Cases - Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co

Record details

Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Co
1 Ch 287, CA

Chancery Amendment Act 1858

Easements - nuisance - remedy - award of injunction - damages in substitution for an injunction - award of damages in substitution an exceptional remedy - whether damages should be granted instead of an injunction - rights of light.

This case set the rules by which the court would determine whether damages are an equitable remedy in lieu of granting an injunction.

Although it did not consider it appropriate to do so on the facts of this case, the Court of Appeal set out guidance as to the circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the Court to award damages in lieu of an injunction:

'(1) If the injury to the plaintiff's legal rights is small,

(2) And is one which is capable of being estimated in money,

(3) And is one which can be adequately compensated by a small money payment,

(4) And the case is one in which it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction: — then damages in substitution for an injunction may be given.'

The result of these guidelines was that it became the exception rather than the rule to award damages in place of an injunction. However, the case of Shelfer v City of London Electric Light Co. was decided in the 19th century. In the last 16 years or so - principally since another well-known case, Jaggard v Sawyer - there seems to have been a change in emphasis, and damages have been awarded in place of injunctions in situations in which, previously, one would have expected an injunction to have been granted. It is difficult to shepherd together the examples of such situations and to extract clear guidelines, although the delay (or otherwise) of the innocent party in seeking relief was an important factor in the question of whether or not the grant of an injunction would be oppressive.

Recent cases indicate that a developer cannot assume that an infringement of rights of light will be compensateable in damages but must take into consideration the prospect that an injunction might be granted, even where the development has commenced. The cases have also addressed the question as to whether any infringement of the right can be said to be a small injury.