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Why Bradford Corporation v Pickles is important

In Bradford Corporation v Pickles, the House of Lords held that a lawful and reasonable act does not become an unreasonable interference merely because it has been done with an evil motive.

Facts

Pickles owned land at a higher level than Bradford Corporation. The defendant had a natural reservoir from which water flowed to the Bradford Corporation’s land. The claimant used this to supply water to local towns. Pickles sought to sink a well into this natural reservoir (which was on his land). This would reduce the flow of water to Bradford Corporation’s land.

Claim

Bradford Corporation filed a suit of nuisance against the defendant for an injunction against the defendant. Bradford Corporation argued that this was a malicious effort to deprive their land of water. They also alleged that the defendant was doing this to compel them to purchase their land.

Issue

The House of Lords was asked whether a legal act becomes actionable because it is done for a malicious motive?

Held

The House of Lords refused to award the injunction and rejected the claimant’s case.

Reasoning

The court held that whilst the defendant’s acts did deprive them of water, the claimant had no right in the water until it entered onto their land. The fact that the defendant possibly acted with an ill motive had no bearing on the case. Therefore, the only concern for the Court is whether the claimant had the legal right to do what they did. In this case, the defendant did have the right to sink the well as this was done on his land, and there was no reason why the defendant could not do this in an attempt to get the claimant to purchase the land.

Lord Watson said:

No use of property, which would be legal if due to a proper motive, can become illegal because it is prompted by a motive which is improper or even malicious.

Similarly, Lord Macnaughten said:

It is the act, not the motive for the act, that must be regarded.

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