Hillingdon London Borough Council v Cutler

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date13 March 1967
Judgment citation (vLex)[1967] EWCA Civ J0313-1
Date13 March 1967

[1967] EWCA Civ J0313-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

The Court of Appeal

(Civil Division)

(From: His Honour Judge Ruttle - Uxbridge County Court)


Lord Justice Harman

Lord Justice Davies and

Lord Justice Russell

The Mayor Aldermen and Burgesses of The Borough of Hillingdon
Roy Edward Cutler

Mr. M.R. HICKMAN (instructed by Messrs. Lee. Bolton & Lee, Agents for Messrs. Norman E. Kelly & Son, Watford, Herts.) appeared on behalf of the Appellant (Defendant).

Mr. PATRICK FREEMAN (instructed by Mr. George Hooper, Hayes, Middlesex) appeared on behalf of the Respondents (Plaintiffs).


(without calling upon Counsel for the Respondents)


It is not possible to discuss this case upon its merits, because it has not got any. It is a miserable dispute as part of a, feud being carried on by the defendant (who is the appellant) and the local authority which is of long standing and what the origin of it all is we do not know, but the result is the bringing before this Court of a number of points of really insignificant content.


The appeal arises out of two cases (although only one is actually the subject of appeal) in which the local authority sued the defendant in the County Court for certain expenses arising (they said) under demolition orders which they had made against buildings on property of the defendant's. This property appears to have been a considerable 18th-century house with something under an acre of grounds; and the buildings in question were not part of the main structure but were coach-houses or what-not scattered about in this piece of ground which apparently made shelters or houses or anyhow dwelling-places for certain solitary people who preferred to live alone and had nowhere else to live and who paid the defendant not inconsiderable sums of money by way of rent for these structures. The local official declared these places to be unfit for human habitation: and that nobody doubts.


Now, they being ex concessis wholly unfit, the Housing Act of 1957 becomes operative; and we begin with section 16, which deals with "Unfit premises beyond repair at reasonable cost". It states that where the authority, on a report made to it, is satisfied that a house is unfit for human habitation they are bound to serve on the "person having control of the house" (and that is the defendant in this case) "notice of the time (….not less than twenty-one days after the service of the notice) and place at which the condition of the house and any offer with respect to the carrying out of works….which he may wish to submit will be considered by them". They did serve suchnotices. They served them, it is said, in the first place on the 5th May, 1961, giving a return date on the 31st of that month, proposing to make a demolition order on the 27th June then following. But a dispute arose about these notices because it was said that they were sealed but not signed by the Town Clerk, as the Act provides that they should be. When the local authority asked for them back, to see whether this was in fact the case, they disappeared in some way which has never been cleared up. The defendant said he sent them back: the plaintiffs said they had never received them back; and the matter remains an unsolved mystery. At any rate, the local authority, in order to cut the Gordian knot, served further orders on the 26th January, 1962. They did not give any further notice under section 16 but treated the already existing notice as sufficient.


The first point taken is that that invalidates the whole proceeding and that the notices are invalid. Under section 16 there are various alternatives under which the person on whom the original notice is served may submit counter-offers and so on. But nothing of that sort happened in this case. Therefore, under section 17, no such undertaking having been given — that is to say an undertaking to restore or repair — "then, subject to the provisions of this section, the local authority shall forthwith make a demolition order for the demolition of the premises to which the notice given under the last foregoing section relates".


Such demolition orders were made in this case. It is said that they were void (I think that is the word used) because they were not made "forthwith". It is said that "forthwith" means on the next convenient opportunity and that that would have been the moment in 1961 at which originally the demolition order — the so-called ineffective demolition order — was made, namely, the 27th June, 1961, and that waiting a year after that makes it not "forthwith".


The first reason why I think that is a bad point is that I cannot see that if the local authority fail to observe the spurgiven to it by the statute and do not do it forthwith that makes the whole of their notice bad in the absence of some detriment suffered by the person on whom the notice is served. It is not said that there was such detriment here. Indeed there was an advantage, because the defendant continued to collect rents from these horrible places for a year after he should not have been entitled to do so. Therefore I do not think that, even if the notices were not "forthwith", that is good enough to defeat them.


But apart from that, "forthwith" is not a precise time and, provided that no harm is done, "forthwith" means any reasonable time thereafter. As was pointed out in the bankruptcy case in 19 Chancery Division, it may involve action within days: it may not involve action for years - as in the case to which we were referred where there was a three-years interval: ( Brown v. Bonnyrigg Magistrates 1936 Session Cases at page 256). Here it seems to me that the County Court judge was perfectly right in saying that "forthwith" was satisfied. There was nowhere to house these people. It was very inconvenient to make an order and then have to put it off. It was much better to leave it as was done. Consequently I think there is nothing in the "forthwith" point at all.


Now it is said, apart from that, that the statute was not complied with by the local authority and cannot be enforced in the way it is now sought to do. For that one must look at section 23 of the Act, which says (in sub-section 1) that if the premises are not demolished within the due...

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