Sorrell v Smith: HL 1925

Torts of Conspiracy by Unlawful Means

The plaintiff had struck the first blow in a commercial battle between the parties, and the defendant then defended himself, whereupon the plaintiff sued him.
Lord Cave quoted the French saying: ‘cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend’.
Held: A fraud automatically amounts to unlawful means for the purpose of the tort of unlawful means conspiracy.
Viscount Cave LC said: ‘I deduce as material for the decision of the present case two propositions of law, which may be stated as follows:- (1.) A combination of two or more persons wilfully to injure a man in his trade is unlawful and, if it results in damage to him, is actionable.
(2.) If the real purpose of the combination is, not to injure another, but forward or defend the trade of those who enter into it, then no wrong is committed and no action will lie, although damage to another ensues.’ and as to the second point: ‘(c) The second proposition, of course, assumes the absence of means which are in themselves unlawful, such as violence or the threat of violence or fraud.’
Lord Dunedin said: ‘Now the moment that that is recognised, ie, that the essence of conspiracy on which civil action is founded is a criminal conspiracy, though of course unless actual damage has followed no civil action will lie, the moment that fact is recognised, you at once bring in the spirit of the criminal law, where motive or intention-the mens rea-is everything.’

Viscount Cave LC, Lord Dunedin
[1925] AC 700, [1925] All ER 1
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedTotal Network Sl v Customs and Excise Commissioners CA 31-Jan-2007
The defendants suspected a carousel VAT fraud. The defendants appealed a finding that there was a viable cause of action alleging a ‘conspiracy where the unlawful means alleged is a common law offence of cheating the public revenue’. The defendants . .
CitedCrofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co Ltd v Veitch SCS 1940
Lord Justice Clerk Aitchison said: ‘When the end of a combination is not a crime or a tort in the accepted sense, and the means are not in the accepted sense criminal or tortious – cases which give rise to no difficulty – the question always is – . .
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 . .
CitedDigicel (St Lucia) Ltd and Others v Cable and Wireless Plc and Others ChD 15-Apr-2010
The claimants alleged breaches of legislation by members of the group of companies named as defendants giving rise to claims in conspiracy to injure by unlawful means. In effect they had been denied the opportunity to make interconnections with . .
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: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.248341