Shelfer test consigned to history

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The Supreme Court has signalled a departure from the strict application of the test in Shelfer v city of London Electric Lighting [1895] which has for more than a century been the leading case on the principles the court must take into account when deciding whether an injunction is an appropriate remedy.

In the case of Coventry v Lawrence, the Claimants brought a claim against the owners of a moto-cross track due to the noise generated by the events carried out there. The judge granted an injunction which restricted the activities on the track.

The owners of the track appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed the decision, finding that the Claimants had failed to establish a nuisance.

The Supreme Court reinstated the injunction. However, the decision itself is of less significance than the commentary of the Supreme Court Judges who took the opportunity to consider the basis upon which a Court can award damages instead of an injunction.

The Judges decided to take the opportunity to "signal a move away from the strict criteria derived from Shelfer." In particular, courts should no longer ignore or limit their consideration of the public interest in deciding whether an injunction is appropriate. They should consider whether an injunction would have serious consequences for the employees of the defendant's business as well as members of the public who benefit from it.

When considering whether an injunction should be granted to restrain, for example, noise from a race-track or airfield or odours from a food or beverage producing factory, the Courts will be able to consider the effect that this would have on the wider community.

 In giving this guidance, the Supreme Court has followed the lead of other jurisdictions such as Canada and the US where a more flexible approach is preferred and where activities which constitute a nuisance have been allowed to continue where the public interest justifies it.

The decision will be welcomed by businesses who undertake activities that are inherently noisy, such as the operators of motor circuits.