Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Legendary Lord Denning

Any English Law student (and probably any Common Law student to boot) will be familiar with Lord Denning. Hard-working, verbose, skillful, ambitious and ultimately felled by what some have called racism, Lord Denning was often the painter of the most vivid vignettes in his judgements. Here is one of the many, from his decision in Nettleship v Weston [1971]:

[Brief case facts: Mrs. Weston is a learner driver, asks Mr. Nettleship to help her drive. He agrees, she comes to a turn in a junction, manages to freeze-up while driving at a snail's pace and "crashes" into a lampost, somehow breaking Mr. Nettleship's leg] 

They came to a road junction where there was a halt sign. They had to turn left. She stopped the car. He moved the gear lever into neutral and applied the hand brake. The road was clear. He said to her:  "Move off, slowly, round the corner."  He took off the hand brake. She let in the clutch.  He put the gearlever into first gear. The car made a smooth start. She turned the steering wheel to the left and the car moved round the corner at walking pace. He said to her: "Now straighten out." But she did not do so. She panicked. She held the steering wheel, as he said, "in a vice-like grip": or, as she said: "my hands seemed to freeze on the wheel." He at once took hold of the hand brake with his right hand and tried to get hold of the steering wheel with his left hand to straighten it out. He nearly succeeded. But by this time the nearside of the car had mounted the kerb. As bad luck would have it, there was a lamp standard just by the kerb at that point. The nearside struck the lamp standard. Mr. Nettleship was injured. His left knee-cap was broken.