Weird and wonderful cases

Lord DenningJust for fun!

What I’ve learned while studying a law degree. Strangely, to me at least, I have learned that the ‘law’ does not necessarily mean justice or fairness. I’ve learned that mature students like me, need not necessarily be very mature; thank goodness. It’s quite possible, maybe even a requirement, to be an immature mature student!

The lecturers (at least in the Wicklow Campus of ITCarlow) can be a little scary, yet also fabulously intelligent. Without exception they are helpful and kind, even with someone with a pea sized brain like moi. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough, even on the days when I’m frozen in terror of being asked a question. Despite ‘on occasion’ knowing the answer, why does my (admittedly pea-sized) brain turn to mush when a lecturer fixes their gaze in my direction?

One of the judicial characters which all law students will have studied is the fabulous English Judge ‘Lord Denning’.  He was ’83  years young’ when he retired and was widely referred to as the ‘people’s judge’. He made some brilliant and memorable judgments in his time as High Court and appellate judge. Upon his death he was referred to as the ‘greatest English judge of modern times’ and ‘the most famous and influential judicial figure of the century’. I think a lot of us have a soft spot for the flamboyant Lord Denning; yet even he was not infallible and made some terrible mistakes, particular in the case of the ‘Birmingham Six’.

Lord Denning, in considering whether the Birmingham six should be allowed to appeal their conviction, stated “If the six men win, it will mean that the police are guilty of perjury, that they are guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were invented and improperly admitted in evidence and the convictions were erroneous” and further “This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go any further.” So in other words, wrongly convicted prisoners should stay in jail rather than be released and risk a loss of public confidence in the law. Once retired, he further stated that all the fuss regarding miscarriage of justice wouldn’t have happened if the ‘Birmingham Six’  had been hanged. Quite a spectacular faux pas indeed, yet I’m not sure whether Lord Denning ever saw it that way.

Another thing I have learned is that the cases I find most interesting are the funny and weird ones, which others may not find particularly interesting or particularly relevant. From the Irish Garda who acted in a ‘lewd’ manner in his local pub, to the American who sued over ‘defective’ underpants, IT IS SUBMITTED (ha) that college for the immature mature student will never be boring!


Strange and wonderful cases:

(I apologize in advance to my mam for the following Irish case!)

Stoker v Doherty  (Ireland) 

Garda picA Garda (Irish Policeman) who was stationed in the small rural town of Ballacolla, County Laois, was charged with bringing the reputation of ‘An Garda Síochána’ into disrepute. Garda ‘Thomas Stoker’ was socialising in a local public house with another man named Kenneth Senior when he committed the offence of lewd behaviour. He was not in uniform and was in fact off-duty on the night in question. The complaint related to ‘lewd’ comments by the Garda, but also included ‘permitting’ his wife to act in a similarly lewd manner in the same establishment. On the night in question, the Garda commented to Mr Senior (referring to his wife): “What do you think of Anne, would you r**e her, you can have her for the night if you want her.” He was subsequently sacked from An Garda Síochána, hence the Supreme Court appeal.

Full Supreme Court Judgment here (courtesy of Bailli.org).


Arkell v. Pressdram (England)

ArkellAn exchange of solicitor letters (defamation allegations), which became known as ‘Arkell v. Pressdram (1971)’. Full exchange below:

Solicitor (Goodman Derrick & Co.):

We act for Mr Arkell who is Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd. His attention has been drawn to an article appearing in the issue of Private Eye dated 9th April 1971 on page 4. The statements made about Mr Arkell are entirely untrue and clearly highly defamatory. We are therefore instructed to require from you immediately your proposals for dealing with the matter. Mr Arkell’s first concern is that there should be a full retraction at the earliest possible date in Private Eye and he will also want his costs paid. His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply.

Private Eye Magazine:

We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.

[No further correspondence was initiated by Mr Arkell] 

Courtesy of nasw.org here.


Stambovsky v Ackley  (New York)

NY Haunted HouseStambovsky concerned the doctrine of ‘Caveat Emptor‘ (let the buyer beware) and the sale of a haunted house. Helen Ackley put her Victorian house up for sale (in Nyack, New York). Mr Jeffrey Stambovsky signed a contract agreeing to purchase the house and made a downpayment, completely unaware that the house was reputedly haunted. Helen (the owner) had herself published an article about it being haunted some years beforehand in the ‘Reader’s Digest’ magazine. Stambovsky, who subsequently discovered the  ghostly reputation surrounding the house, attempted to void the contract by suing for ‘nondisclosure’. He initially lost under the common law doctrine of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). He appealed the decision twice, before finally being successful in the Appelate Division of the Supreme Court (U.S.) where he recovered his deposit.

Full Judgment here (Courtesy of Kevinunderhill)


Freed v. Hanes Brands Inc., (Florida)

UnderpantsThe plaintiff in this case, Mr Freed, alleged that ‘defective manufacturing’ of his underpants which ‘gaped open and acted like a sand-belt’ on his ‘privates’, caused ‘debilitating pain’ which resulted in him being ‘hardly able to walk’. He alleged that his injury had ruined his Hawaiian holiday, which he had won as a reward for selling more than $20,000 in diet products. Strangely, Mr Freed (a self confessed belly-man) testified that due to his weight he was unable to look down and see, emm, anything! The Court found it more likely that the manner in which he got into his underwear had caused his ‘penile injury’, and not in fact defective workmanship. Mr Freed lost the case.

Full Judgment here (Courtesy of Columbia.edu)


Garratt v Dailey  (Washington) 

ChairRuth Garratt was in her garden chatting to her sister who was accompanied by a little boy (Five year-old Brian Dailey). As Ms Garrett went to sit on a garden chair, the little boy removed it, causing her to fall and break her hip. She sued the five year-old for battery. The trial judge heard testimony from Ms Garratt’s sister but instead favoured the testimony of the defendant (the five year old). The judge did not award damages to Ms Garratt but remanded the case for clarification of Brian’s intent. A battery could only be established if it was proved that Brian knew with ‘substantial certainty’ that Ms Garratt would sit down where the chair had been. There is so much wrong with this case, I wouldn’t know where to start.

Full Judgment here.


Donoghue v Stevenson (Scotland)

Ginger beerMay Stevenson was separated from her husband and had 4 children, of which only one survived, Henry. May was the instigator of what we all now know as ‘the law of negligence’, where a ‘duty of care’ is owed to our ‘neighbour’. May was enjoying a ‘ginger beer float’ in the ‘Wellmeadow café’ in Paisley (Scotland) with her friend, when she discovered the remnants of a snail. The snail remains allegedly came from the opaque bottle of beer which her friend had bought for her. As May didn’t buy the beer herself, she had no contract with the management of the café, so she sued the manufacturer, Mr Stevenson. Donoghue was probably one of the most important cases in legal history, yet poor old May never lived to see it. May died in 1958, age 59, in Gartloch Mental Hospital, having reportedly suffered from a mental illness. I wonder what poor May was subjected to in the name of psychiatric ‘care’, considering lobotomies were a common treatment in 1958? Electroshock ‘therapy’ was also a frequently used ‘cure’ in the 50s, where patients commonly received broken bones having ‘treatment’ while shackled to a gurney. I can’t say for sure, but I would bet my last euro that poor May’s last days weren’t pretty!

Full judgment here (courtesy of Bailli.org)


DPP V Ó Muiris (Ireland)

DonkeyThe Judge, Gardaí, Solicitors and defendants dissolved into fits of laughter during this case involving a busker, some bald tires and a ‘whistling donkey’. Mr Ó Muiris was before the court charged with having four defective tyres. Garda Scanlon told the court that he noticed the defendant driving his Hiace van with worn tyres, when his attention was immediately drawn to the inside of the van, where he saw a donkey looking back at him. Evidence was given that the donkey played the tin whistle as part of Mr Ó Muiris’ busking act. The court heard Mr Ó Muiris had one previous conviction for drink driving. Mr Mann, his solicitor, quickly interjected, stating that ‘that offence was for driving his Hiace van, and not his donkey’.

Courtesy of the ‘Kerryman’. Article here.

4 thoughts on “Weird and wonderful cases”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s