East Suffolk Rivers Catchment Board v Kent: HL 1941

An exceptionally high spring tide caused many breaches of the banks of the River Deben, and extensive flooding, including the respondent’s farm. By section 6 of the 1930 Act, the appellants had a statutory power to maintain the flood defences, but no duty to do so. They had however entered onto land to begin works.
Held: A statutory power could not in itself generate a common law duty of care. The respondents had argued that they had a duty to do and were in breach.
Lord Atkin (dissenting) said: ‘By going onto the land and commencing the work, the Catchment Board had done an act which created a common law duty to complete the work with reasonable despatch.’
and ‘I treat it therefore as established that a public authority whether doing an act which it is its duty to do, or doing an act which it is merely empowered to do, must in doing the act do it without negligence, or as it is put in some of the cases must not do it carelessly or improperly. Now quite apart from a duty owed to a particular individual which is the question in this case I suggest that it would be difficult to lay down that a duty upon a public authority to act without negligence or not carelessly or improperly does not include a duty to act with reasonable diligence by which I mean reasonable dispatch. I cannot imagine this House affording its support to a proposition so opposed to public interests where there are so many public bodies exercising statutory powers and employing public money upon them.’
Lord Romer, Lord Atkin
[1941] AC 74, [1940] UKHL 3
Land Drainage Act 1930 6
England and Wales
CitedSmith v Cawdle Fen, Ely (Cambridge) Commissioners 1938
The plaintiff’s land had been damaged by flooding. The defendants had power to execute works which might have prevented the floods.
Held: The defendants were under no duty, having only a power. The statute did not direct or require the . .
CitedGillett v Kent Rivers Catchment Board 1938
. .

Cited by:
DistinguishedStovin v Wise (Norfolk City Council, 3rd party) CA 16-Feb-1994
A road user was injured on a corner which was known to the highway authority to be dangerous. The authority had sought to make arrangements with the owner of land adjoining the highway to remove a bank which obstructed the view.
Held: The . .
DoubtedAnns and Others v Merton London Borough Council HL 12-May-1977
The plaintiff bought her apartment, but discovered later that the foundations were defective. The local authority had supervised the compliance with Building Regulations whilst it was being built, but had failed to spot the fault. The authority . .
CitedGorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .
CitedConnor v Surrey County Council CA 18-Mar-2010
The claimant teacher said that she suffered personal injury from stress after the board of governors improperly failed to protect her from from false complaints. The Council now appealed against an award of substantial damages.
Held: The . .
CitedMichael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
CitedCapital and Counties Plc and Another v Hampshire County Council; Etc CA 20-Mar-1997
Three cases were brought against fire services after what were said to be negligent responses to call outs. On one, the fire brigade was called to a fire at office premises in Hampshire. The fire triggered the operation of a heat-activated sprinkler . .
CitedRobinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police SC 8-Feb-2018
Limits to Police Exemption from Liability
The claimant, an elderly lady was bowled over and injured when police were chasing a suspect through the streets. As they arrested him they fell over on top of her. She appealed against refusal of her claim in negligence.
Held: Her appeal . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 27 October 2021; Ref: scu.179787