Thorne v Motor Trade Association: HL 1937

The House confirmed a declaration granted as to validity of a rule of association notwithstanding the absence of any dispute. The House considered the nature of the threat required to establish a defence of duress.
Lord Wright observed that the word ‘menaces’ is to be liberally construed and is not limited to threats of violence, but includes threats of any action detrimental, or unpleasant, to the person addressed. It may also include a warning that in certain events such action is intended.
Lord Atkin said: ‘The ordinary blackmailer normally threatens to do what he has a perfect right to do – namely, communicate some compromising conduct to a person whose knowledge is likely to affect the person threatened. Often indeed he has not only the right but also the duty to make the disclosure, as of a felony, to the competent authorities. What he has to justify is not the threat, but the demand of money. The gravamen of the charge is the demand without reasonable or probable cause: and I cannot think that the mere fact that the threat is to do something a person is entitled to do either causes the threat not to be a ‘menace’ within the Act or in itself provides a reasonable or probable cause for the demand.’
and ‘It appears to me that if a man may lawfully, in the furtherance of business interests, do acts which will seriously injure another in his business he may also lawfully, if he is still acting in furtherance of his business interests, offer that other to accept a sum of money as an alternative to doing the injurious acts. He must no doubt be acting not for the mere purpose of putting money in his pocket, but for some legitimate purpose other than the mere acquisition of money.’
In this case ‘If the Council bona fide exercised this power with the bona fide intention only of carrying out this trade policy, in my opinion they would not be demanding the payment without reasonable and probable cause.’ but ‘It is plain that these rules and any similar rules of any other association in any other trade are capable of being abused: and if so nothing in this decision will prevent offenders from being subjected to criminal law. But if the rules were genuinely enforced I am satisfied that there would not be as in my opinion in Denyer’s case [1926] 2 KB 258 there was not, any evidence of an absence of reasonable or probable cause.’


Lord Atkin, Lord Wright


[1937] AC 797, [1937] 3 All ER 157


Larceny Act 1916 29(1)


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedR v Her Majesty’s Attorney-General for England and Wales PC 17-Mar-2003
PC (From Court of Appeal of New Zealand) T had been a member of the British SAS. Other members had written books and the Army sought to impose confidentiality contracts or to impose a return to their unit. R . .
CitedAMM v HXW QBD 7-Oct-2010
The claimant had sought and been granted an injunction to prevent the defendant publicising matters which had passed between them and which were he said private.
Held: The jurisdiction to grant such injunctions was now established. Publication . .
CitedCTN Cash and Carry v Gallaher CA 15-Feb-1993
The buyer paid a sum demanded by the seller who threatened otherwise to withdraw the credit facilities it provided to the buyer. The sum was not in fact due, but the demand had been made honestly. The buyer said the agreement was voidable for . .
CitedProgress Bulk Carriers Ltd v Tube City IMS Llc ComC 17-Feb-2012
The claimant sought to set aside an arbitration saying that the arbitrator had misapplied the test for economic duress. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Contract

Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.220490