Young v Bristol Aeroplane Company Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date1944
CourtCourt of Appeal
[COURT OF APPEAL] YOUNG v. BRISTOL AEROPLANE COMPANY, LIMITED. 1944 June 6, 7, 8; July 28. Lord Greene M.R., Scott, MacKinnon, Luxmoore, Goddard and du Parcq L.JJ.

Court of Appeal - Obligation to follow previous decisions.

The Court of Appeal is bound to follow its own decisions and those of courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, and the “full” court is in the same position in this respect as a division of the court consisting of three members. The only exceptions to this rule are: — (1.) The court is entitled and bound to decide which of two conflicting decisions of its own it will follow; (2.) the court is bound to refuse to follow a decision of its own which, though not expressly overruled, cannot, in its opinion, stand with a decision of the House of Lords; (3.) the court is not bound to follow a decision of its own if it is satisfied that the decision was given per incuriam, e.g., where a statute or a rule having statutory effect which would have affected the decision was not brought to the attention of the earlier court.

APPEAL from Laski K.C. sitting as commissioner at Lancaster assizes.

The plaintiff, who was employed at the defendants' workshops, received injury in an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment and received compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. He then sought to obtain damages in respect of the same accident, alleging that the defendants, in breach of their statutory duty, had failed to fence one of their machines which he was using. In their defence, the defendants pleaded: “In the further alternative the defendants say that the plaintiff before the commencement of this action claimed and received compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts in respect of [the accident]. The plaintiff is thereby barred from recovering damages in respect of the said accident.” This plea was based on s. 29, sub-s. 1, of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925. On the authority of a decision of the Court of Appeal in Perkins v. Hugh Stevenson & Sons, Ld.F1, the commissioner gave effect to the plea in favour of the defendants. The plaintiff appealed.

Paull K.C. and Henry Barton for the plaintiff. No doubt Selwood v. Townley Coal & Fireclay Co., Ld.F2, and Perkins v. Hugh Stevenson & Sons, Ld.F1, in which the Court of Appeal held that acceptance of compensation known to be such under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, precludes an action for damages, are against the plaintiff, but, if this court is of opinion that those cases were wrongly decided, it has power to come to another conclusion: see Wynne-Finch v. ChaytorF3, where the Court of Appeal not only refused to follow its own decision in Daglish v. BartonF4, but also purported to overrule it. Perkins' caseF1 and Selwood's caseF2 are inconsistent with Kinneil Cannel and Coking Coal Co. v. SneddonF5 in the House of Lords, and are, therefore, not binding on this court. There is no statutory or common law obligation on the court to follow its own decisions. Where courts have done so, it was by virtue of custom or “comity among judges”: per Brett M.R. in The Vera Cruz (No. 2)F6. In any case, the matter is different where the court which has to consider previous decisions is the full Court of Appeal, for such a court is entitled to consider whether or not it will follow the decision of a smaller number of judges: per Lord Esher M.R. in Kelly & Co. v. KellondF7. The House of Lords follows its own decisions because they are the final tribunal: see London Street Tramways Co. v. London County CouncilF8, but that is not the case with the Court of Appeal. At any rate, it is a matter of discretion. [Hart v. Riversdale Mill Co.F9 was also referred to.]

Lynskey K.C. and Matabele Davies for the defendants. The Court of Appeal is bound by its own decisions. In Velasquez, Ld. v. Inland Revenue CommissionersF10, Cozens-Hardy M.R. said: “But there is one rule by which, of course, we are bound to abide — that when there has been a decision of this court upon a question of principle it is not right for this court, whatever its own views may be, to depart from that decision. There would otherwise be no finality in the law.” That is the principle which this court is invited to adopt. No doubt, a decision of a Court of Appeal the members of which are equally divided is not binding on a subsequent court, and the same is true where there are inconsistent decisions of the Court of Appeal when the subsequent court can follow its own opinion. London Street Tramways Co. v. London County CouncilF8 where the House of Lords held itself bound by its own decisions is really conclusive of this case. If the appellant is right an intermediate court between the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords would exist.

Cur. adv. vult.

July 28. LORD GREENE M.R. read the judgment of the court in which he stated the facts and continued: After a very careful review of the facts, the learned commissioner arrived at the following conclusions: (1.) That the plaintiff did not make a claim for compensation (namely, compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act) “as such”; (2.) that the plaintiff could not be said to have exercised the option given to him by s. 29, sub-s. 1, of the Act, since he did not know of “his right to elect”; (3.) that “the plaintiff received the payments made to him as compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act,” and that “the payments were paid to him as such.” We see no reason to differ from any of these conclusions. The learned commissioner, having come to these conclusions, considered himself bound by the authority of judgments of this court, in particular those in Perkins v. Hugh Stevenson & Sons, Ld.F11, and Selwood v. Townley Coal & Fireclay Co.F12, to hold that the third of his findings was fatal to the plaintiff's claim. In so holding, we are of opinion that he was clearly right. Perkins' caseF11 differed from the present case in that there the workman had claimed compensation, but in Selwood's caseF12 there had been no claim and no exercise by the workman of his option. The court in Selwood's caseF12 regarded this distinction as immaterial so far as concerned what was referred to as “the second limb” of the sub-section, that is to say, the sentence which begins with the words “but the employer shall not be liable”: see specially the judgment of Slesser L.J.F13. It is manifest from all the judgments in Selwood's caseF12 that, in the view of the court, the decision which was then arrived at followed logically and inevitably from the ratio decidendi in Perkins' caseF11. As a result of these two decisions, therefore, it must be regarded as having been decided by this court that a workman who has been paid compensation under the Act, which he has knowingly accepted as such compensation, is thereby precluded from recovering damages from his employers at common law.

We were reminded by counsel for the plaintiff that in Unsworth v. Elder Dempster Lines, Ld.F14, one part of the reasoning on which the decision in Perkins' caseF11 had been based was criticized and doubted: see per MacKinnon L.J.F14 and per Goddard L.J.F15. That criticism in no way affects the validity of the decision in Perkins' caseF11, since, as both MacKinnon and Goddard L.JJ. pointed out, those passages in the judgments which they regarded as open to doubt were not necessary to the decision and are to be regarded as obiter dicta. Mr. Paull, for the plaintiff, while frankly conceding that the decisions to which we have referred made his task in this court difficult, and, perhaps, impossible, suggested that they might be treated as inconsistent with the decision of the House of Lords in Kinneil Cannel & Coking Coal Co. v. SneddonF16, and for that reason ought not to be followed. It is a conclusive answer to this submission that Kinneil's caseF16 was cited to this court in Perkins' case&fn(2). Mr. Paull's argument, therefore, involves a submission that in Perkins' caseF17 this court, with the relevant authorities before it, came to a wrong decision. We will, however, add that we are of opinion that there is no inconsistency between the decision of the House of Lords and those of this court. The House of Lords in the Kinneil caseF16 was dealing with the right of a widow to claim damages at common law on behalf of her children and herself in respect of an accident which had already been the foundation of a successful claim for compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act by another dependant. It was held that the claims of the widow and children at common law could not be defeated by the act of somebody to whom the common law...

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    • 1 December 2019
    ...of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Stephen L Wasby, “Why Sit En Banc?” (2012) 63 Hastings LJ 747. 38 Young v Bristol Aeroplane Co Ltd [1944] KB 718 at 725. This decision regarding the Court of Appeal prompted Sir Robert Megarry to wonder, extra-judicially, whether it might be desirable for......
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