuit failed. The court ruled that in order to prove negligence a doctor had to fall below a standard of practice recognised as proper by every responsible body of opinion. At the time it was not common practice to warn patients about the dangers of the treatment and many doctors were opposed to the use of relaxant drugs.
Sayers v Harlow Urban District Council
May 08, 1958
An amusing drama, this case also carried an important point about the law relating to accidents. Something of the mood of the case is heralded by the fact that The Times law report was headed “Lady Locked in Lavatory”. Eileen Sayers and her husband were on a coach trip to London from Essex. At one point on the journey, Mrs Sayers went to the lavatory but became locked in the cubicle. She injured herself when she fell trying to climb out using the toilet roll holder as a foothold. Although Mrs Sayers was successful in her claim for damages, the court found that she was guilty of some contributory negligence in the way she endeavoured to escape. She bore 25 per cent of the blame, and so the damages were reduced by that amount.
R v Smith
March 26, 1959
This gruesome case decided an essential principle of cause and effect in the law of murder. Is the chain of causation broken if a victim of violence is injured by someone else before he dies? Private Thomas Joseph Smith was convicted of murdering a fellow soldier whom he had stabbed with a bayonet during a barrack room fight. The victim received a peirced lung that caused a haemorrhage. He was taken to hospital. On the way, he was dropped twice. When he got to the hospital, the graveness of his condition was missed because the medical staff were so busy with other patients. Had the victim been given a blood transfusion his chances of recovery would have been as high as 75 per cent, but he received “thoroughly bad” treatment, including inappropriate artificial respiration, and died. Private Smith’s appeal concerned the “causation” of the death. He argued that while he had caused the victim’s wound he could not be held responsible for his death because the chain of unfortunate events after the injury had really killed him. But the court held that Private Smith had been rightly convicted. If at the time of the death, the original wound is still “an operating and substantial cause”, then the death can be said to be the result of the wound, even though some other cause of death is also operating. Only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound.
Chappell & Co and others v Nestlé and others
June 19, 1959
In the 1950s, giving away discounted goods in exchange for chocolate or candy wrappers was a popular marketing scheme. The law had to decide how this should work if royalties were payable on the discounted item. Should the copyright owners get a percentage of just the discounted price paid by the customers, or should the royalty be based on the price of the item plus the value of the wrappers they handed in? In this case, Nestle, in a promotion for its chocolate bars, gave away a pop single, “Rockin’ Shoes”, in exchange for three wrappers and 1s 6d (about 8p) for postage. According to the law, Chappell, the publisher of the song, was entitled to 6.25 per cent of the “selling price” of each record. It sued Nestle. Chappell won the case as the House of Lords decided that the “selling price” on which their royalty should be based wasn’t just the 1s 6d but also included the value represented by the three wrapping papers. It didn’t matter that the actual papers themselves were of no intrinsic value (Nestle threw them away when they got them back from customers) as they were the value asked for by Nestle.
R v Penguin Books Ltd
October 21, November 3, 1960
This is a classic case on law, art and freedom of expression. On October 20, 1960, a jury of nine men and three women were handed unexpurgated copies of D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and instructed to read it. Its publishers, Penguin Books Ltd, were being prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, which allowed for literary and artistic merit to be considered in judging whether a work was obscene. The prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, argued that the book had no substantial literary merit and merely advocated “coarseness and vulgarity”. He set the jury the following test: “Is it a book you would even wish your wife or servants to read?” But Penguin’s lawyer, Gerald Gardiner, QC, defended the use of four-letter words by arguing that if such language was depraved and corrupt then “95 per cent of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are past redemption”. The defence also called the novelist EM Forster, who said he knew Lawrence well and regarded him as the greatest writer of his generation; Cecil Day-Lewis also testified on his behalf. Penguin was acquitted and Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell three million copies in a year.
Fisher v Bell
November 11, 1960
This was a classic decision determining a highly consequential point of retail law. The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 made it an offence to offer for sale certain offensive weapons, including “flick-knives”. James Bell, a Bristol shop keeper, displayed a weapon of this type, an “ejector knife” selling for 4s, in his shop window. The Divisional Court held that he could not be convicted because, giving the words in the Act their tight, literal legal meaning, Bell had not “offered” the knives for sale. Under the law of contract, placing something in a shop window is not, technically, an “offer for sale”; it is merely an “invitation to treat”. It is the customer who legally makes an “offer” to the shop when he proffers money for an item on sale. This decision has significance in other scenarios. What if a £2,000 multimedia system was mispriced in the shop window at £200? The decision in Fisher v Bell means that you can’t seal a contract by walking into the store and saying, “I accept”. The shop has the final say about whether it wants to make a contract with you and on the terms you offer.
Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd V Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd
January 19, 1961
This landmark case decides the test for working out whether a defendant who starts a series of unusual events is liable to pay compensation for the damage they cause. The ruling was by the Privy Council on an appeal from Australia but it also changed English law, as it was later followed by English courts. Through carelessness, furnace oil from a ship in Sydney harbour was spilt into a bay. The oil spread over the water to a wharf 600 feet away where wharf owners were carrying out repairs to a ship, including welding metal. Molten metal from the wharf dripped down on to floating cotton waste which ignited the furnace oil on the water. The wharf was badly burnt in the resulting fire. The wharf owners sued for damages but the court found that the ship owners could not reasonably have known that the furnace oil was capable of being set alight when spread on water. It was held that the test of liability for the damage done by fire was whether it was “reasonably foreseeable” in the circumstances.
Ridge v Baldwin
March 15, 1963
This case cemented into English law a key principle of natural justice: that a court or tribunal cannot come to a fair decision unless both sides have been heard or have been given the chance to be heard. It was held by the House of Lords that the former Chief Constable of Brighton, Charles Ridge, had been unfairly dismissed in breach of the principles of natural justice. He had brought a legal action against George Baldwin of the Brighton police committee, in which he asked for a declaration that their termination of his appointment as chief constable was illegal and beyond the powers of the authority. At the core of his allegation was that at the appropriate time, no specific charge was notified to him and he was not given an opportunity of being heard. His solicitor was given an opportunity at one stage to address a committee but had been given no particulars of the case against him. Lord Reid recognised the cherished principle of the law audi alteram partem, which means a judge in a dispute should allow both parties to be heard and should listen to the point of view of each, or at least given an opportunity of each to speak.
Hedley Byrne & Co v Heller & Partners Ltd
May 29, 1963
This House of Lords case took the duty of care into the realm of advice. The law had previously applied only to manufacturers, but this ruling affected everyone from architects to zoo consultants. It now applied to anyone who gave advice in the course of their job. It began when a bank phoned a merchant bank to check on the financial position of a potential client, Easipower Ltd, which wanted to borrow money to fund advertising. The bank promised the merchant bank would be “without responsibility” in providing the information. After Easipower went into liquidation, out of pocket advertising agents sued the merchant bank to recover their losses, but lost. They would have won were it not for the “without responsibility” disclaimer.
Eastham v Newcastle United Football Club Ltd
June 12, July 5, 1963
A court blew the whistle on Newcastle FC and declared a foul. This case affected the way football contracts worked across the land. The claimant, George Eastham, became a professional football player in 1956 when he was 19. He then transferred to Newcastle United, entering into an annual contract. A while later, he asked for a transfer but the club notified him that his services would be retained for the next season at his current wage. The club cited regulation 26 of the Football Association rules. This blocked him from getting a transfer and meant he could not play for another club in the UK or Ireland provided Newcastle offered him a “reasonable wage”. But the court decided that this was an “unlawful restraint of trade”.
D & C Builders Ltd V Rees
November 13, 1965
This decision was influential in clarifying the law whereby traders are bullied by customers into accepting a smaller payment. The claimant company consisted of two jobbing tradesmen, one a decorator and the other a plumber. They carried out work for Rees, the defendant, worth £482 13s 1d. For months, the builders pressed for payment. Finally, the defendant’s wife, who knew that the company was in financial difficulties, offered £300 to settle the debt, saying that if that offer wasn’t accepted nothing more would be paid. They accepted the £300 but later sued for the balance of £182 13s 1d. The court held that the company was not barred from recovering the balance by the agreement to accept a smaller sum because there was “no true accord”. The defendant’s wife had put pressure on the company to accept the £300 in settlement by threatening that if they did not accept nothing would be paid.
R v Jordan
May 13, 1967
Under the British constitution there is nothing more sacred or potent than a properly passed Act of Parliament. It is the most powerful legal instrument and can’t be declared invalid by reference to any political principle. This case is a classic example of what that means in practice. Colin Jordan was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for offences under the Race Relations Act 1965. He asked for legal aid to apply for a writ of habeas corpus (a process by which the authorities have to justify an imprisonment) on the grounds that the Act was invalid as it was a curtailment of free speech. It was held, dismissing his application, that Parliament was supreme and there was no power in the courts to question the validity of an Act passed by it.
R v Lamb
June 24, 1967
A dreadful human drama. In this case, the appeal court formulated an important rule about what does and doesn’t amount to an unlawful assault. The appropriate state of mental blameworthiness must exist at the time of the defendant’s conduct. Terence Lamb pointed a revolver in fun at a friend. He knew that there were two bullets in the revolver and also that neither of them was in the chamber opposite the barrel. But he didn’t realise that when the gun was fired the cylinder would automatically rotate. He shot his friend dead. The judge directed the jury that they could convict of manslaughter if the accused had been grossly negligent or if the killing had occurred in the course of an unlawful act. He told them that the pointing and firing of the revolver amounted to an unlawful act even if the accused had not intended to alarm or injure. On appeal, it was held that the pointing and firing was only the actus reus (the physical conduct) of assault but there was no criminal assault without the mens rea (a blameworthy mind). Although the accused might have been criminally negligent, the trial judge hadn’t properly explained to the jury what was required for there to be an criminal assault. His direction to them on an unlawful act had been wrong and so the conviction was quashed.
Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee
November 9, 1967
This is a leading case on cause and effect in the law of tort. It shows a how medical negligence might not be the legal cause of someone’s injury or death if even good medical treatment would not have saved a patient. William Barnett was employed as a night watchman at the hall of residence at the Chelsea College of Sciences and Technology in London. On December 31, 1965, following celebrations with some friends at the hall, he went to hospital with symptoms that included continuous vomiting and cramp. The nurse telephoned a doctor. The doctor, who was himself unwell, instructed Barnett to go home and call his own doctor. He went away and died some hours later from what was later found to be arsenic poisoning. The court decided that although the doctor had been negligent in not seeing the man, the poisoning of Barnett was at that time so far advanced that even if the doctor had seen him he would have died. The hospital was found not liable — the death did not result from its negligence.
Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner
August 1, 1968
A serious case (and one that decides an important point of law), but one posited on an extraordinary and comical set of facts. The court decided that although an omission to act cannot amount to an assault, the crime of assault will be committed if someone accidentally commits a battery which he then refuses to discontinue. Vincent Fagan drove his car on to the foot of PC David Morris in north London. It was most likely an accident, but when the PC said, “Get off, you are on my foot”, Fagan replied: “F–k you, you can wait”. Although Fagan soon relented and it had initially been an accident, his conviction for assault was upheld using what has become known as the “doctrine of the continuing act”.
Conway v Rimmer
May 4, 1970
This is a case of major importance in constitutional law. At its heart it is about the judicial control of public authorities. A police officer, Michal Conway, had been prosecuted for theft of a torch. He was acquitted but sacked nonetheless. He began a civil action for malicious prosecution against his former superintendent in the Cheshire constabulary, Thomas Rimmer. Conway wanted certain documents to prove his case, including reports about him relating to the prosecution. The Home Secretary objected to Conway getting the documents, saying that release of them would be “injurious to the public interest”. The House of Lords looked at the documents and disagreed. It said that where there was a clash between the public interest in withholding a document and the interests of justice in it being seen, the court could ask for documents, examine them itself and order their release if necessary. The police officer, however, eventually lost.
Home Office v the Dorset Yacht Company
May 7, 1970
In what circumstances Government departments owe a duty to members of the public is a point of momentous importance, and this case helped define the nature of that duty. The Dorset Yacht Company claimed that seven youths has escaped on the night of September 21, 1968 from the borstal institute on Brownsea Island and then boarded the yacht Silver Mist, cast her adrift and caused considerable damage to her and her contents. The company alleged that the Home Office was liable for the damage because of its negligence in failing to exercise effective control and supervision over the youths. The House of Lords held that public policy doesn’t require that the Home Office is immune from legal actions in such cases. It did owe a duty of care. But to establish liability, it had to be proved that the Borstal officers were negligent in performing their duties to control and supervise the teenagers and that the particular damage that did occur was the sort of thing likely to result from such negligence. The case was later settled out of court by the Home Office.
Blackburn v The Attorney General
March 15, 1971
Amid great political controversy this case confirmed that there was no constitutional reason why the UK could not join the Common Market (now the European Union). Raymond Blackburn of Chiswick, in London, asked the judges as “the guardians of the British constitution” to explain the constitutional position in relation to the Government’s application in 1971 to join the Common Market. He said that the Treaty’s provisions could be validly accepted only if a new constitution was adopted with the consent of the British people. The Court of Appeal disagreed, saying that Parliament was competent to hand over some parts of its sovereignty if it wished, although this would not necessarily be binding on future parliaments.
R v Hudson and Taylor
March 19th, 1971
In some circumstances, someone who commits a crime may have a defence if it was committed under duress. Linda Hudson and Elaine Taylor were two girls from Salford who, as witnesses at a criminal trial in Manchester, gave false evidence. Their defence on charges of perjury was that they had previously been threatened by violent men that they would be “cut up” if they told the truth. One of the men had been sitting in court when they gave their evidence. At their trial the judge directed the jury that this was no defence and they were convicted of perjury. Quashing the convictions, the Court of Appeal held that duress was a defence to all offences (except murder as principal offender, and possibly treason) if the will of the accused had been overborne by threats of death or personal injury. To be a defence, the threat had to have been “present”, which meant “effective at the moment the crime was committed”. In this case, the threats of future violence were likely to have been present. They were no less compelling just because they couldn’t be carried out in the court room itself: they could have been carried out in the streets later that evening.
DPP v Ray
July 27, 1973
This case settled an important principle of law applicable to people caught legging it out of restaurants without paying. It has been applied countless times since. After eating a meal in the Wing Wah restaurant in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Roger Ray, a university student, and his three companions decided not to pay. About 10 minutes later, after waiting for the waiter to leave the dining room, they made off. Ray was convicted under the Theft Act (now covered by the Fraud Act 2006) and the conviction was upheld by the House of Lords. The law lords ruled that Ray had impliedly stated in ordering the meal that he intended to pay, and that by remaining in his seat after deciding not to pay had ostensibly continued that earlier implied statement, thereby deceiving the waiter.
Haughton v Smith
November 22, 1973
What happens if someone is attempting to commit a crime that is legally impossible? Is it a criminal attempt? The House of Lords gave the answer in this cops and crooks caper. Police officers stopped a large van on the motorway travelling south from Liverpool and found it contained stolen goods. The police decided to allow the men to continue their journey along the motorway to a service area in order to catch the receivers. One of those waiting, Roger Smith, was later convicted of attempting to handle stolen goods, even though the Crown conceded that at the time of the alleged offence the goods, being in the lawful custody of the police, ceased to be stolen. But the decision was overturned by the House of Lords, which said there could be no conviction in such circumstances. In order to constitute the offence of attempting to handle stolen goods, the goods in question must be stolen. These goods were not because they were in the lawful possession of the police. It is not a crime to try to commit a crime that, in the circumstances, it is impossible to commit.
R v Kovacs
December 22, 1973
This influential criminal law case concerned what happens when someone gets an advantage from one person by having deceived another. Stephanie Kovacs knew that her bank account was overdrawn and that she no longer had authority from her bank to have possession or use of her cheque book or her cheque guarantee card. Nevertheless, she wrote a cheque to pay for a railway ticket costing £2.89. Her bank was bound, because of the cheque guarantee card, to honour the cheque, but Kovacs was convicted of dishonestly obtaining a pecuniary advantage (an increased overdraft) by deception. Her appeal was dismissed. The court held immaterial that the person deceived — the railway clerk — was not the person from whom the pecuniary advantage was obtained by the deception.
Jackson v Horizon Holidays Ltd
February 6, 1974
The sorts of compensation aggrieved holiday makers can claim when things go wrong was one of the key points decided in this case. A family holiday to Sri Lanka was not all it was cracked up to be. Julian Jackson, the father of the family, sued the tour operator and won an award of £1,100 damages for distress and inconvenience. The tour operator appealed. Several legal points were in issue. The court decided that damages for loss of a holiday may include not only the difference in value between what was promised and what was obtained but also damages for mental distress, inconvenience, upset, disappointment and frustration. It stated that where a person had entered into a contract on behalf of himself and others who were not parties to the contract, he could sue on the contract for damages or loss suffered not only by himself but also by the others in consequence of breach of the contract.
Van Duyn v Home Office
December 5, 1974
The UK joined Europe in 1972. This case a few years later concerned how European law should be applied — what was the status of a European directive? Yvonne van Duyn, a Dutch woman, wanted to enter the UK to take up employment with the Church of Scientology. She was refused entry and challenged the decision under a European directive guaranteeing the freedom of movement for workers. The High Court made a preliminary reference to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The question arose whether the rights conferred under the Article of the EEC Treaty were directly applicable and enforceable by an individual in the courts of a member state. The ECJ ruled that the rights were enforceable without the need for further laws in each state to have been passed.
Attorney-General’s Reference No. 1 of 1975
April 26, 1975
What does the law say in the case of someone who secretly puts alcohol in the drink of a person who then goes on to drive. Such a prank or plot is, of course, dangerous and potentially lethal. This case was an Attorney-General’s Reference, a procedure by which the appeal court can rule on a point of law that the Attorney-General wants clarified. The Court of Appeal was asked to consider the position of an accused who had surreptitiously laced, with double measures of spirits, an otherwise innocuous drink of a friend when he knew the friend would shortly be driving home. As a result, the friend was guilty of driving with an excess of alcohol in his blood. The driver was guilty in that the driving offence is one of strict liability — it doesn’t matter whether you did it on purpose, or accidentally, just that you did it. It was held that the person accused of lacing drinks in these circumstances was guilty as a secondary party provided he knew that his friend was going to drive and also that the alcohol surreptitiously given would bring his blood-alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit. The Court pointed out that the “generous host” who kept his guest’ s glass topped up would not necessarily be guilty in the same way since in that case the guest would be aware of the contents of his glass and could make his own decision as to whether to drive.
R v Blaue
July 17, 1975
In criminal law, can a wrongdoer defend himself by saying his victim’s fate wouldn’t have been so bad if she had not had the unusual beliefs she did have? This case answered that question. Robert Blaue stabbed the victim, who was taken to hospital. The victim, a Jehovah’s Witness, was informed that without a blood transfusion she would probably die. She refused to accept a transfusion as it would have been contrary to her religious beliefs. The accused appealed against his conviction for manslaughter at Teesside crown court on the grounds that the victim’s refusal to accept a blood transfusion broke the chain of causation. The court dismissed the appeal. Those who inflict violence must take their victims as they find them. The victim’s refusal to accept treatment does not break the chain, even if it is an unreasonable belief.
DPP v Majewski
April 14, 1976
In this leading judgment, the House of Lords decided that a person who commits a crime but doesn’t know what he’s doing because he is so inebriated can still be convicted if it is not necessary to prove intention for that particular crime. During the course of a disturbance at a pub in Basildon, Essex, Robert Majewski attacked the landlord and two other people, injuring all three of them. When the police arrived, he assaulted an officer, and later, at the police station where he had been taken, he struck two other officers. He was charged with various assaults. At his trial he testified that during the 48 hours preceding the disturbance he had taken a considerable quantity of drugs and that, at the time when the assaults were committed, he was acting under a combination of amphetamines, barbiturates and alcohol. He didn’t know what he was doing and had no recollection of the incidents in question. He was convicted and his appeal was dismissed. The Lords held that unless the offence was one that required proof of a specific intent, it was no defence to that the accused didn’t intend to commit the act alleged. His recklessness was enough to convict him.
R v Bundy
March 12, 1977
Clever arguments for defendants in criminal cases are sometimes confounded by simple and even cleverer ones for the prosecution. This famous case provides a good example of such a thrust, parry and counter thrust. When Dennis Bundy was stopped by police in his car, he had with him some piping, a hammer, a pipe threader and three pieces of stocking. He had been driving around following a woman who was collecting the takings from vending machines in London pubs with the apparent intention of robbing her. He was convicted of “going equipped” for theft when “not at his place of abode”. Bundy appealed on the grounds that, since he lived rough in his car, it was his abode. But in dismissing the appeal, the court held that his car was his place of abode only when after finding a site he had parked for the night, not when he was in transit.
R v Doukas
December 3, 1977
A major judgment on the charge of going equipped to cheat. Joseph Doukas, a hotel wine waiter, had six bottles of his own wine in his coat pockets when going to work. He intended, when a customer ordered wine, to serve one of these bottles which he’d got very cheaply, to make out a separate bill and keep the money that the hotel customer paid him. The scam was that while the waiter would pocket the customer’s money, the hotel wouldn’t notice any loss of income because none of its own bottles of wine were being taken to the tables by the waiter. And the waiter would be making a profit because there was a big difference between the cheap price of the wine he smuggled in to the hotel and the expensive prices on the wine menu. An important question for the appeal court was whether a charge of going equipped to cheat was sustainable because a customer would not have been deceived if he paid for wine and got wine. Doukas’s appeal was dismissed. It was held that customers were deceived because it was reasonable to assume that they’d never have handed over cash if they’d have known that the wine wasn’t the hotel’s but rather that of the waiter’s personal stock being used in a swindle.
DPP v Camplin
April 11, 1978
This was a leading and groundbreaking decision about the law of provocation. Before this case, defendants on charges of murder could plead provocation only by showing they had the power of self-restraint of an adult, even if they were younger. Paul Camplin, a 15 year-old, hit a 50 year-old man over the head with a chapatti pan and killed him. His defence was provocation. He claimed that the deceased had forcibly had anal intercourse with him and then laughed at him, whereupon Camplin had lost his self-control. The judge at Leeds crown court directed the jury to consider whether the deceased’s actions were enough to make a “reasonable man” do what Camplin did. If they were, the killing could be reduced from murder to manslaughter. The judge told the jury to consider not how a reasonable 15-year-old may have responded, but how an adult man would have responded. That was unfair because an adult man might be expected to show more restraint before using lethal force. The jury convicted Camplin of murder. However, on appeal the House of Lords held that the judge ought not to have instructed the jury to disregard his age.
Jaggard v Dickinson
July 26, 1980
People rolling up drunk at the wrong address and breaking a window or lock in order to enter what they think is their property is not an unknown problem in Britain. This case decides an important point of law regarding that scenario. Beverely Jaggard had a good relationship with Ron Heyfron and had his consent to treat his property as if it were her own. One evening after being out drinking she took a taxi to his house in South Ockendon, Essex, but the taxi dropped her outside another, similar looking house on the same street. Not realising in her drunken state, she broke windows to get in. Jaggard was prosecuted for criminal damage. But the court ruled that under section 5(3) of the Criminal Damage Act it was required to consider the accused’s actual belief when she committed the act. As she believed, even in her intoxicated state, that the accused would have consented to the damage, she was found not guilty.
R v Malcherek, R v Steel
March 18, 1981
This landmark decision on life and death concerned two cases considered together by the Court of Appeal. In both cases, the accused had inflicted serious injury on his victim for which hospital treatment was necessary. In each, the treatment involved the use of a life support machine. In each, the doctors, having satisfied themselves that the patient was, for practical purposes, dead and were only being kept alive mechanically, disconnected the life support machines. The defendants, convicted of murder, claimed that the hospital had caused the death by turning off the machines. But their appeals were dismissed. It was held that the medical treatment did not break the chain of causation.
Laskey, Jaggard and Brown v United Kingdom
February 20, 1997
This is a famous modern case in which the personal freedom of individuals with unusual tastes was set against society’s right to rule certain conduct as criminal. It addresses a debate at the core of law: when can something be condemned as illegal where the conduct is private and involves only consenting adults? It went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants were a group of gay men who participated in sadomasochistic activities including beating and branding. Their activities involved causing injury to the genitals and other places using fish hooks, spiked gloves and wires heated with blow torches. All were of full age and consenting. No permanent injuries were caused. Nevertheless, they were prosecuted for causing bodily harm and wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. At their trial, the defence of mutual consent was rejected and they consequently pleaded guilty. On appeal, their convictions were upheld but the sentences were reduced to between three months and three years. A further appeal to the House of Lords was dismissed. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that their convictions were a violation of their human rights to a private life. The court said the issue was whether the interference with their rights was “necessary in a democratic society”. It ultimately ruled that the interference had been necessary and that the state was entitled to regulate the infliction of physical harm through the criminal law. It was up to the authorities to determine the “tolerable level of harm”.
Attorney-General’s Ref No. 3 of 1994 (1997)
July 25, 1997
This case decided the law in a situation where a man stabs a pregnant woman and inflicts a wound that eventually kills the baby she is carrying. It rules on the important issue of which forms of life are protected by the criminal law. On May 26, 1990, a man stabbed his girlfriend in the face, abdomen and back. At the time she was, to his knowledge, 22 to 24 weeks pregnant with his child. Seventeen days later the child was born — it survived for 120 days before dying from the effects of premature birth. The mother recovered and the assailant was convicted of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and sentenced to four years imprisonment. Although the man was charged with murder after the death of the child, the judge ruled that neither murder nor manslaughter was proved on the available evidence and directed the jury to acquit on the murder charge. The Attorney-General referred the matter to the Court of Appeal on points of law including whether the crimes of murder or manslaughter can be committed where unlawful injury is deliberately inflicted to a child in utero (in the womb). The House of Lords decided that it was enough to raise a prima facie case of murder if the defendant committed the act that caused the death of the victim (the foetus) or caused grievous bodily harm. So an assailant such as the one who escaped a homicide conviction in this case could now be convicted.
Gregory v Portsmouth City Council
February 2, 2000
The civil action for malicious prosecution is a useful defence for a citizen against oppressive behaviour by a prosecutor. It is available where a prosecution has been brought maliciously, without reasonable and probable cause and has been unsuccessful. It helps balance the relationship between the individual and the state. This case made an important decision about the limits of that civil action. Terence Gregory, a councillor, had allegedly misused his position for financial gain and had been subject to disciplinary proceedings by a city council. Those proceedings, however, were quashed by the Divisional Court following a judicial review. The councillor then sued the council for having ‘maliciously prosecuted’ him by taking disciplinary proceedings against him. But the House of Lords decided that an action for malicious prosecution will not be open to someone who has been merely the subject of disciplinary proceedings.
Chief Adjudication Officer v Faulds
May 16, 2000
This case concerned the important issue of when incidents can be properly described as accidents. It is a fine illustration of how what might seem like remote philosophical semantics are an important and unavoidable part of law and have a striking impact on real life. Thomas Faulds, a senior fire officer, was claiming industrial injury benefit as a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Faulds, who had served for 27 years, argued that he was entitled to benefit within the provisions of section 94(1) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, as he had suffered personal injury (stress) “by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment”. He had attended many appalling fatal accidents and had been required to photograph mutilated bodies. But the law lords rejected Faulds’ claim that he had suffered from an “accident” in the way meant by the legislation. He wasn’t present when accidents actually occurred and it was not, at least directly, the actual happening of a crash or a fire or a vehicle collision that caused him any injury. The mere fact of suffering stress or developing some illness or disorder from being engaged in a stressful occupation wouldn’t bring the sufferer within the purview of the Act for the purposes of injury benefit.
Regina (Quintavalle) v British Broadcasting Corporation
May 16, 2003
This landmark House of Lords decision dealt with the issue of when broadcasters can decline to show something they regard as unfit for the public. ProLife, a political party, was campaigning against abortion. It had fielded enough candidates in a general election to entitle it to one party election broadcast in Wales and submitted a tape of its proposed broadcast to various channels. The major part of the programme had been devoted to explaining the processes involved in different forms of abortion, with prolonged and graphic images. The pictures were judged to be very disturbing. The BBC did not broadcast the film. The party took legal action in an effort to have that decision declared improper. But the House of Lords decided that the BBC and other terrestrial broadcasters had been entitled to refuse to show it on the ground that it would be offensive to public feeling. Lord Nicholls said that television broadcasters had to ensure, so far as they could, that their programmes contained nothing likely to be offensive to viewers. That was a statutory obligation placed on the independent broadcasters by the Broadcasting Act 1990 and on the BBC by an agreement with the Secretary of State for National Heritage. It wasn’t for the courts to find that the broadcasters had acted unlawfully when they had done no more than give effect to the statutory and other obligations binding on them.
Regina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment
February 25, 2005
This case hinged on the contentious issue of whether the law against corporal punishment in schools broke the alleged human right of some parents to delegate to teachers the power to hit children. The claimants were religious educationalists. They applied for judicial review against the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, asking for a declaration that the Education Act 1996 did not prevent a parent delegating to a teacher in an independent school the right to administer physical punishment. They wanted it stated that a teacher who gave physical punishment on the basis of an expressed delegation by a parent in writing did not act unlawfully or unprofessionally. The House of Lords disagreed with that interpretation. The law lords ruled that the statutory ban on corporal punishment was not incompatible with the human right to freedom of religion and the freedom of some people to manifest their religion in practice by caning children. Although the statutory ban on corporal punishment was capable of interfering with the rights of those who sincerely believed that they had a religious duty to discipline children by the use of mild corporal punishment, Parliament was entitled to take the view that the ban was necessary in a democratic society to protect children from the infliction of physical punishment in an institutional setting.
Regina (Laporte) v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary
December 14, 2006
The circumstances in which the police are permitted to stop citizens and turn them away from where they want to go is an issue of crucial consequence in any society. Too little power and there might be disorder; too much power and you would have an oppressive police state. This case had to address that issue in the context of that key characteristic of democracy — the right to protest. Relying on their duty to prevent a breach of the peace, police intercepted coach passengers travelling from London to a protest demonstration in Gloucestershire and prevented them from continuing to the demonstration. Police had turned back three coaches of anti-war protesters, including Jane Laporte, from a journey to a protest against impending bombing raids on Iraq. The Lords decided that police acted unlawfully. Stopping them proceeding was unlawful because no such breach of the peace was about to occur. The Lords ruled, citing European jurisprudence, that freedom of expression and assembly are “an essential foundation of democratic society”, and that there was insufficient reason here for those rights to be curtailed.