Law of Tort: Public Nuisance

logoPublic Nuisance

Public Nuisance is primarily a criminal offence, which is how most claims come to court. However, Public Nuisance is also a tort. The essence of public nuisance is that it protects the health, safety, convenience and morals of the public. An example of this is a member of Fathers for Justice climbing a crane, which then forces the authorities to close a road. This would be inconvenient, and would constitute a Public Nuisance.

There are three main requirements for a Public Nuisance claim:

  • Must show a class of people have been affected (A class of her majesty’s subject’s AG v PYA Quarries [1957] 2 QB 169: “materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of a life of a class of Her Majesty’s subjects”).
  • Members of this class must have suffered the same injury. E.g. all being affected by a right of way being obstructed.
  • Balancing Exercise – (Lyons v Gulliver) Regular extensive queues is not fine outside a theatre because you’re selling cheap tickets, but unloading a van as a one off, would not be a public nuisance.

There are also three main ways a Public Nuisance claim can make its way into court:

  1. End up in Court after being arrested for creating a Public Nuisance.
  2. Attorney General has the power, but not a duty to apply to the high court seeking an injunction on behalf of the community.
  3. If you’re a member of a class, and you suffer loss over and above what everyone else in that class has, you can sue for damages to cover your extra loses. An example of this is if your car is damaged by cricket balls as in Miller v Jackson, you can claim the damages to cover the repairs to your vehicle, but everyone else cannot.

Differences between Private and Public Nuisance

  • Public Nuisance is a criminal offence as well as a tort.
  • Public Nuisance deals with personal injury, and Private does not allow for a personal injury claim.
  • Private Nuisance solely about protection of land, whereas Public Nuisance is not.
  • Private Nuisance need only affect one person, whereas Public needs to affect a class of people.
  • Halsey v ESSO – Oil depot in a housing estate in Fulham. Oil tankers causing noise all the time would be private nuisance, but the tankers congesting the roads is a public nuisance. There is overlap between both the Nuisance torts. If smut gets on your car it escapes, so would be a Ryland’s case.
  • Private Nuisance defence of prescription cannot work for Public because you can never acquire the right to commit a crime.



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