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Hunter v Canary Wharf

[1997] AC 655

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 16:14 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Hunter v Canary Wharf

Ps, local residents, claimed actionable nuisance against D during the erection of canary wharf, which interfered with their TV signal. HL held (1) that TV interference was not an actionable nuisance, and (2) that of those affected, only those with exclusive possession of property could sue. 
Lord Goff: On point (1): as a general rule, a man's right to build on his land is not restricted by the fact that the presence of the building may of itself interfere with his neighbour's enjoyment of his land. On point (2): Only freeholders, tenants in possession, licensees with exclusive possession or, exceptionally, people in possession but without a right to be there, can sue. NOT mere licensees. Without this restriction it would be uncertain what the limits are on who can sue i.e. floodgates (No: the CA had proposed those with a “substantial link” to the land, to be resolved through litigation)
Lord Hoffmann: In the category of “material damage to property”, the tort is concerned with damage to land, not persons. Hence only a person with title to the land can claim for compensation for damage to it. He says that the second category of “sensible personal discomfort” is also for compensating damage to the land, since it is the injury inflicted upon the land that causes the sensory discomfort. Hence for this category too there has to be title. 
Cane, “What a nuisance”: Hoffmann is wrong because: Firstly it fails to take account of tort law’s underlying principle of fault-based unreasonableness; secondly it fails to explain why a party may sue for property damage and personal-injury negligence without the need for title to property, but not loss of amenity. 
Lord Cooke (agreeing on point (1) but dissenting on point (2)): It is an unjustified discrimination against unofficial residents to require proprietary interest e.g. the wife/children of an official resident. There are no floodgates/definitional problems since many common law jurisdictions take this approach to nuisance. All those living in the home should be able to enforce, and litigation would work out the borderline cases. 

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