ASSOCIATED PROVINCIAL PICTURE HOUSES v WEDNESBURY CORP.

Acting ultra vires through the application of executive powers is not something alien to public authority decision-making, but it is equally important that those seeking legal review are clear as to exactly what has constituted a breach of their jurisdiction.

During the period following the second world war, there were three Acts that affected the opening times of cinematograph houses across the UK.

The first was the Cinematograph Act 1909, the second was the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932, and third was Defence Regulation 42B, which was introduced during the war, but remained effective until late 1947.

When it was decided by an issuing local authority to grant a trading licence to their local picture house, there came with it restrictions preventing any attendance by children aged below fifteen years of age, regardless of whether they were accompanied by an adult.

While appreciative of the opportunity to open on a day typically reserved for domestic pursuits, the appellants sought judicial review on grounds that such a restriction was self-defeating and thereby ‘unreasonable’.

As there were three Acts from which to rely upon, it was agreed that for the purposes of clarity the Sunday Entertainments Act was the most appropriate, and yet within the terms prescribed, section 1(1) provided that the issue of a licence was “subject to such conditions as the authority think fit to impose.” This, it was agreed, allowed the local authority to apply its discretion to the limitations of the permit, and so by extension, it had acted accordingly.

When heard in the first instance, the court dismissed the objections brought by the picture house, and after a brief but considered review of that decision, it was reiterated that while the courts are able to question the legal validity of executive decisions, they are not equipped nor predisposed, to challenge the illegitimacy of those limitations, unless the body in question has applied it powers outside the boundaries of reasonableness, and in ignorance of required objectives.

Relying upon the relevant case history behind these matters, there was (despite strong opposition by the commercial vendors) no precedent upon which their argument could stand; and so, the court noted that it was important to hold in mind the scope of discretion afforded local authorities when following statute before taking legal action, while further reminding the parties that:

“[T]he court, whenever it is alleged that the local authority have contravened the law, must not substitute itself for that authority.”

DONOGHUE v STEVENSON

In this case, the principle of negligence beyond the strictness of contractual duty becomes pivotal to a claim for damages, when a consumer becomes victim to sickness through the consumption of a contaminated beverage.

In 1928, two friends entered a café in central Scotland and proceeded to order some ice-cream and ginger beer.

Unknown to the appellant, one of the bottles provided contained the decomposed remains of a snail; which when poured onto the ice-cream, left the appellant in a state of shock and later subjected to gastro-enteritis, having partially drunk the ginger beer beforehand.

This resulted in litigation on grounds concerning the manufacturer’s inability to safely store the bottles prior to their filling, a lack of care when considering the potential for those drinks to be consumed by unwitting customers, failure to implement a suitable quality control/inspection system prior to distribution, and failure to use clear, as opposed to dark opaque bottles, to avoid such events.

Although the common law position was comparable between English and Scottish law, the claim was unique in that it circumvented the contractual obligations often found in negligence claims.

In the first instance, the court had allowed the claim, while the Second Divisional court dismissed it by a majority, before the appellant sought relief in the House of Lords.

Here, a number of recent cases were explored to ascertain the extent of liability in matters where there are no contractual obligations.

Erring on the side of restraint as to how far a claim such as this might extend, comments mades by Parke B in Longmeid v Holliday suggested that:

“It would be going much too far to say, that so much care is required in the ordinary intercourse of life between one individual and another, that, if a machine not in its nature dangerous, . . . . but which might become so by a latent defect entirely unknown, although discoverable by the exercise of ordinary care, should be lent or given by one person, even by the person who manufactured it, to another, the former should be answerable to the latter for a subsequent damage accruing by the use of it.”

Longmeid v Holliday

However, in George v Skivington the sale of harmful shampoo, which had been used not by the purchaser but a third party, had allowed claim for negligence caused upon a duty of care by the manufacturer when mixing the ingredients.

Likewise, in Francis v Cockerell, a racecourse spectator injured through the collapse of a viewing stand, was able to recover not from the builder himself, but the agent of the venue.

However, on this occasion the appellant relied upon the words of Lord Brett MR in Heaven v Pender, who clarified that:

“[W]henever one person is by circumstances placed in such a position with regard to another that every one of ordinary sense who did think would at once recognize that if he did not use ordinary care and skill in his own conduct with regard to those circumstances he would cause danger of injury to the person or property of the other, a duty arises to use ordinary care and skill to avoid such danger…”

Heaven v Pender

Therefore, it was argued that regardless of contractual elements, there was by virtue of reasonableness and decency, an inherent encumbrance upon the respondent manufacturer to both evaluate and consider the position of the consumer when preparing and sealing his drinks; and that anything less than that consideration was tantamount to fundamental neglect and tortious liability.

Contrastingly, in Pender Esher LJ had also argued that:

“The question of liability for negligence cannot arise at all until it is established that the man who has been negligent owed some duty to the person who seeks to make him liable for his negligence. What duty is there when there is no relation between the parties by contract? A man is entitled to be as negligent as he pleases towards the whole world if he owes no duty to them.”

George v Skivington

While in Bates v Batey & Co Ltd, the manufacturers of ginger beer were not deemed liable for an injury caused to an unsuspecting consumer from a defect unknown, and yet discoverable through reasonable investigation.

And so, having evaluated the reluctance of the courts to extend in some instances, while offering generous judgment in others, it was (albeit by a narrow margin) decided that despite no contractual duties to envisage the effects of a contaminated product upon an innocent purchaser, there was an almost ethical prerequisite to remain diligent in the preparation and storage of such substances.

Hence, despite the Second Division of the Court of Session in Scotland’s refusal to acknowledge the appellant’s rights, the House reversed the finding and restored the order of the first judge, while reminding the parties that:

“[T]he omission to exercise reasonable care in the discovery of a defect in the manufacture of an article where the duty of examination exists is just as negligent as the negligent construction itself.”

Book your Free Consultation