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The Neighbourhood Principle

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The Neighbourhood Principle

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  • November 30, 2012
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Has The Neighbourhood Principle failed?
“My neighbour asked me if he could use my lawnmower and I told him of course he could, so long as he didn’t take it out of my garden.”1 This is the concept which most people tend to associate the word ‘neighbour’ with. However, in the court room, the word makes a decisive shift away from this traditional meaning and endeavours to establish to whom a common law duty of care is owed. The law has expanded considerably by the onset of the concept of foreseeable plaintiffs which is almost 80 years in existence in the UK. It is evasive in determining “whether proximity should now be regarded as a discrete analytical concept around which arguments may be constructed, or merely as a slippery expression reflective of the fairness, justice and reasonableness of imposing a duty of care upon the defendant in the light of the nature of his relationship with the claimant.” 2 This essay sets out to establish whether the neighbour principle was successful or if it has fallen short and where, it will present court decisions, statutes and constitutional provisions pertinent to this area of law. In articulating what was meant by “the neighbour principle”, Lord Atkin famously stated the following proposition: “The rule that you must love your neighbour becomes in law you must not injure your neighbour; and lawyer’s question, 'who is my neighbour?’ receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions 1 2

Eric Morecombe (English comedian, 1926-84) Hartstone, J., ‘Confusion, contradiction and chaos within the House of Lords post Caparo v. Dickman’, (2008) 16 Tort L Rev 8

which you can reasonably foresee would be liable to injure your neighbour? The answer seems to be – persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”3 His definition was to...