Heaton’s Transport (St Helen’s) Ltd v Transport and General Workers’ Union: HL 1972

Injunctions had been granted against the Trades Unions to prevent them undertaking stike action. Proceedings for contempt were brought against the union after blacking had continued, despite the fact that the union through its national and local officers had advised its shop stewards to obey the court order, which advice had been rejected. The House considered the position of shop stewards involved in breaching the injunctions.
Held: The defendant association, once under order from the court to require its shop stewards to desist from the unfair industrial practice of ‘blacking’ container transport firms, had not done everything which it could be expected to do so. The fact that they were agents rather than servants was unimportant. In each case the test to be applied is the same: was the servant or agent acting on behalf of, and within the scope of the authority conferred by, the master or principal? The governor of the prison had been summoned to attend without having been party to the undertaking.
An unincorporated association might be vicariously liable for the tortious acts of one or more of its members.
There can be a contempt if an act intentionally done amounts to a breach of the order: a wilful breach was not the same as, ‘contumacious or insulting behaviour or interference with the administration of justice’.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘The question to be considered is whether the disobedience was ‘wilful’ in accordance with the established meaning of that word in relation to contempt of court by disobedience to an order of the court. It is important to note that there is no question here of contumacious or insulting behaviour or interference with the administration of justice. There has been simply a disobedience to the court’s injunction by the party restrained by the injunction, and the disobedience has been committed by that party through its agents.’
In considering the established meaning of ‘wilful’ for the purposes of the law of contempt, Lord Wilberforce reviewed a number of authorities, in the light of which he said that the statement of the law by Warrington J in Stancomb had acquired high authority: ‘It is also the reasonable view, because the party in whose favour an order has been made is entitled to have it enforced, and also the effective administration of justice normally requires some penalty for disobedience to an order of a court if the disobedience is more than casual or accidental and unintentional’.
Lord Wilberforce
[1973] AC 15, [1972] IRLR 25, [1972] 3 All ER 101
England and Wales
Cited by:

  • Cited – Godrich and Serwotka v Public and Commercial Services Union and Reamsbottom ChD 31-Jul-2002
    The second defendant had become General Secretary of the first defendant after the amalgamation of two unions. The defendants agreed a compromise as to his term of office. The applicants sought declarations that they were now joint secretary.
    [2002] EWHC 1642 (Ch)
  • Cited – Beggs v Scottish Ministers HL 7-Feb-2007
    The claimant, a serving prisoner, had sought to sue the prison authorities for the conditions in which he was kept. He complained that his correspondence with his lawyers had been unlwafully opened by the prison. Repeatedly, undertakings were given . .
    [2007] UKHL 3, Times 08-Feb-07, (2007) 151 SJLB 258, [2007] 1 WLR 455, 2007 SCLR 287, 2007 SLT 235, 2007 GWD 5-72
  • Cited – The Highland Council v TGWU and Unison EAT 3-Jun-2008
    EAT EQUAL PAY ACT: Equal value

    Equal Pay claims. Whether letters sent to local authority employers by unions prior to coming into force of the statutory grievance procedures met the requirements of regulation . .
    [2008] UKEAT 0048 – 07 – 0306, [2008] IRLR 858, [2008] ICR 1150

  • Cited – The Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others v Various Claimants and The Institute of The Brothers of The Christian Schools and Others SC 21-Nov-2012
    Law of vicarious liability is on the move
    Former children at the children’s homes had sought damages for sexual and physical abuse. The court heard arguments as to the vicarious liability of the Society for abuse caused by a parish priest visiting the school. The Court of Appeal had found . .
    [2012] UKSC 56, UKSC 2010/0230, [2012] WLR(D) 335, [2013] 1 All ER 670, [2013] IRLR 219, [2013] PIQR P6, [2013] ELR 1, [2012] 3 WLR 1319, [2013] 2 AC 1
  • Cited – Jones, Re (Alleged Contempt of Court) FD 21-Aug-2013
    The Solicitor General sought the committal of the respondent for alleged contempt of court. There had been repeated litigation between the respondent and her former husband as to whether the children should live in Spain with the father or in Wales . .
    [2013] EWHC 2579 (Fam), [2014] 1 FLR 852

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 30 November 2020; Ref: scu.248818