Cowell v Rosehill Racecourse Co Ltd

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Last modified: 12/10/18 Author: In-house law team

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Cowell v Rosehill Racecourse Co Ltd (1937) 56 CLR 305

The revocability of a contractual licence


The appellant brought an action against the respondent for damages for assault at common law. The respondent stated that the appellant was trespassing on his land. The respondent, through his agents requested that the appellant leave the land and the appellant refused to leave. At this point the respondent’s agents forcibly removed the appellant from the land and it was this which it was argued constituted the assault. The appellant stated that the respondent was carrying out horseracing on the land and that the respondent had informed him that if the appellant paid to the respondent four shillings, he would be allowed to remain on the property to watch the races. The appellant paid four shillings to the respondent and stated that in seeking to removing from the land the respondent was in breach of the contractual licence that was in place. In other words, it was not possible to revoke a licence which was contractual.


The issue in this circumstance was whether a licence which was contractual in nature could be revoked.


It was held that a licence, although it had been paid for by the appellant did not create any proprietary interest. It did create a contractual right; however, this was revocable at common law and the respondent was not prevented by equity from revoking the licence or relying on the revocation. The result was that the licence was revoked before the alleged assault and therefore, the appellant’s appeal failed.

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