Feather v The Queen: 1865

Mr Feather had invented way of protecting ships against shot and obtained an exclusive patent. The Crown then had a ship constructed in a way that infringed the patent. As patentee Mr Feather asked for recompense; by petition of right he asked for pounds 10,000 as compensation for the damage he had suffered. Much of the case was concerned with whether an exclusive patent granted by the Crown barred free use by the Crown of the method revealed by the patent.
Held: It did not. As to whether a petition of right could be used against the Crown in respect of the alleged wrong, the court (obiter) held that Tobin was correct.
Cockburn CJ said: ‘Now, apart altogether from the question of procedure, a petition of right in respect of a wrong, in the legal sense of the term, shews no right to legal redress against the Sovereign. For the maxim that the King can do no wrong applies to personal as well as to political wrongs; and not only to wrongs done personally by the Sovereign, if such a thing can be supposed to be possible, but to injuries done to a subject by the authority of the Sovereign. For, from the maxim that the King cannot do wrong it follows, as a necessary consequence, that the King cannot authorize wrong. For to authorize a wrong to be done is to do a wrong; inasmuch as the wrongful act, when done, becomes, in law, the act of him who directed or authorized it to be done. It follows that a petition of right which complains of a tortious act by the Crown, or by a public servant by the authority of the Crown, discloses no matter of complaint which can entitle the petitioner to redress. As in the eye of the law no such wrong can be done, so, in law, no right to redress can arise; and the petition, therefore, which rests on such a foundation falls at once to the ground. Let it not, however, be supposed that a subject sustaining a legal wrong at the hands of the minister of the Crown is without a remedy. As the Sovereign cannot authorize wrong to be done, the authority of the Crown would afford no defence to an action brought for an illegal act committed by an officer of the Crown.’ and

‘It is established on the best authority that, in construing grants from the Crown, a different rule of construction prevails from that by which grants from one subject to another are to be construed. In a grant from one subject to another, every intendment is to be made against the grantor, in favour of the grantee, in order to give full effect to the grant; but in grants from the Crown an opposite rule prevails. Nothing passes except that which is expressed, or which is matter of necessity and unavoidable intendment in order to give effect to the plain and undoubted intention of the grant. And in no species of grant does this rule of construction more especially obtain than in grants which emanate from and operate in derogation of, the prerogative of the Crown.’

Cockburn CJ
(1865) 6 B and S 257
England and Wales
CitedTobin v The Queen 1864
The Commander of a Queen’s ship, employed in the suppression of the slave trade on the coast of Africa, seized a schooner belonging to the suppliant, which he suspected of being engaged in slave traffic. It being inconvenient to take the ship to . .

Cited by:
CitedRoberts v Swangrove Estates Ltd and Another ChD 14-Mar-2007
The court heard preliminary applications in a case asserting acquisition of land by adverse possession, the land being parts of the foreshore of the Severn Estuary.
Held: A person may acquire title to part of the bed of a tidal river by . .
CitedCrown Estate Commissioners v Roberts and Another ChD 13-Jun-2008
The defendant claimed ownership as Lord Marcher of St Davids of historical rights in foreshores in Pembrokeshire. The claimants sought removal of his cautions against first registration.
Held: Lewison J explored the history of manorial . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Intellectual Property, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.267402