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11. Duncan V Jones October 17, 1935

In depressed economic times and with growing social discontent, the law dealt firmly with people wanting to exercise free speech. This case curtailed the extent of freedom of speech for decades. On May 25, 1933, Katherine Duncan addressed a meeting in Nynehead Street in London’s New Cross, opposite the entrance of an unemployed training centre. The meeting led to a disturbance at the training centre and the superintendant called the police. A year later, about 30 people including Duncan held another meeting in the same street. Duncan was about to mount a box placed in the roadway when the chief constable told her that the congregation had to move to another street 175 yards away. She ignored him and began to step on the box to address the meeting; she was swiftly arrested and prosecuted for unlawfully and wilfully obstructing the police officer when in the execution of his duty. There was no obstruction of the highway except for the box and the presence of the people surrounding it. Neither Duncan nor any of the persons present at the meeting had either committed, incited or provoked a breach of the peace. Nevertheless, Duncan was convicted and fined. Her appeal was dismissed.

12. Sim V Stretch July 23, 1936

Although resembling a vivid 1930s theatrical farce, this case decided an important point of defamation law, clarifying how much can be read into certain types of communication. Herbert Stretch’s housemaid left his service and returned to work for another man, Sim, for whom she had previously worked. She re-entered Sim’s service on April 12, 1934. On that date, Sim sent a telegram to Stretch informing him that “Edith has resumed her service with us today. Please send her possessions and the money you borrowed, also her wages to Old Barton.” Stretch claimed these words were defamatory and that Sim was insinuating he had money troubles that forced him to borrow from his housemaid. It was held that the words complained of were not reasonably capable of a defamatory meaning and he lost the action.

13. Warner Brothers Pictures Inc V Nelson October 20, 1936

This case formulated an important part of contract law. It said that an injunction will be granted to stop someone breaking a contract and going to work for a rival company if the term in their contract was not so severe as to face them with starvation unless they kept the contract. Before she was famous, the film star Bette Davis (original name Bette Nelson) signed a contract with Warner Brothers for one year. The studio had the option of extending it and Davis agreed she would not undertake other film work without its written consent. When she tried to make a film with another company, Warner sought an injunction. The court granted an injunction for the remainder of the contract or for three years, whichever was the shorter. Davis wasn’t faced with the option “work for Warner or starve” because she could work for other companies so long as she didn’t make films. In other words, the contract was not too oppressive, so she was bound by it.

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