Metropolitan Asylum District Managers v Hill: HL 7 Mar 1881

There was an allegation that the managers had been committing an actionable nuisance, alternatively that they had been negligent in and about the construction and maintenance of a hospital for small-pox patients in Hampstead. The trial judge had refused to allow the plaintiffs to adduce evidence concerning two other hospitals maintained by the same managers in Stockwell and Homerton. The plaintiffs offered this evidence to show that in two recent small-pox epidemics there was more disease in the neighbourhood of those hospitals than in other similar localities which had no small-pox hospital.
Held: (Majority) Such evidence was admissible in principle, so long as its probative value was clearly identified. The test should be that the evidence was capable of establishing a reasonable presumption or inference as to the matter in dispute and that it was reasonably conclusive, not raising ‘a difficult and doubtful controversy of precisely the same kind as the jury have to determine’. Lord Blackburn and Lord O’Hagan, dissenting however, expressed anxiety about the need for strict judicial control over the evidence to be admitted at a civil trial. Lord O’Hagan rejected the evidence altogether. Lord Blackburn said: ‘I am sensible of the force of the remark that such inquiries might be pushed so far as to make a trial of such an issue by a jury impracticable, and as the laws of evidence are framed with a view to a trial at Nisi Prius, I should not like, without further argument and consideration, to say positively that such evidence might not be properly rejected on the ground that a proceeding at Nisi Prius ought to be restrained within practicable limits, though I am not prepared to decide that it might properly be so rejected, and I do not think that it is necessary to decide this point.’

Lord Watson: ‘Still, there appears to me to be an appreciable distinction between evidence having a direct relation to the principal question in dispute and evidence relating to collateral facts, which will, if established, tend to elucidate that question. It is the right of the party tendering it to have evidence of the former kind admitted, irrespective of its amount or weight, these remaining for consideration when his case is closed; but I am not prepared to hold that he has the same absolute right when he tenders evidence of facts collateral to the main issue. In order to entitle him to give such evidence, he must, in the first instance, satisfy the court that the collateral fact which he proposes to prove will, when established, be capable of affording a reasonable presumption or inference as to the matter in dispute; and I am disposed to hold that he is also bound to satisfy the court that the evidence which he is prepared to adduce will be reasonably conclusive, and will not raise a difficult and doubtful controversy of precisely the same kind as that which the jury have to determine. It appears to me that it might lead to unfortunate results if the court had not the power to reject evidence of collateral fact which does not satisfy both of the conditions which I have endeavoured to indicate. If it be the right of a litigant to offer just as much or as little testimony as he thinks fit in support of an alleged collateral fact, which would admittedly be useful if proved, then it must be his right to submit to the jury any number of issues precisely similar to that which they are empanelled to try, and to support these by proof far more unsatisfactory than the evidence bearing directly upon the leading issue.’

Lord Selborne LC, Lord Blackburn, Lord Watson
(1881) 6 App Cas 193 HL, (1882) 47 LT 29, [1881] All ER 536, [1881] UKLawRpAC 12, (1880-1881) 6 App Cas 193
The Metropolitan Poor Act 1867
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedIn Re Smith Kline and French Laboratories Ltd HL 9-Feb-1989
The plaintiffs had applied for a product licence for a patented drug. To support its application, it supplied the authority with confidential information which the authority now sought to make use of the confidential information when considering . .
CitedO’Brien v Chief Constable of the South Wales Police CA 23-Jul-2003
The claimant sought damages for malicious prosecution, and sought to adduce similar fact evidence. The defendant appealed an order admitting the evidence.
Held: Comparisons between admission of similar fact evidence in civil and criminal . .
AppliedLaws v Florinplace ChD 1981
The defendants purchased a shop in a residential area and used it as a sex shop. Residents claimed in nuisance, and sought an injunction.
Held: The claim raised an arguable cause of action, and the balance of convenience lay in favour of the . .
CitedO’Brien v Chief Constable of South Wales Police HL 28-Apr-2005
The claimant sought damages against the police, and wanted to bring in evidence of previous misconduct by the officers on a similar fact basis. They had been imprisoned and held for several years based upon admissions which they said they had . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Evidence, Nuisance

Updated: 28 November 2021; Ref: scu.182806