This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy

Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Shelfer is not the be all and end all

Shelfer is not the be all and end all


The judgment in Lawrence will prompt more judicial discretion in granting injunctions, says Ryan Diamond

The consideration of Lawrence v Coventry (T/A RDC promotions) [2014] UKSC 13 presented the members of the Supreme Court with the opportunity to re-examine the use of judicial discretion in granting injunctions.

Motor sports

The case itself concerned nuisance in the form of noise emanating from a motor sports stadium. The applicants were seeking confirmation that the activities at the stadium constituted a nuisance and the grant of an injunction to restrain the nuisance.

In the judgment, the court took as its starting point the decision in Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co Ltd [1895] 1 CH 287.

Shelfer had created a strong presumption in favour of the grant of an injunction which could only be displaced where the following conditions could be met:

1. if the injury to the claimant's rights is small;

2. the value of the injury is capable of being estimated in money;

3. the claimant can be adequately compensated by a small money payment; and

4. it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction.

Shelfer has formed the basis of a host of recent successful claims for injunctive relief. The court concluded that it was unfortunate that Shelfer had been applied so rigidly and instead emphasised the need for a more flexible approach to be adopted.

Indeed, the court was at pains to explain that each claim must turn on its own facts and those previous decisions, such as Shelfer, served only as examples of how the court's discretion had been exercised based on a particular set of facts.

Neither Shelfer, nor any other similar decision, should be taken as a binding precedent or be used to fetter the court's discretion to award damages in lieu of an injunction.

Broad view

The members of the court, particularly Lord Neuburger, also took the opportunity to broaden their review of injunctive relief. Lord Neuburger identified 'public interest' as another relevant consideration. Where the grant of an injunction would have a significant impact on third parties, that factor should fall within the scope of the court's deliberations.

The court gave the specific example that where the defendant's business would be shut down by the grant of an injunction, the impact on the defendant's employees and their livelihood may be relevant to the court's decision.

It was also possible, Lord Neuberger indicated, for planning permissions for the complained-of activity to be relevant to the consideration of injunctive relief where the permissions expressly or inherently authorise the activity which causes the nuisance, and will have particular force where indicative of a public benefit arising from the activity.

However, the critical objective for the court was not to set down an alternative set of rules to Shelfer, but to remind judges of their broad discretion and to reinvigorate the application of it beyond the boundaries of the Shelfer rules.

As a result we can expect judges to reassess the granting of injunctions or damages in lieu of an injunction with a more flexible application of their discretion.