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Thomas v Sorrell [1673] EWHC (KB) J85

The nature of a licence

Facts

The claimant in this matter was the Company of Vintners which, under the Act which created it, was entitled to a payment of a licence fee for the selling of wine. The claimant asserted that the defendant had not paid this fee and was therefore unlawfully selling wine.

Issue

Although the issue was fundamentally one of fact in relation to whether the defendant was at fault in the circumstances, the judgment deals with the nature of a licence in a number of ways.

Held

Judgment was passed in favour of the claimant. It was held that the law provides either a sanction for doing something or failing to do something that is required by it. Therefore, where there is no law, there can be no sanction. A licence however, allows a person to undertake something that would ordinarily be prohibited. It does not however pass any interest in goods, but may, depending on its nature allow the licensee to deal with the property. Furthermore, when a person has a licence to do something and suffers harm as a result of a failure of a third party’s obligation, the licence grants the licensee the right to sue on the breach.


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