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Canadian Railway Co v The King [1931] UKPC 18

Circumstances where a licence will be implied and whether such a licence is revocable

Facts

The appellant had erected some five hundred miles of telegraph poles and wires along a roadway and along two branch lines, the land upon which they were erected being the property of the Crown. Some of the poles were erected between 1905 and 1910 and no express consent was given to their erection. Other poles were erected between 1893 and 1911 during the course of negotiations, although no agreement was ever reached. The Crown commenced proceedings alleging trespass and seeking damages or alternatively a declaration as to the appellant’s rights. The Supreme Court of Canada found in favour of the Crown and the appellant appealed to the Privy Council.

Issue

The primary issue in this context was whether any of the actions of the Crown suggested that the appellant’s poles were on the land under licence and, if so, whether the licence could be revoked.

Held

It was held that on these facts the poles were on the land with the licence of the Crown. Although when first erecting the poles the appellant had been a trespasser, the length of acquiescence on the part of the Crown and an indication that rent had been paid meant that the Crown lost its right to assert that there was no licence. This licence was however revocable unless evidence could be produced to demonstrate that it was not. Given that there was no evidence of this type the Crown could revoke the licence but only by giving notice to the appellant and by specifying a future date for revocation which would be sufficient to allow the appellant to remove the poles and wires and erect them elsewhere.


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