Burton v Winters: CA 2 Jun 1993

The defendant’s garage had encroached by one brick’s width on the plaintiff’s land and had been built in 1975. The plaintiff obtained a declaration that that was the position in 1990 but was refused the mandatory injunction which she sought. The plaintiff would not accept this conclusion and she trespassed on, and interfered with, the defendant’s garage and land. The defendants obtained an injunction to restrain her from doing so, but she continued, and she was the subject of an application for committal for contempt, and she was committed for contempt for a period of two years. She appealed.
Held: She had not been entitled to use self help. Self help was wrong in a complicated case, but abatement is available in simple cases where the abatement would remove the nuisance and the cost of legal proceedings could not be justified. Self help to overcome a trespass by encroachment could rarely be justified.
Lloyd LJ discussed the relevant principles of self help: ‘Ever since the assize of nuisance became available, the courts have confined the remedy by way of self-redress to simple cases such as an overhanging branch, or an encroaching root, which would not justify the expense of legal proceedings, and urgent cases which require an immediate remedy. Thus, it was Bracton’s view that where there is resort to self-redress, the remedy should be taken without delay. In Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book III, chapter 1, we find: ‘And the reason why the law allows this private and summary method of doing one’s self justice, is because injuries of this kind, which obstruct or annoy such things as are of daily convenience and use, require an immediate remedy; and cannot wait for the slow progress of the ordinary forms of justice.’
The modern textbooks, both here and in other common law jurisdictions, follow the same line: see Salmond and Heuston on Torts, 20th ed. (1992) p. 485; Clerk and Lindsell on Torts, 16th ed. (1989) p. 36; Fleming, The Law of Torts, 7th ed. (1987), p. 415 and Prosser and Keeton, The Law of Torts, 4th ed. (1971), p.641. In Prosser and Keeton we find: ‘Consequently the privilege [of abatement] must be exercised within a reasonable time after knowledge of the nuisance is acquired or should have been acquired by the person entitled to abate; if there has been sufficient delay to allow resort to legal process, the reason for the privilege fails, and the privilege with it.’
. . And: ‘In my opinion, this never was an appropriate case for self-redress, even if the plaintiff had acted promptly. There was no emergency. There were difficult questions of law and fact to be considered and the remedy by way of self-redress, if it resulted in the demolition of the garage wall, would have been out of all proportion to the damage suffered by the plaintiff.’ As to the refusal of the mandatory injunction he said: ‘Self redress is a summary remedy, which is justified only in clear and simple cases, or in an emergency.’
Anthony Lloyd LJ
Gazette 02-Jun-1993, [1993] 1 WLR 1077, [1993] 3 All ER 847
England and Wales
CitedMoffett v Brewer 1848
Greene J said: ‘This summary method of redressing a grievance, by the act of an injured party, should be regarded with great jealousy, and authorised only in cases of particular emergency, requiring a more speedy remedy than can be had by the . .

Cited by:
AppliedChamberlain v Lindon Admn 18-Mar-1998
The appellant challenged the dismissal of his private prosecution of the defendant in destroying a new garden wall. The magistrates had found a lawful excuse in that the defendant said that the wall had been constructed to obstruct his private right . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 09 April 2021; Ref: scu.78775