No Defence of Homelessness to Squatters
The defendants, in dire need of housing accommodation entered empty houses owned by the plaintiff local authority as squatters. The court considered the defence of necessity.
Held: The proper use of abandoned council properties is best determined by political decision making processes. Squatters, in urgent need of accommodation, could not claim a defence of necessity because the peril they found themselves in was ‘an obstinate and longstanding state of affairs’, rather than an immediate or emergent threat. The court denied that if a starving beggar takes the law into his own hands and steals food he is not guilty of theft.
Lord Denning MR said: ‘If homelessness were once admitted as a defence to trespass, no one’s house could be safe. Necessity would open a door no man could shut. It would not only be those in extreme need who would enter. There would be others who would imagine they were in need or would invent a need, so as to gain entry. The plea would be an excuse for all sorts of wrongdoing. So the courts must refuse to admit the plea of necessity to the hungry and the homeless: and trust that their distress will be relieved by the charitable and good.’
Edmund Davies LJ said: ‘But when and how far is the plea of necessity available to one who is prima facie guilty of tort? Well, one thing emerges with clarity from the decisions and that is that the law regards with the deepest suspicion any remedies of self-help and permits those remedies to be resorted to only in very special circumstances. The reason for such circumspection is clear -necessity can very easily become simply a mask for anarchy.’
Lord Denning MR, Edmund-Davies LJ
 1Ch 734,  2 All ER 175,  2 WLR 467
England and Wales
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Torts – Other, Crime, Housing, Land
Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.183171