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16. Percival V Wright June 24, 1902

This case shaped company law for decades by limiting the legal power of shareholders. It involved a group of shareholders in a colliery company called Nixons Navigation that wrote to the company secretary offering to sell their shares. The chairman and two other directors bought the shares at a favourable price. They quietly rubbed their hands with glee, knowing that an offer was soon to be made by a third party for a substantially higher price. Shareholders later discovered their dubious behaviour and applied to the court to cancel the sale. They argued that the directors should have acted in a trustworthy way. However, the shareholders lost the case because the duty owed by the directors was to the company, not to them. The ruling curtailed shareholder power for much of the 20th-century, though shareholders can today sue in such circumstances.

17. Nash V Inman March 6, 1908

A case loved by law students for its archaic language of social class. It is a nice illustration of how the social axioms of an era become embedded in law. The action was brought by a Savile Row tailor for £145 for clothes supplied to the defendant while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The son of an architect who had a town house in Hampstead and a country house near Havant, the defendant was legally a minor at the time and therefore only legally liable for contracts that were for “necessaries”. The clothes supplied included, among other things, eleven fancy waistcoats at two guineas each. It was shown that the defendant already had a good supply of clothes suitable to his status in life so the new ones were not “necessaries”. That meant the tailor lost his claim.

18. Walters V wh Smith & Son October 30, 1913

How far people other than the police have the power to arrest each other is an intriguing question. This case set the rules for decades. A private shop detective arrested the claimant on suspicion that he had stolen a book from one of the defendant’s shops. It turned out he hadn’t. It was held that a citizen can make an arrest after an offence has been committed but the arrest will be lawful only if the accused was guilty and the arrester had “reasonable and probable cause” for his suspicion. That wasn’t so in this case and the claimant was awarded £75 damages for false imprisonment. Today, you can make a citizen’s arrest only if you satisfy a string of requirements, including that that there were reasonable grounds for your suspicion and that you had reasonable grounds for believing that it was necessary to prevent injury, property damage or loss.

19. De Keyser’s Royal Hotel V Spicer Bros January 24, 1914

There is nothing like noise nuisance to get people resorting to the law. The law here hinges on that most assuring and magical word: reasonable. This case sent soothing news to the sleep-deprived and sent reverberations through the construction industry. The defendants used a steam pile-driving machine during the night on a building site near the claimant’s hotel. It was held that in conducting building operations it is not reasonable and proper to operate a pile-driver at night if it means residents in an adjoining building cannot sleep. Such conduct was liable to be restrained by injunction. The injunction was granted to stop the work between 10.00pm and 6.30am.

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