Union Traffic Ltd v Transport and General Workers' Union

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date23 August 1988
Judgment citation (vLex)[1988] EWCA Civ J0823-1
Docket Number88/0716
Date23 August 1988

[1988] EWCA Civ J0823-1




Royal Courts of Justice


Lord Justice Lloyd


Lord Justice Bingham


Union Traffic Limited
Transport and General Workers Union & ORS.

MR CHRISTOPHER CARR, Q.C., and MR ANDREW R.F. LENON, instructed by Messrs R.A. Roberts, appeared for the Appellants(Plaintiffs).

MR RONALD J. WALKER, Q.C., and MR ALLAN P. GORE, instructed by Messrs Hextall Erskine & Co. (London Agents for Messrs Jack Thornley of Manchester), appeared for the Respondents (Defendants).


I will ask Lord Justice Bingham to give the first judgment.


This is an appeal by the plaintiffs against the order of Mr Justice Schiemann made on 17th August of this year when he discharged injunctions which he had previously granted against the second to the twenty-fourth defendants on 4th August and 9th August. I shall outline the facts giving rise to this appeal in very general terms because certain of the detailed facts are the subject of dispute.


The plaintiffs carry on their business through a number of unincorporated trading divisions. Relevant for present purposes are two of those divisions: a transport or road haulage division and a container repairs division. The transport or road haulage division carries on its business at a number of depots dispersed throughout the country. One of these and the depot at the centre of the dispute is at Liverpool where the business is carried on under the name of George Davies & Son. At the Liverpool depot there is a lorry park where twenty-three vehicles were parked, and there were limited facilities consisting of a portakabin used, as I assume, for an office, and what are described as basic toilet facilities.


The plaintiffs also had another transport depot some thirteen miles away at Widnes where business was also carried on under the name of George Davies. That depot had rather more sophisticated lifting equipment.


The container repairs business was carried on under the name of Conserv Engineering at a depot in Liverpool, described in the evidence as an empty container depot.


According to the plaintiffs' evidence (which is challenged) the Liverpool road haulage depot operated unprofitably in the early months of 1988 to such an extent that the management considered it necessary to close and to make a number of drivers redundant. Those drivers are or include the second to twenty-fourth defendants. Not surprisingly the decision to close the depot was strongly opposed by the drivers and by their union, the Transport and General Workers Union, when it was announced. There were consultations and discussions including a meeting with a local union official. It appears that passions ran high and in the course of this meeting the union official said that if the Liverpool depot were closed all the plaintiffs' interests in Liverpool would be forced to close, and his position was said to be that if there were closures within the transport division the plaintiffs would be driven out of Liverpool altogether. Attempts were made to find a buyer who would buy the Liverpool depot as a going concern, and the question was raised of forming a workers' co-operative, but all to no avail.


The Liverpool depot closed on 29th July and the drivers were put out of work. They were offered substantial redundancy payments, but it is quite plain from the evidence that what the drivers wanted was their jobs and not cash pay-outs. It is not in dispute that before and following the closure of the Liverpool depot there was picketing of the Widnes road transport depot and the premises of Conserv Engineering. The plaintiffs accordingly applied to the Queen's Bench judge in chambers on 4th August for interlocutory relief against the first defendant in this action, the Transport and General Workers Union, and the second to twenty-fourth defendants. The learned judge refused relief against the union being not satisfied that the union was involved in organising the picketing complained of. He also refused relief against the twenty-first to twenty-fourth defendants because he considered that they were not sufficiently identified as participating in any unlawful picketing, but he granted an injunction restraining the second to twentieth defendants from inducing breaches of contracts or interfering with the performance of contracts between the plaintiffs and their customers and suppliers by picketing the plaintiffs' premises at Conserv Engineering, 36 Derby Road, Liverpool, or George Davies & Son, Desoto Road, Widnes, Cheshire.


The twenty-first to twenty-fourth defendants were then identified as taking part in the picketing, so the plaintiffs returned to the judge on 9th August and he extended the injunction to the twenty-first to twenty-fourth defendants. This application, like its predecessor, was made ex parte. In granting the injunctions the learned judge acted largely on an affidavit from Peter Crouch, there being of course no evidence from the defendants at that stage. But the judge granted the usual leave to the defendants to apply to set aside his order and they took advantage of that leave. They filed evidence which was answered and they applied for discharge of the injunctions, which discharge the learned judge granted on 17th August.


We have before us a summary note of the judgment given by the learned judge when making the order of discharge. It appears from that note that the judge held three things. First, he appears to have held that the plaintiffs' case was at best very weak because they could not show interference or likely interference with existing contracts but only future contracts, and the law did not protect future contracts. The learned judge added that if the plaintiffs made new contracts which they could then not fulfil because of the picketing, they could perhaps be said to be the authors of their own misfortune.


Secondly, the learned judge held that the defendants showed an arguable case that they were immune to suit by virtue of section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974.


Thirdly, he held that the balance of convenience was not heavily weighed either way.


Mr Carr for the plaintiffs politely but firmly criticises the learned judge's approach to all three questions. Mr Walker for the second to twenty-fourth defendants (whom I shall refer to as "the defendants") upholds the learned judge's decision as correct.


The first question which arises for decision appears to me to be this. Statutory immunity apart, does the evidence appear to disclose unlawful conduct on the part of the defendants? I shall summarise the contentions on this matter briefly because the relevant legal principles turned out to be not in substantial dispute, and the real disagreement between the parties concerns their application to the facts deposed to in evidence. Mr Walker for the defendants helpfully advanced a number of propositions on which his case rested. I can omit propositions one and two which, although not challenged, are not immediately germane to the decision of this appeal.


Proposition three was to this effect. The tort of inducing a breach of contract can only be committed:

  • (a) by direct inducement to persons to break a contract; or

  • (b) by the use of unlawful means indirectly designed to bring about a breach of contract.


I pause to observe that there is no question here of the defendants directly inducing the plaintiffs to break any contract, and therefore reliance is placed on (b) of that proposition. Mr Walker's fourth proposition was to the effect that picketing simpliciter is not unlawful, and he submitted that in the present case there is no allegation or evidence of picketing in an unlawful way. The proposition that picketing per se is not unlawful is accepted and it is furthermore correct that there is no question here of any obstruction, intimidation, threats, violence, or harassment.


In his proposition five Mr Walker accepted that a quia timet injunction may be granted to prevent inducement of a breach of future contract. By his proposition six he submitted that the learned judge did not decide otherwise than in accordance with what Mr Walker accepted in his proposition five, but only decided not to exercise his discretion to grant such an injunction.


Mr Carr took issue with proposition three on the facts. This, he said, was a case involving the use of unlawful means indirectly designed to bring about a breach of contract. He submitted that the object of the defendants' action was to prevent the plaintiffs performing contracts with their customers. This allegation was originally made in Mr Crouch's affidavit in a general way. I refer to paragraphs 9 and 10 of that affidavit which are to this effect:


"The pickets have attempted to prevent commercial traffic from passing in and out of the two sites in question. This attempt has been largely successful. In consequence, the Plaintiffs have been unable to conduct their business from the two sites in question. This has meant that the contracts between the Plaintiffs and their various customers have been substantially interfered with. The consequences of this interference are very serious. So far as the Widnes depot is concerned, if the picketing is not stopped and normal business not resumed, the Plaintiffs are likely to lose their principal customer permanently. That customer is ICI. If this occurs, this will result in the permanent closure of the Widnes depot, with consequent further loss of employment. The likely time scale within which these consequences will follow is a...

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2 cases
  • Michael Fielding Wolff v Trinity Logistics USA Inc.
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 12 December 2018
    ...certain existence of a contract and indeed of some of its likely terms.” For this proposition The Merkur Island [1983] ICR 490 and the Union Traffic case [1989] ICR 98 were cited, but the learned justice said that that was not the case then before the 49 In para 252 the deputy judge said:......
  • Rikvin Consultancy Pte Ltd v Pardeep Singh Boparai and another
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 5 July 2010
    ...to breach their contracts, thereby causing loss to Rikvin. For example, in Union Traffic Ltd v Transport and General Workers’ Union [1989] ICR 98, in an application for an interim injunction, although the plaintiffs advanced their case of inducement of breaches of contract in very general t......

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