Lonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2): HL 1 Apr 1981

No General Liability in Tort for Wrongful Acts

The plaintiff had previously constructed an oil supply pipeline from Beira to Mozambique. After Rhodesia declared unilateral independence, it became a criminal offence to supply to Rhodesia without a licence. The plaintiff ceased supply as required, but complained that the defendants had continued to make supplies by an act which was now a criminal conspiracy, and that that continued supply had the effect of prolonging the sanctions to the cost of the plaintiff.
Held: There is no overarching principle in English law of liability in tort for ‘unlawful, intentional and positive acts.’ The effect of any conspiracy was too indirect. An actionable conspiracy only arose where the agreement was directed to adversely affecting the plaintiff’s interests. That was not the case here. The sanctions breach gave no right of action to the plaintiff even though a criminal act may have been committed, and they might have suffered special damage.
Lord Diplock explained the general rule that where the only manner of enforcement created by a statute is the criminal law ‘that performance cannot be enforced in any other manner’. There were only two exceptions: where upon the true construction of the legislation the prohibition was imposed for the protection of a particular class of individuals, and where the statute creates a public right and individual members of the public suffer ‘particular, direct, and `substantial damage’ other and different from that which was common to all the rest of the public’. And ‘The civil tort of conspiracy to injure the plaintiff’s commercial interests where that is the predominant purpose of the agreement between the defendants and of the acts done in execution of it which caused damage to the plaintiff, must I think be accepted by this House as too well-established to be discarded however anomalous it may seem today.’ Lord Diplock asked whether it was necessary to establish an intention to injure where the conspiracy involved action that contravened penal law: ‘This House, in my view, has an unfettered choice whether to confine the civil action of conspiracy to the narrow field to which alone it has an established claim or whether to extend this already anomalous tort beyond those narrow limits that are all that common sense and the application of the legal logic of the decided cases require.
My Lords, my choice is unhesitatingly the same as that of Parker J and all three members of the Court of Appeal. I am against extending the scope of civil tort of conspiracy beyond acts done in execution of an agreement entered into by two or more persons for the purpose not of protecting their own interests but of injuring the interests of the plaintiff. ‘

Lord Bridge of Harwich, Lord Diplock
[1982] AC 173, [1981] 3 WLR 33, [1981] 2 All R 456
Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 1 2, Southern Rhodesia (Petroleum) Order 1965 (1965 2140) 1 4
England and Wales
OverruledEx parte Island Records CA 1978
An injunction is available to any person who can show that a private right or interest has been interfered with by a criminal act. . .
Appeal fromLonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2) CA 6-Mar-1981
Lonrho had supplied oil to Southern Rhodesia. It gave up this profitable business when the UK imposed sanctions on that country. It claimed that Shell had conspired unlawfully to break the sanctions, thereby prolonging the illegal regime in Southern . .
Dictum ApprovedButler (or Black) v Fife Coal Co, Ltd HL 19-Dec-1911
The court considered whether a civil remedy existed for breach of statutory duty. Lord Kinnear said: ‘If the duty be established, I do not think there is any serious question as to civil liability. There is no reasonable ground for maintaining that . .

Cited by:
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The Act created a monopoly for the claimant for the delivery of post. It asserted that the defendant was acting in beach of that monopoly, and sought damages.
Held: The Act made no provision for a civil claim for damages for breach of the Act. . .
CitedIS Innovative Software Ltd v Howes CA 19-Feb-2004
It was alleged that the defendant had backdated contracts of employment to a time when he had been employed by the claimant, and had induced staff to leave. The company appealed dismissal of its claim.
Held: The advantage of the court . .
CitedThree Rivers District Council and Others v Governor and Company of The Bank of England HL 18-May-2000
The applicants alleged misfeasance against the Bank of England in respect of the regulation of a bank.
Held: The Bank could not be sued in negligence, but the tort of misfeasance required clear evidence of misdeeds. The action was now properly . .
CitedMahonia Limited v JP Morgan Chase Bankwest Lb Ag QBD 3-Aug-2004
The Claimant claimed on a letter of credit issued by the Defendant on behalf of Enron Ltd, who asserted it was not liable to pay there having been unlawful behaviour by Enron Ltd. Swap agreements had been entered into, and the defendant said the . .
CitedIssa (Suing By her Next Friend and Father Issa) and Issa (Suing By her Next Friend and Father Issa) v Mayor and Burgesses of London Borough of Hackney CA 19-Nov-1996
A Local Authority found guilty of a statutory nuisance is not thereby liable for a civil damages suit. . .
CitedBermuda Cablevision Limited and others v Colica Trust Company Limited PC 6-Oct-1997
(Bermuda) An alternative remedy to winding up is available to a shareholder where oppressive conduct is alleged, though the main thrust is that the conduct is unlawful. . .
CitedKuwait Oil Tanker Company SAK and Another v Al Bader and Others CA 18-May-2000
The differences between tortious conspiracies where the underlying acts were either themselves unlawful or not, did not require that the conspiracy claim be merged in the underlying acts where those acts were tortious. A civil conspiracy to injure . .
CitedDouglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others (No 3) CA 18-May-2005
The principal claimants sold the rights to take photographs of their wedding to a co-claimant magazine (OK). Persons acting on behalf of the defendants took unauthorised photographs which the defendants published. The claimants had retained joint . .
CitedDouglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others; similar HL 2-May-2007
In Douglas, the claimants said that the defendants had interfered with their contract to provide exclusive photographs of their wedding to a competing magazine, by arranging for a third party to infiltrate and take and sell unauthorised photographs. . .
AppliedMetall und Rohstoff AG v Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette Inc and another QBD 29-Mar-1988
The plaintiff had suffered damage when given negligent advice. It obtained a judgment but the company became insolvent, and it now sought to sue the US parent company in conspiracy. The defendant said that to establish conspiracy it was necessary . .
CitedMetal und Rohstoff AG v Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette Inc CA 27-Jan-1989
The claimants sued for negligent advice and secured judgment. The defendant company became insolvent, and so the plaintiff now sued the US parent company alleging conspiracy. The court considered a tort of malicious prosecution of a civil claim, . .
CitedPowell and Another v Boldaz and others CA 1-Jul-1997
The plaintiff’s son aged 10 died of Addison’s Disease which had not been diagnosed. An action against the Health Authority was settled. The parents then brought an action against 5 doctors in their local GP Practice in relation to matters that had . .
CitedTotal Network Sl v Revenue and Customs HL 12-Mar-2008
The House was asked whether an action for unlawful means conspiracy was available against a participant in a missing trader intra-community, or carousel, fraud. The company appealed a finding of liability saying that the VAT Act and Regulations . .
CitedRegina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague, Weldon v Home Office HL 24-Jul-1991
The prisoner challenged the decision to place him in segregation under Prison Rule 43. Under rule 43(1) the initial power to segregate was given to ‘the governor’. The case arose from the fact that the governor of one prison had purported to . .
CitedCampbell v Gordon SC 6-Jul-2016
The employee was injured at work, but in a way excluded from the employers insurance cover. He now sought to make the sole company director liable, hoping in term to take action against the director’s insurance brokers for negligence, the director . .
CitedJSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov SC 21-Mar-2018
A had been chairman of the claimant bank. After removal, A fled to the UK, obtaining asylum. The bank then claimed embezzlement, and was sentenced for contempt after failing to disclose assets when ordered, but fled the UK. The Appellant, K, was A’s . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.182893