Howard v Shirlstar Container Transport Ltd: CA 1990

The parties contracted for the recovery from Nigeria of an aircraft owned by the defendants which was being detained by the Nigerian authorities at Lagos. Under the contract, the plaintiff was entitled to recover a fee of andpound;25,000 if he ‘successfully’ removed the aircraft from Nigerian airspace. He succeeded in so doing, in so far as he, at some risk to his life, flew the aircraft out of Lagos as far as the Ivory Coast, where however the aircraft was impounded by the authorities and returned by them to Nigeria. The plaintiffs claim for the balance of his fee was met by the defence of illegality, on the ground that he took off without obtaining the necessary clearance in breach of air traffic control regulations at Lagos; in fact he had left in a hurry, without obtaining clearance, because he had been warned that his and his wireless operator’s lives were in danger and that he would not be given permission to take off.
Held: The defence of illegality failed. The Court relied explicitly on the public conscience test, holding that the conscience of the court would not be affronted by enforcing the plaintiffs claim under the contract for the balance of his fee.
The presumption against surplusage is of little weight in the interpretation of commercial contracts.


Staughton LJ


[1990] 1 WLR 1292, [1990] 3 All ER 366


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedHounga v Allen and Another SC 30-Jul-2014
The appellant, of Nigerian origin had been brought here at the age of 14 with false identity papers, and was put to work caring for the respondent’s children. In 2008 she was dismissed and ejected from the house. She brought proceedings alleging . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 20 May 2022; Ref: scu.553658