Ex turpi causa is one of those doctrines which we learn when we study law but rarely get to use in anger.  But in a judgment published today the Court of Appeal has upheld a judge’s decision to deny the claimant any recovery against his uncle whose dangerous driving caused him a serious head injury.

The claimant and the driver, his uncle, had carried out a theft of some ladders in Croydon and were speeding off in a Transit van to make their getaway.  The claimant was standing on the rear step or bumper trying to keep the ladders secure as they protruded from the van doors.  The uncle drove the van round a couple of sharp bends at considerable speed, causing his nephew to fall and suffer his injuries.  The uncle subsequently pleaded guilty to dangerous driving.

In the claim for injury caused by the negligent driving the uncle’s motor insurer asserted that the uncle was not liable because the two men were engaged in a criminal joint enterprise, so the maxim ex turpi causa non oritur actio applied.  The trial judge and the Court of Appeal both agreed that this was the case, so the claim failed.  However, the CA stated that there could be less “culpable” cases where the criminality involved might not lead to such a draconian result.