Attorney-General v PYA Quarries Ltd: CA 1957

In a relator action, an injunction was sought to prevent the respondent from emitting quantities of dust from their quarry. The court had to decide what were the constituents of the offence of a public nuisance, and how this differed from a private nuisance.
Held: Romer LJ said: ‘I do not propose to attempt a more precise definition of a public nuisance than those which emerge from the textbooks and authorities to which I have referred. It is, however, clear, in my opinion, that any nuisance is ‘public’ which materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of a class of Her Majesty’s subjects. The sphere of the nuisance may be described generally as ‘the neighbourhood’; but the question whether the local community within that sphere comprises a sufficient number of persons to constitute a class of the public is a question of fact in every case. It is not necessary, in my judgment, to prove that every member of the class has been injuriously affected; it is sufficient to show that a representative cross-section of the class has so been affected for an injunction to issue.’

Lord Justice Denning: ‘What is the difference between a public nuisance and a private nuisance? He [that is counsel] is right to raise it because it affects his clients greatly. The order against them restrains them from committing a public nuisance, not a private one. The classic statement of the difference is that a public nuisance affects Her Majesty’s subjects generally, whereas a private nuisance only affects particular individuals. But this does not help much. The question: ‘When do a number of individuals become Her Majesty’s subjects generally’ is as difficult to answer as the question: When does a group of people become a crowd? Everyone has his own views. Even the answer ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ will not command the assent of those present unless they first agree on ‘which two’. So here I decline to answer the question how many people are necessary to make up Her Majesty’s subjects generally. I prefer to look to the reason of the thing and to say that a public nuisance is a nuisance which is so widespread in its range or so indiscriminate in its effect that it would not be reasonable to expect one person to take proceedings on his own responsibility to put a stop to it, but that it should be taken on the responsibility of the community at large.’


Romer, Denning LJJ


[1957] 1 All ER 894, [1958] EWCA Civ 1, (1957) 121 JP 323, [1957] 2 QB 169, [1957] 2 WLR 770




England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedJan De Nul (Uk) Limited v NV Royale Belge CA 10-Oct-2001
The contractor undertook to dredge a stretch of river. Due to its failure to investigate properly, the result was the release of substantial volumes of silt into the estuary, to the damage of other river users and frontagers. The act amounted to a . .
CitedGoldstein, Rimmington v Regina CACD 28-Nov-2003
Two defendants appealed in respect of alleged offences under common law of causing a public nuisance. One had sent race hatred material, and the other bomb hoaxes, through the post. Both claimed that the offence was so ill defined as to be an . .
CitedRegina v Johnson CACD 14-May-1996
The defendant had used public telephones to cause nuisance, annoyance, harassment, alarm and distress. He had made hundreds of obscene telephone calls to at least 13 women, and was convicted of causing a public nuisance. He argued that no call . .
CitedRegina v Rimmington; Regina v Goldstein HL 21-Jul-2005
Common Law – Public Nuisance – Extent
The House considered the elements of the common law offence of public nuisance. One defendant faced accusations of having sent racially offensive materials to individuals. The second was accused of sending an envelope including salt to a friend as a . .
CitedBirmingham City Council v Shafi and Another CA 30-Oct-2008
The Council appealed a finding that the court did not have jurisdiction to obtain without notice injunctions to control the behaviour of youths said to be creating a disturbance, including restricting their rights to enter certain parts of the city . .
CitedNottingham City Council v Zain (a Minor) CA 31-Jul-2001
The council had power under the Act to seek, in its own name, an injunction to prevent an alleged drug-dealer minor to enter a housing estate, and put an end to public nuisances. The authority was not acting outside its powers if it considered the . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v Fearon Admn 10-Feb-2010
The prosecutor appealed against the defendant’s acquittal for causing a public nuisance in having approached a woman police officer posing as a prostitute. He said that as a single act it could not amount to a nuisance. The prosecutor argued that . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 05 August 2022; Ref: scu.188784