Stovin v Wise [1996] UKHL 15

The availability of a private law claim in negligence in respect of a failure of a local authority to comply with a public law discretion


A local authority was aware that a bank of land was obstructing the view at a junction where three accidents had occurred in the previous twelve years. The authority had discussed the matter with the land owners and had agreed to carry out the required work. No action had been taken however by the time that the claimant was seriously injured in an accident. The claimant claimed damages not only from the driver of the other vehicle, but also from the local authority.


The issue in this context was whether a local authority could be found to owe a common law duty of care if it had not complied with a public law obligation.


The House of Lords allowed the local authority’s appeal. It was acknowledged that the Highways Act 1980, s 79 did allow a local authority the power to remove obstructions. However, the statutory power did not give rise to a common law duty of care. It was considered that even if the work should have been carried out, a public law duty could not give rise to a common law claim for non-performance. If this was the case, an unacceptable burden would be placed on the local authority’s budget in respect of being permitted to exercise its discretion, especially since road users were already required to carry insurance. In other words, it was not fair, just or reasonable to impose a duty in these circumstances.