The recent decision in Coventry v Lawrence  UKSC 13 will transform our approach to nuisance claims. In Coventry the Claimants were private house owners living near the Defendant’s speedway race track in Suffolk. They brought a claim against the Defendants for nuisance – primarily noise. At trial they were awarded an injunction to stop the Defendants from using the track, except in accordance with specific instructions set out in the Order.
The Defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal claiming that the appropriate remedy was a financial award in place of an injunction. They relied on principles established in the 1850s; namely that where money could be awarded to claimants an injunction was not appropriate. Since then many injunctions have been refused to Claimants troubled by nuisance, loss of light, or interference with land, but damages awarded instead.
In Coventry the Court of Appeal applied this established legal test and decided that damages not an injunction should be ordered.
This decision troubled the Supreme Court Judges who revised the law when the Claimants appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Supreme Court Judges said that they would not prefer damages over an injunction, but would take each case on its own facts. The argument raised by the Defendants that they had obtained planning permission for the nuisance activity was not in itself proof that an injunction was oppressive. The court reinstated the injunction. The Supreme Court ordered that if the matter did go back to the judge he should be entitled to consider if at that point damages were a sufficient remedy.
The Supreme Court Judges stressed the need to take each case in turn upon the evidence. The Courts must take in to consideration all of the circumstances of the case. These include the grant of planning permission for the nuisance complained of; the locality of the property; the effect of the injunction for the employees or public getting the benefit of the nuisance; the possibility of damages as an alternative remedy; and the interests of the private home owner.
In overturning the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Supreme Court has loosened the legal frame work which they felt had fettered the Court’s discretion on this equitable remedy for too long. As such injunctions are now far from guaranteed, but taking matters in to your own hands Hollywood-style is ill advised!