Tort Law – Trespass

  • Last updated Jul 21, 2016 5:15:35 PM
  • By Billy Sexton, Editor,

When you think of trespass, the first thing that probably springs to mind is an image of hooded youths of an American suburb, sneaking around in the overgrown garden of an estranged, mysterious neighbour. The youths are curious teens, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the deafening sound of a shotgun rings around the neighbourhood…

You’re quite right that trespass to land amounts to one form of trespass. The other two are trespass to the person and trespass to goods. Let’s run through each one, shall we?

Trespass to the person

Trespass to the person can also take three forms: assault, battery and false imprisonment.

Assault is where the defendant acts in a way that the claimant is put in fear of violence. It’s important to note that there is no requirement for punches need to be thrown. This has been established in case law, specifically R v Costanza 1997, whereby the defendant sent 800 threatening letters, followed the victim home, wrote offensive words on her front door and stole items from her washing line. This resulted in the claimant suffering from clinical depression and the defendant was charged with ABH under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Assault is justified in situations of self-defence and also in a sport such as boxing, where consent is present.

Battery is different to assault in that it requires force, direct application and intent. There only needs to be proof of contact as opposed to proof of injury. Additionally, there only needs to be an intention of the act, not an intention to harm. Indeed, in Nash v Sheen, a hairdresser put a tone rinse on the claimant instead of a perm, but was liable for battery after it caused a rash. As with assault, consent and self-defence are defences to battery. There is also a defence of necessity. For example, a paramedic may need to touch a person in order to provide emergency aid.

False imprisonment deprives the claimant of movement without lawful justification for doing so. Intention is not needed, but it must be caused by a deliberate act. In Sayers v Harlow Urban District Council 1958, it was decided that a faulty lock that was not deliberate and therefore didn’t amount to false imprisonment. Convicted criminals cannot be falsely imprisoned, nor can a suspect arrested in line with the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Trespass to goods

Next time you nab a squirt of your housemates shampoo because yours has ran out (or perhaps they have some Head & Shoulders), you could be liable for trespass to goods, which is defined as “wrongful physical interference with goods that are in the possession of another”. Now you’re panicking!

Just kidding. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be taken to court for pinching a bit of shampoo, as ‘physical interference’ usually amounts to taking or destroying goods. However, in Kirk v Gregory, the defendant moved jewellery which was later stolen (ahh, sugar!) and it was held that there was a trespass to goods.

Defences include statutory authority (if the police have to take an item as evidence), consent, and where it is necessary to interfere with the goods.

Trespass to land

A trespass to land involves (you guessed it), unjustifiable interference to somebody else’s land. Interference must be physical and direct for obvious reasons; it’s pretty tough to trespass on land when you aren’t actually on that land! Trespass can be committed negligently or accidentally.

And it’s not just a lovely mowed lawn or some neatly arranged gravel that can be trespassed upon. Airspace and stuff below the ground (including treasure!) is also included in trespass of the land. The Civil Aviation Act 1982 ruled that it is not trespass if an aircraft is flying at a reasonable height. For example, an overhanging crane can be trespassing but a plane merely flying over your house whilst on a standard flight path is not trespassing.

Defences to trespass to land include license (which is express or implied permission from the possessor to be on the land) and justification by law (such as an Hollywood style drug raid). Is it ever necessary to trespass on land? It can be. In Esso Petroleum v Southport Corporation 1956, a ship captain committed trespass in allowing oil to flood a shoreline. However, this was necessary to protect the ship and crew.

Bish, bash, bosh! All the essential info on trespassing and a super useful article when it comes to tort law revision! 

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