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CLASSIFICATION OF LAW AND INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PROBLEM-SOLVING. Topic 5. Classification of law. Private/public Private: torts, contracts Public: constitutional, criminal, administrative. Classification of law. Commercial law National/International law. The Common law. and civil law

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classification of law
Classification of law
  • Private/public
  • Private: torts, contracts
  • Public: constitutional, criminal, administrative
classification of law3
Classification of law
  • Commercial law
  • National/International law
the common law
The Common law
  • and civil law
  • and statute
  • and equity
criminal law
Criminal law
  • Different to civil law
  • State always a party
    • R v
    • DPP v
    • The Commonwealth v
    • ACCC v
  • Punishment – imprisonment or fine – rather than remedy
  • Standard of proof
conference with mavis stewart and kylie berg new client
Conference with Mavis Stewart and Kylie Berg: new client.

Mavis Stewart attended our office today with her daughter Kylie Berg and a coffee cake, baked that morning. Ms Stewart is a keen cook and has a number of legal problems arising from a recent kitchen renovation, in respect of which she seeks our advice.

The kitchen renovation included new flooring. Mavis was particularly interested in flooring as she had difficulties keeping her slate tiles clean. She searched for low maintenance flooring and after extensive shopping decided on single sheet vinyl flooring. She saw just the thing at Discount Lino Barn, close to Kylie’s home. Kylie indicated that she didn’t share her mother’s preference for vinyl flooring as it was cold underfoot and had suggested kitchen carpet. Kylie and Mavis spoke to Mike at Discount Lino Barn who suggested under-floor heating could address Kylie’s temperature issues.

Kylie provided details of the under floor heating options while her mother left the conference room to offer slices of her coffee cake to the other staff. She also advised that her mother was having problems with Whitegoods World from which she had bought her fridge. Kylie advised that her mother required a “French door” fridge with freezer drawers underneath to accommodate the large baking trays she used for her cakes. She had ordered the fridge she needed from Whitegoods World but had experienced delivery problems.
Mavis returned to the conference room. She advised that she had had to make a large coffee cake that morning, even though her preference would have been to make cup-cakes. In fact, one of her legal problems was her cup-cake oven. Cake Cookers is a specialist retailer which sells products designed for those who like to cook cakes. It retails a number of specialist pans and other baking utensils – many imported from America and not readily available in Australia, as well as a special range of cake ovens. They are located in Broome – and Mavis lives in NSW, but Cake Cookers sells throughout Australia by catalogue. Mavis wanted a special cake oven in her new kitchen. She saw an oven that looked perfect for her in their catalogue – the picture showed 8 slide out patty pan trays instead of oven trays – exactly what she wanted. She rang the store and spoke to Cathy.
She told Cathy all about her cupcakes, her favourite recipes, and her interest in the patty pan oven in their catalogue. Cathy told her that the patty pan oven had eight slide out patty pan holders – instead of oven racks – and that each patty pan holder would take one dozen patty pans. Even better, they came with self cleaning silicone inserts. Mavis was delighted about the self cleaning but concerned that each tray would only take one dozen patty pans. Although after discussion with Cathy, she was convinced that the overall capacity of the oven was appropriate, and so she placed an order.
Her oven purchase was much more successful than her fridge which, on the very day it was due to be delivered – not only did not arrive, but the shop called her to advise that delivery was delayed for one month. Mavis said to the shop keeper: “Well that’s no good to me. I ordered that fridge for today. I need that fridge today. I told you when I needed the fridge. The only reason I ordered from you was that you told me I could have it today. If you can’t give it to me today, you can just keep your fridge!! I don’t want it anymore.” Mavis then rang Quick Fridge and ordered and received another fridge that afternoon– suitable for her requirements. However, one month later, Whitegoods World delivered the fridge originally ordered and demanded payment. Mavis told them she no longer wanted the fridge and had cancelled the order. Whitegoods World denied the order was cancelled – as their policy is no cancellations after an order has been placed. They are threatening to sue Mavis for the price of the fridge - $5,500.
As well, Mavis is being threatened with legal action by Chrissie Saranrap. Chrissie was married a month ago and was expecting Mavis to provide her specialty – the “nouveau doveau” - a tiered tower of cupcakes, iced in white and arranged to resemble the wings of doves – as the centrepiece cake for her wedding reception. Mavis loves doing cakes for weddings – in fact she now makes more money from doing wedding cakes than she does from her regular cooking classes, although she does find a number of her brides returning for cooking classes.
Chrissie read information about Mavis’ cake services in an article in the local paper, and called round to see Mavis, and look at the different cakes she could make. They discussed possibilities and pricing and Chrissie left with a price list. Apparently, Chrissie called and left Mavis a message on the answering machine ordering the “nouveau doveau” for her wedding, to be delivered on 2nd May at the wedding reception, for $2,000 COD. In her message, Chrissie had said: “If I don’t hear to the contrary, I’ll assume everything is OK. Call me if there is a problem – otherwise I will see you on the 2nd. Looking forward to your lovely creation.” Unfortunately, because of all the work being done to the kitchen and problems with electrical work and electrical supply, Mavis had experienced a number of black outs which had interrupted her answering machine. Mavis – never received the message from Chrissie, and so of course, had not provided the cake.
Chrissie is very angry and claims her wedding was ruined without the cake. She has threatened to sue Mavis.

Mavis advised that even if she had known about the cake order she would have had difficulty fulfilling it because of problems with her newly installed cake oven. When the oven arrived she saw that instead of Australian sized delicate patty pan holders, the cake trays were American size muffin holders – and two trays were even jumbo sized Texas muffin size holders. This is not what Mavis wanted at all. Mavis rang Cathy and told her the oven was not what she had wanted at all, and not suitable for the cakes in which she specialised. Cathy said she was sorry that Mavis was disappointed, but there is nothing that they can do about it. Mavis wants to know if she still has to pay the $8,000 for the special cake oven.

She is also angry about the flooring she has had installed. Despite Kylie’s protests she went with the single sheet vinyl, and did not have under floor heating installed. The vinyl, while easier to clean than the slate, is marking and scuffing badly however. She has only had it down 6 months, and already there are a number of wear marks. Her cupcake classes – which she runs 5 times a week and more often in school holidays – are now so popular that she has at least 20 students per class. Because of her renovations she has room for them all around her lovely new island bench, but the vinyl around the island bench almost looks like a race track. It is as if her students have worn a path around the bench – and in only 6 months. The vinyl was quite expensive – as she had heavy grade domestic installed – so Mavis is very unhappy. She hasn’t yet paid the bill for the vinyl as she has been arguing with the company. They are, according to Mavis, now getting nasty, and want their $45,000 immediately. Advise Mavis
problem solving methodology
Problem solving methodology
  • Issue
  • Law (Rule)
  • Application
  • Conclusion
  • “advise”

MASON J. This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia (King J.) in which judgment was entered for the first respondents ("the Trigwells") against the appellant Insurance Commission.

The Trigwells had brought an action for damages for personal injuries which they had sustained when the vehicle in which they were travelling was involved in an accident with a vehicle driven by one Christine Avis Rooke. By their statement of claim, the Trigwells alleged negligence on the part of Miss Rooke. Miss Rooke had been killed in the accident and the appellant was sued as her compulsory third party insurer.

The second respondents ("the Kerins") were also joined as defendants in the action. By their statement of claim, the Trigwells alleged that Miss Rooke had collided with two sheep on the highway immediately before the accident and that, as a result [630] of, or in an attempt to avoid, the collision with the sheep, she had collided with the Trigwells. It was alleged that the presence of the sheep on the highway was the result of negligence on the part of the Kerins and further, or in the alternative, that the presence of the sheep constituted a nuisance which the Kerins had failed to prevent. The Kerins were sued as the occupiers of land adjoining the highway on which the accident had occurred.

The Trigwells claimed that either the deceased driver or the Kerins or both had been responsible for the accident.

By its defence, the appellant denied that there had been negligence on the part of the deceased driver and alleged that, even if there were such negligence, the respondent Eric Gerald Trigwell, who had been driving the Trigwells' vehicle at the time of the accident, was guilty of contributory negligence. The appellants also issued a third party notice for contribution against the Kerins.

The Kerins denied the allegations of negligence and nuisance. They maintained that, by virtue of the rule in Searle v. Wallbank , they were not liable in negligence for the loss and damage suffered by the Trigwells in the accident. They also denied that they were under any duty to prevent any nuisance which might be found to have existed.

The Kerins alleged that there had been contributory negligence on the part of Eric Gerald Trigwell, an allegation which he denied, and issued a third party notice for contribution against the appellant.

King J. held that the deceased driver had been guilty of negligence, thereby causing the accident in which the Trigwells had been injured, and that the Trigwells were therefore entitled to succeed against the appellant Insurance Commission. He held that there had been no negligence on the part of the respondent Eric GeraldTrigwell.

His Honour concluded that the Kerins were under no liability in either nuisance or negligence. His Honour held that the presence of the two sheep on the highway was incapable of constituting a public nuisance for which the Kerins were responsible. Moreover, he held that, applying the rule in Searle v. Wallbank, in the circumstances of the case, the Kerins were under no duty of care to prevent the sheep from straying on to the highway and hence that no negligence on the part of the Kerins could be established. His Honour followed the decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia in Bagshaw [631] v. Taylor which held that the rule in Searle v.Wallbank was applicable in South Australia.

In the result, then, judgment was entered for the Trigwells against the appellant Insurance Commission. In this Court, the appellant challenged the finding that there had been negligence on the part of the deceased driver. The appellant also contested the conclusion of the Supreme Court that the Kerins were under no liability in negligence. It was submitted that the rule in Searle v. Wallbank did not form part of the law of South Australia and that, accordingly, upon the evidence, there should have been a finding of negligence made against the Kerins.

In the alternative, it was argued that, if the rule in Searle v. Wallbank did form part of the law of South Australia, there were, in this case, "special circumstances" within the meaning of the rule which justified a finding of negligence against the Kerins. Finally, the appellant contended that the Supreme Court had erred in concluding that the Kerins were not guilty of nuisance. The Trigwells, who cross-appealed, supported the appellant's case against the Kerins.

It will be convenient to consider first the liability of the Kerins in negligence. This depends very largely on what was decided in Searle v. Wallbank. Bray C.J. in Bagshaw v. Taylor has examined the effect of the decision and the operation in Australia of the principle which it enunciates. However, as this case is in effect an appeal against Bagshaw v. Taylor and as this Court has greater freedom to depart from a decision of the House of Lords than the Supreme Court of a State, it is necessary that I say something of Searle v. Wallbank.

There the House of Lords decided that the owner or occupier of a property adjoining the highway is under no legal obligation to users of it so to keep and maintain his hedges, fences and gates as to prevent animals from straying on to it, and that he is not under any duty as between himself and users of it to take reasonable care to prevent any of his animals, not known to be dangerous, from straying on to it The decision has been much discussed, indeed criticized, but its effect is to settle what has been the common law of England from early times.

We were invited to hold that the case was wrongly decided and to say that the earlier cases supported the view that the landowner or occupier of land was not immune from liability to negligence arising from his failure to fence securely his land so as to prevent stock from straying and causing injury to users of the highway. It is not an invitation to which I would accede…..

[632] Salmond on Torts, 17th ed. (1977), p. 344, refers to the rule as "long-standing" and as one which "was founded upon our ancient social conditions and was in no way related to, or liable to be qualified by, such matters as the relative levels of fields and highway, the nature of the highway, or the amount of traffic upon it". The author cites Brock v. Richards as authority for this statement.

It has been suggested that the rule is of modern or recent origin, notably by Lord Wright in Brackenborough v. Spalding Urban District Council, in a speech to which Lord Greene M.R. called attention in Hughes v. Williams. However, an examination of the authorities shows that its antecedents are ancient.

The attack on Searle v. Wallbank was chiefly founded on the claim that the rule which it enunciated is illogical and that the conditions on which it was based historically have altered in a fundamental way. According to the appellant, it is illogical that the occupier of land should be liable for damage done to a neighbour's property by reason of his animals straying and that he should be immune from liability for personal injury done by his animals (not known to be dangerous) straying on to the [633] highway through his failure to maintain his fences. The explanation for this apparent illogicality is, of course, to be found in the historical facts. As Neville J. said in Heath’s Garage Ltd. v. Hodges : “In my opinion the experience of centuries has shown that the presence of domestic animals upon the highway is not inconsistent with the reasonable safety of the public using the road.”
It is then said that as there was a radical change in the relevant conditions, a change brought about by the development of roads and highways, the growth of fast-moving motor traffic on a large scale and a substantial increase in the fencing of properties, the House of Lords should have held that the rule was no longer appropriate to modern circumstances and that the ordinary principles of negligence should apply to the occupier of land whose straying animals caused accidents on the highway. In short, it is argued that the House of Lords should have reviewed the existing law in conformity with the suggestions made by the Court of Appeal in Hughes v. Williams

I do not doubt that there are some cases in which an ultimate court of appeal can and should vary or modify that which has been thought to be a settled rule or principle of the common law on the ground that it is ill-adapted to modern circumstances. If it should emerge that a specific common law rule was based on the existence of particular conditions or circumstances, whether social or economic, and that they have undergone a radical change, then in a simple or clear case the court may be justified in moulding the rule to meet the new conditions and circumstances. But there are very powerful reasons why the court should be reluctant to engage in such an exercise.

The court is neither a legislature nor a law reform agency. Its responsibility is to decide cases by applying the law to the facts as found. The courts facility, techniques and procedures are adapted to that responsibility; they are not adapted to legislative functions or to law reform activities. The court does not, and cannot, carry out investigations or enquiries with a view to ascertaining whether particular common law rules are working well, whether they are adjusted to the needs of the community and whether they command popular assent. Nor can the court call for and examine, submissions from groups and individuals who may be vitally interested in the making of changes to the law. In short the court cannot, and does not, engage in the wide-ranging inquiries and assessments which are made by governments and law reform agencies as a desirable, if not essential, preliminary to the enactment of legislation by an elected legislature. [634]

These considerations must deter a court from departing too readily from a settled rule of the common law and from replacing it with a new rule. Certainly, in this case they lead to the conclusion that the desirability of departing from the rule in Searle v. Wallbank is a matter which should be left to Parliament.

It is beyond question that the conditions which brought the rule into existence have changed markedly. But it seems to me that in the division between the legislative and the judicial functions it is appropriately the responsibility of Parliament to decide whether the rule should be replaced and, if so, by what it should be replaced. The determination of that issue requires an assessment and an adjustment of the competing interests of motorists and landowners; it might even result in one rule for urban areas and another for rural areas. It is a complicated task, not one which the court is equipped to undertake.

My conclusion is, then, that we should accept that what was and has been the common law for England was correctly decided by Searle v. Wallbank. The next question is whether the law as declared by the House of Lords in that case represents the law of South Australia. The proper approach to a determination of such a question was adopted by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Brisbane v. Cross, and by the Supreme Court of South Australia in Bagshaw v. Taylor. Accordingly, the inquiry must be whether the law in Searle v. Wallbank was applicable in the colony of South Australia upon its settlement and further, whether the law, if so applicable, has been varied or abolished by subsequent local legislation.

It is a well-established principle that, in settled colonies, so much of the common law of England is introduced as is applicable to the situation of the colonists and the condition of the colony (see Halsburys Laws of England, 4th ed., vol. 6, p. 589; Cooper v. Stuart). The applicability of the law in question depends not upon whether the court considers the law suitable or beneficial for the colony, but upon whether the law is capable of application in the colony (Delohery v. Permanent Trustee Co. of N.S.W.). The date upon which the applicabili­ty of the English common law to the settled colony of South Australia falls to be considered has been fixed by local enactment. Section 3 of Act No. 9 of 1872 (S.A.) provides that "In all questions as to the applicability of any laws or statutes of England to the Province of South Australia, the said province [635] shall be deemed to have been established on the 28th day of December 1836".
The issue, then, is whether the common law of England, as settled by the decision of the House of Lords in Searle v. Wallbank, was applicable, in the relevant sense, to the colony of South Australia on 28th December 1836. There is no reason for holding that the rule in Searle v. Wallbank was inapplicable in South Australia on that date. The physical conditions obtaining in the colony—those relating to the state of the roads and fencing of land, and to the presence of straying stock upon the highways—were not so markedly different from those existing in England that the law could be said to be inapplicable to the colony. There was nothing in the legislation in force in the colony as at 28th December 1836 that had the effect of making the relevant common law inapplicable to the colony.

Subsequent statutory provisions such as s. 14 (2) of the Impounding Act, 1920 (S.A.), permitting the impounding of cattle wandering or straying upon the road and, in effect, the imposition of a penalty upon the owner of the cattle, have not displaced the common law because they confer no private right of action upon a person injured by the straying cattle (see Searle v. Wallbank).

There has been no counterpart in South Australia to the legislation in Western Australia which required and encouraged the fencing of properties, legislation which was relied upon by the Supreme Court of Western Australia to justify the conclusion that the rule in Searle v Wallbank is not part of the law of that State (see Thomson v. Nix).

The view might be taken that conditions prevailing in Australia, or some parts of Australia, are more suited to the [636] retention of the rule in Searle v Wallbank than the conditions which prevail in the United Kingdom. Not only is Australia predominantly rural in character but its rural interests centre very substantially around the raising and keeping of livestock. I mention these considerations, not with a view to saying that the rule ought to be retained, but so as to emphasize the point that the issue of retention or abolition calls for an assessment and a adjustment of conflicting interests, the principal interests being those of the rural landowner and occupier and those of the motorist.

The fact that the United Kingdom Parliament has abolished the rule has no relevance for us, except to confirm my opinion that the question should be left to Parliament. As conditions here differ from those which prevail in the United Kingdom we cannot automatically assume that all Australian legislatures, or that the South Australian Parliament in particular, would take the same view as that which has been taken in England. With great respect to Samuels J.A. who thought otherwise in Kelly v. Sweeney I do not consider that the abolition of the rule by the United Kingdom Parliament on the recommendation of the English Law Commission is a relevant consideration for this Court.

We must proceed, therefore, on the footing that Searle v. Wallbank forms part of the law of South Australia.