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8. Overseas Tankship (uk) Ltd V Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd January 19, 1961

This landmark case decides the test for working out whether a defendant who starts a series of unusual events is liable to pay compensation for the damage they cause. The ruling was by the Privy Council on an appeal from Australia but it also changed English law, as it was later followed by English courts. Through carelessness, furnace oil from a ship in Sydney harbour was spilt into a bay. The oil spread over the water to a wharf 600 feet away where wharf owners were carrying out repairs to a ship, including welding metal. Molten metal from the wharf dripped down on to floating cotton waste which ignited the furnace oil on the water. The wharf was badly burnt in the resulting fire. The wharf owners sued for damages but the court found that the ship owners could not reasonably have known that the furnace oil was capable of being set alight when spread on water. It was held that the test of liability for the damage done by fire was whether it was “reasonably foreseeable” in the circumstances.

9. Ridge V Baldwin March 15, 1963

This case cemented into English law a key principle of natural justice: that a court or tribunal cannot come to a fair decision unless both sides have been heard or have been given the chance to be heard. It was held by the House of Lords that the former Chief Constable of Brighton, Charles Ridge, had been unfairly dismissed in breach of the principles of natural justice. He had brought a legal action against George Baldwin of the Brighton police committee, in which he asked for a declaration that their termination of his appointment as chief constable was illegal and beyond the powers of the authority. At the core of his allegation was that at the appropriate time, no specific charge was notified to him and he was not given an opportunity of being heard. His solicitor was given an opportunity at one stage to address a committee but had been given no particulars of the case against him. Lord Reid recognised the cherished principle of the law audi alteram partem, which means a judge in a dispute should allow both parties to be heard and should listen to the point of view of each, or at least given an opportunity of each to speak.

10. Hedley Byrne & Co V Heller & Partners Ltd May 29, 1963

This House of Lords case took the duty of care into the realm of advice. The law had previously applied only to manufacturers, but this ruling affected everyone from architects to zoo consultants. It now applied to anyone who gave advice in the course of their job. It began when a bank phoned a merchant bank to check on the financial position of a potential client, Easipower Ltd, which wanted to borrow money to fund advertising. The bank promised the merchant bank would be “without responsibility” in providing the information. After Easipower went into liquidation, out of pocket advertising agents sued the merchant bank to recover their losses, but lost. They would have won were it not for the “without responsibility” disclaimer.

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