The Tort of Conspiracy

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1952.tb00233.x
Publication Date01 Apr 1952
THE
T0R.T
OF
CONSl'IR-4CY
THE
tangle of cases which was the source of the civil law
of
conspiracy has to a great degree been clarified by the decision of
the House of Lords in
Veitch's Case.=
The tort of conspiracy is
now a fairly clear passage of the law. But
it
is the purpose of this
article to submit that in their most laudable desire to inject sense
and rationality into a confusing topic, the House
of
Lords in
Veitch's
Case
erected a principle of a peculiar flavour and of
doubtful practical value.
Before
Veitch's Case,
and indeed after
it
in some places, it
was customary to say that the tort of conspiracy arose when there
was an agreement of two
or
more persons to do an unlawful act,
or
to do
a
lawful act by unlawful means, causing damage to the
plaintiff. This definition would seem to be based on a fallacy in
logic.
For
it
was generally agreed that unlike the crime of con-
spiracy, the merc fact of agreement could not constitute the tort.
To give rise to tortious liability there must be some carrying out
of
the agreement, causing damage. But it would seem evident
that
if
there is some carrying out of an agreement to do an unlawful
act
or
to
employ unlawful means then this is equivalent to the
doing of an unlawful act. In other words, under this definition,
the existence of a tort of conspiracy would be quite otiose, for the
defendants could always be sued as joint tortfeasors under some
other specific heading of tortious liability. Indeed this view of
conspiracy meant that a confusing element was often introduced
into cases which could have been decided quite simply under the
definition of some existing tort.
For
example the case of
South
Wales Miners Federation
v.
Glamorgan
Coal
Co.*
has been quoted
as
authority3 in a vigorous argument supporting the definition of
conspiracy as outlined above. In that case the appellants induced
miners to break their contracts of service with the respondents,
with the object of sending up the price
of
coal and in consequence
of increasing their wages. The House of Lords found the appel-
lants liable. In the course of his speech Lord James said
:
''
The
defendants' intention clearly was that the workmen should break
their contracts. Their motives no doubt were that
by
so
doing
wages should be raised. But, if, in carrying out the intention, the
defendants purposely procured an unlawful act to be committed,
the wrong that is thereby inflicted cannot be obliterated by the
1
Crofter
IIarris
Tweed
Company
v.
Veitch
[1942]
A.C.
435.
2
[1905]
A.C.
280.
J
Vide
36
L.Q.R.
88,
"
Conspiracy as a
Ground of
Liability
in
Tort,"
by Dr.
J.
Charlcsmorth.
209

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