‘There may be exceptional cases where the circumstances compel the conclusion that the absence of a remedy sounding in damages would be an affront to the principles which underlie the common law. Then the decision in Hill’s case should not stand in the way of granting an appropriate remedy.’Per Lord Nicholls in Brooks v The Commissioner of Police  UKHL 24.
What such an exceptional case might look like has remained a matter of speculation. Until now. On 9 May Ritchie J handed down judgment in Woodcock v Chief Constable of Northamptonshire  EWHC 1062 (KB), which, if it remains good law, is likely to have a significant impact upon the law concerning the liability of the police in the tort of negligence.
In Woodcock, the High Court found that the police were under a positive common law duty to warn the Claimant of a potential danger. It found the police had assumed responsibility towards the Claimant by advising her to set up a ‘protective ring’ around her property and, in the alternative, that this was a rare ‘special / exceptional’ case in which there was a positive duty to warn. The court also overturned the trial judge’s decision on causation, saying that although the learned judge’s findings on this point were not ‘wrong’ they were ‘unjust’.
Given the nature of the court’s conclusions, it is likely the case will be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Claimant had been in an abusive and coercive relationship with RG . The trial judge found that, due to an increase in the number and seriousness of threats, the Chief Constable agreed officers would stay in a police car outside the Claimant’s home during the night of 19 March 2015 (albeit for an indefinite period depending on other policing needs) .
Officers also agreed a safety plan with the Claimant which included advice that the Claimant should call the police if RG attended her property and that she should make neighbours aware of the issue . The Defendant also unsuccessfully ‘deployed a substantial group of officers to locate and arrest RG’ .
At 7:32am on 19 March 2015 a neighbour called 999 and said RG was outside the Claimant’s property, the Claimant would be leaving in a few minutes and RG was probably planning an attack . Officers were dispatched to the Claimant’s address. However, neither the neighbour nor the call handler rang the Claimant to warn her of the danger.
The Claimant subsequently left her house. RG stabbed her with a large knife 7 times and was subsequently convicted of attempted murder [89; 5].
British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and others, R(on the application of) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and another  EWHC 1723 (Admin) – read original judgment and  EWHC 2041 (Admin), 17 July 2015 read remedies judgment
On 19 June 2015, Green J ruled that an exception to copyright infringement for private use was unlawful, at common law, because of flaws in the consultation process which had preceded its enactment. See Rosalind English’s post here.
The judge left open for further argument what should be done about this unlawfulness.
The Secretary of State agreed that the offending statutory instrument should be quashed, and that he would re-consider whether a further private copying exception should be introduced.
But the parties disagreed about the date from when it should be quashed. Should it be prospective or retrospective? Or, in the Latin that lawyers still love, ex nunc (from now) or ex tunc (from then)? (Auto-correct so wanted those words to be “ex tune” – which would have been very appropriate, but wrong)
Guardian: James Rhodes and friends including Benedict Cumberbatch outside Court
James Rhodes v OPO (by his Litigation Friend BHM) and another,  UKSC 32
The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in an appeal by the celebrated concert pianist, James Rhodes. You can read the judgment here and watch Lord Toulson’s summary here.
The case considered whether Mr Rhodes could be prevented from publishing his memoir on the basis that to do so would constitute the tort of intentionally causing harm. Those acting on behalf of Mr Rhodes’ son were particularly concerned about the effect upon him of learning of details of his father’s sexual abuse as a child.
Nigel Farage is quoted yesterday as preferring immigrants to be Australians and Indians rather than EU citizens, because they probably speak English and “understand common law.”
Nice coincidence, then, that on the same day the Supreme Court came out with a perfect illustration of the potential difficulties of the common law process. This is the latest (but unlikely to be the last) instalment from the Court going to the question as to whether some crime by a claimant ought to stop his claim in its tracks.
The issue is well demonstrated by this claim, in effect a carousel fraud (see pic and see my post here), in which a company the victim of a fraud seeks to recoup losses from the fraudsters and is met with the argument – but your directors were in on the fraud too. How does the law deal with this?
1 Crown Office Row’s David Manknell acted as junior counsel to the Parole Board in this case. He had no involvement in the writing of this post.
Writing in his magisterial new work, Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court, Professor Brice Dickson noted that the Human Rights Act had created ‘an internationalized system of human rights protection rather than a constitutional one.’ Indeed, there had been a marked resistance on the part of the Supreme Court to use the common law to achieve the same goal of human rights protection. In Osborn v The Parole Board the Supreme Court seemed to resile from this position.
Osborn, and the co-joined appeals, concerned the circumstances in which the Parole Board is required to hold oral hearings. Osborn had been recalled to prison after an immediate breach of his licence conditions. Booth and Reilly had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and in both cases the minimum term had expired. The appellants sought early release and had been denied an oral hearing by the Parole Board under the operation of the statutory regime (detailed in paras 3-17). Instead their cases had been decided on paper by a single anonymous member of the Board.
Smith and Others (Appellants) v The Ministry of Defence (Respondent) and other appeals – read judgment and our previous post for summary of the facts
So, the Supreme Court has refused to allow these claims to be struck out on the principle of combat immunity. It has also asserted that jurisdiction for the purpose of an Article 2 right to life claim can extend to non-Convention countries, and that the state can owe a positive duty to protect life, even in a situation of armed combat.
This ruling deserves close attention not least because it takes common law negligence and Article 2 into an area which is very largely uncharted by previous authority. Lord Mance does not mince his words in his dissent, predicting that yesterday’s ruling will lead, inevitably, to the “judicialisation of war”. Lord Carnwath is similarly minded; in this case, he says, the Court is being asked to authorise an extension of the law of negligence (as indeed of Article 2), into a new field, without guidance from “any authority in the higher courts, in this country or any comparable jurisdiction, in which the state has been held liable for injuries sustained by its own soldiers in the course of active hostilities.” Lord Wilson also dissented on this point. Continue reading →
The reverse suffered by the claimants in the noisy motor racing case case before the Court of Appeal last month was something of a body blow to common lawyers and environmentalists. So this latest development in nuisance litigation should be welcome news.
As David Hart’s report suggests, the Court of Appeal pulls no punches in its critique of the High Court judgment which dismissed the claims of 152 households on the basis that a landfill operator had abided by the terms of its permit. Reasserting the private law rights of individuals in nuisance actions, Carnwath LJ observes that this case has been
a sad illustration of what can happen when apparently unlimited resources, financial and intellectual, are thrown at an apparently simple dispute such as one about nuisance by escaping smells. The fundamental principles of law were settled by the end of the 19th century and have remained resilient and effective since then.
The common law, he notes, is best when it is simple. And in this judgement he returns nuisance to the simple statement of reciprocity and neighbourliness where it belongs.
There are a few propositions – not many – in Carnwath LJ’s judgment which will serve as a clear, short checklist for the viability of a nuisance action. Continue reading →
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.