Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Rookes v Barnard and others  UKHL 1,  AC 1129
Tort; employment; trade union
The claimant was a skilled draughtsman and employee of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), resigned his membership of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (AESD), a registered trade union. It was agreed between BOAC and AESD (among others) that no strike or lockout should take place and disputes should be handled by arbitration. The claimant refused to rejoin AESD and his union member colleagues decided to withdraw their labour unless the claimant was removed from their office. The claimant was thus suspended and later dismissed with a week’s pay in lieu of notice.
The claimant brought an action for damages arguing that unlawful means were used to induce BOAC to terminate his contract of service and that conspiracy was committed by strike threats to have him dismissed. At trial, the jury found that each defendant (majority in contract with BOAC) was guilty of conspiracy and that their strike threats had caused the claimant’s dismissal. It was also held that the strike threats were unlawful, in breach of the agreement between BOAC and AESD and thus, actionable as tort due to the harm they caused to the claimant. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision, holding that despite the existence of a tort of intimidation, the threat to break a contract was not covered by it. The claimant appealed, the defendants cross-appealed.
Firstly, the Court held that the tort of intimidation was an established tort and as such, it included threats of criminal and tortious acts as well as threats of contractual breaches. Secondly, the tort of intimidation could have been committed by a single person and it was actionable if done without agreement or combination – thus, section 1 of the Trade Disputes Act 1906 provided no defence. Thirdly, the Court held that section 3 of the Act did not protect the inducement of a breach of contract or interference with trade, business or employment where these were brought about by intimidation or other unlawful means.
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