Supreme Court ruling relating to injunctions and noise nuisance

Anna Bevan-Jones

On 26 February 2014, the Supreme Court handed down an important judgment in Coventry (t/a RDC Promotions) v Lawrence relating to the principles of private nuisance, a common law tort, and also when an injured party would be entitled to an injunction in preference to a pure damages remedy.

Restoring the trial judge’s original order, the Supreme Court found that there had been noise nuisance caused by the respondent’s stadium used for speedway and other motorcar racing. In doing so the Justices determined that:

  • the right to emit noise is capable of being an easement acquired by prescription;
  • the fact that the claimant had “come to the nuisance” (that it had begun before the claimant acquired or started to occupy the property) was not a defence to a nuisance claim, at least where the claimant’s predecessors had used the property for the same purpose since before the alleged nuisance had started;
  • a defendant’s own activities should be taken into account in determining the “character of the local neighbourhood”, but only insofar as they did not amount to a nuisance. To the extent that the defendant’s activities constituted a nuisance, they were to be left out of account; and
  • planning permission to carry out the activity which causes nuisance is normally not of assistance as a defence to a nuisance claim (although it could be a factor in favour of the court refusing an injunction and awarding the claimant damages instead).

Where a claimant establishes that the defendant’s activities constitute a nuisance, although the starting point is that the claimant is entitled to an injunction to restrain such nuisance in the future, as in other injunction cases, the court has power to award damages instead of an injunction in an appropriate case. In practice, however, the case of Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co [1895] 1 Ch 287 is often relied on in nuisance cases to prevent the award of damages in situations other than where the injury to the claimant’s legal rights is small, capable of being estimated in money and adequately compensated by a small money payment, and it will not be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction. The most notable example of this is Regan v Paul Properties DPF No. 1 Ltd [2007] Ch 135.

The Justices were critical of the rigid application of Shelfer: the courts should take a more flexible approach to the question of whether to award damages instead of an injunction, and should not regard the case as “a fetter on the exercise of the court’s discretion”. It could still be appropriate to grant an injunction even where some of the conditions set out in Shelfer were not satisfied. Where all the conditions were satisfied, it would, in the absence of additional relevant circumstances pointing the other way, normally be right to refuse an injunction and award damages.

The Justices also appeared to be careful to highlight the difference between noise nuisance and rights of light when it comes to the issue of determining whether damages should be awarded in lieu of an injunction. However, the case does indicate that the courts may adopt a more flexible approach when applying their discretion and deciding on an appropriate remedy. Accordingly the case is likely to be of great interest to property practitioners

For further details, please see the article here.

Coventry (t/a RDC Promotions) and others v Lawrence and another [2014] UKSC 1

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