Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Company Ltd and others v Veitch and another  AC 435
Trade union; combination; circumstances amounting to tortious conspiracy
The appellants produced cloth, obtaining their yarn from the mainland – unlike other yarn spun in the mills of Stornoway. The respondents worked for the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) to which most of Stornoway dockers belonged. The respondents, in combination with each other and mill owners, asked the dockers not to handle yarn that was consigned to and cloth made by the appellants. The embargo as against the cloth was soon lifted, but the one against the yarn remained. The appellants asked for an interdict against the respondents with the view to stopping the embargo.
The question before the House of Lords was whether the appellants could prove that the respondents were involved in illegal conspiracy against them – i.e. whether the two respondents combined with the motive to injure the trade interests of the appellants who, as a result, in fact suffered damage.
The Lords dismissed the appeal, holding that the embargo was not tortious in nature. This was due to the fact that the respondents’ purpose was to protect their own interests and not to injure those of the appellants. Lord Wright emphasised that there was a distinction between a ‘conspiracy’ to protect one’s own interest and one where the conspirators commit act which are ‘in themselves wrongful’. He referred to Willes J’s definition of conspiracy: ‘A conspiracy consists not merely in the intention of two or more, but in the agreement of two or more to do an unlawful act, or to do a lawful act by unlawful means’ (at 461). Lord Wright added that in tort one cannot assume that the co-conspirators intend the logical consequences of their actions. Thus, in the absence of an intention to injure the appellants’ interests, no tortious conspiracy could be established in this case.
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