Slater v Clay Cross Company Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date17 May 1956
Judgment citation (vLex)[1956] EWCA Civ J0517-5
CourtCourt of Appeal
Date17 May 1956
Ethel Anne Slater
Plaintiff, Respondent
Clay Cross Company Limited
Defandants, Appellants

[1956] EWCA Civ J0517-5


Lord Justice Denning

Lord Justice Birkett and

Lord Justice Parker

In The Supreme Court of Judicature.

Court of Appeal

Mr. H.G. TALBOT (instructed by Messrs. Sharpe Pritchard & Co., Agents for Messrs. Bertram Mather & Co., Chesterfield) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Plaintiff.

Mr. B.E.A. ELWES, Q.C. and Mr. B. CAULFIELD (instructed by Messrs, J.P. Coules& Co.) appeared on behalf of the Appellant Defendants.


we need not trouble you, Mr. Talbot.


In Derbyshire there has been for well ever a hundred years railway line owned by the Clay Cross Company. We were told that George Stephenson himself made it. The Company use it so as to carry limestone from their quarries at Crich down to Ambergate. It is a small gauge line, only 3ft 3ins. wide, and is 2½ miles long. On that small line there are two tunnels. One of them with which we are concerned is only about 8 or 9ft. high, and it is just 66 yards long.


On the 12th February, 1953, Mrs. Slater was walking through the tunnel when she suddenly realised that a train was coming up behind her. She got down on to the ground to seek what safety she could, but unfortunately the train ran over one of her legs and out it off. She now claims damages against the Clay Cross Company, saying that it was their fault.


If she were a trespasser on this railway, she would, of course, have no cause of action; but she says that the Clay Cross Company had acquiesced for years in the villagers of Crich walking along this railway down to Ambergate and back. It was a short out for them. The Company had done nothing at all to show that they resented the villagers using it, and the villagers had in fact used it for years. The Judge has found and I think there can be no doubt that she was what we call in law a licensee — not a trespasser who was unlawfully there, but a person who was permitted and allowed by the owners to be there — not for any matter in which they had an interest, but only for her own purposes, She was a license.


It has been urged before us that, as she was a license and not an Invitee, the duty of the Company and its servants is greatly affected: and that it is much less on that account. The Judge did not take that view; he held that there was a duty on the servants of the Company to take reasonable care in their operations, and he held that they had not taken that care.He found that instructions had been given to the drivers that on entering the tunnel they were to keep their heads down, they were to blow the whistle, and they were to slow down. On this particular occasion those instructions were not observed. It was in the winter. They had not been able to quarry fresh line stone up at Crich; they were using the existing stock; and, indeed instead of having the train pulled by one little steam engine, they had a diesel engine on too. On coming up from Ambergate, the steam engine was in front and the diesel engine pushing behind. In the ordinary way, if the steam engine had been on its own, being the only engine pulling, the driver would have stopped before he entered the tunnel, and he would have whistled. On this occasion, the driver of the steam engine did not keep it pulling because he wanted to save up the steam for the gradient beyond, but the diesel engine went on pushing behind. So the train did not stop at the entrance to the tunnel, the steam engine did not whistle at the entrence to the tunnel, and it did net slow down to a walking pace or stop. It went en at a pace which the Judge put at 8 miles an hour through the tunnel. He found that in the circumstances it was going too fast; and that it failed to whistle; and that was negligence on the part of the driver for which the Company were responsible. It seems to me that the Judge's finding on that point cannot be disturbed.


Mr. Elwes stressed the fact that the Plaintiff was only a licensce and urged that this was of special significance. I do not think so. The Law Before Committee has recently recommended that the distinction between invitee and licensee should be abolished; but this result has already been virtually attained by the decisions of the Courts. The classic distinction was that the inviter was liable for unusual dangers of which he knew or ought to know, whereas the licensor was only liable for concealed dangers of which he actually knew. This distinctionhas now been reduced to vanishing point. The decision of this Court in the case of Hawkins v. Coulsden& Purley Urban District Council (1954, 1 Q.B. 319) shows that a licensor too, as well as an inviter, is liable for unusual dangers of which he knew or ought to have known. The broken step in that case was not a concealed danger. but it was an unusual danger; the local authority did not know it was a danger, but they ought to have known it; and they were held liable. The duty of the occupier is nowadays simply to take reasonable care to see that the premises are reasonably safe for people lawfully coming on to them: and it makes no difference whether they are invitees or licensees. At any rate, the distinction has no relevance to cases such as the present where current operations are being carried out upon the land. If a landowner is driving his car down his private drive and meets some one lawfully walking upon it, then he is under a duty to take reasonable care so as not to injure the walker; and his duty is the same no matter whether it is his gardener coming up with plants, a tradesman delivering goods, a...

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51 cases
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    ...made and proved the respondent Board would have been liable on the lines of the well known passage of Denning L.J.'s judgment in Slater v. Clay Cross Co. Ltd. [1956] 2 Q.B., 264 at p. 271. But, on the facts and evidence in this case, once it was accepted that there was no negligence on the......
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    ...(Owners), The Miraflores, [1967] 1 A.C. 826; [1967] 1 All E.R. 672, dicta of Lord Pearce applied. (7) Slater v. Clay Cross Co. Ltd., [1956] 2 Q.B. 264; [1956] 2 All E.R. 625, followed. (8) Sole v. Hallt (W.J.) Ltd., [1973] Q.B. 574; [1973] 1 All E.R. 1032, followed. Legislation construed: T......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Case Note
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2013, December 2013
    • 1 December 2013 Letang v Ottawa Electric Railway Co[1926] AC 725 clearly distinguished between scienti and volenti. 58Slater v Clay Cross Co Ltd[1956] 2 QB 264 at 271. 59Francis v Cockrell(1870) LR 5 QB 501; Maclenan v Segar[1917] 2 KB 325. 60 The common law in England, prior to the Occupier's Liability......

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