Author Archives: vifgage

About vifgage

Professor Gwen Seabourne teaches and researches Legal History, with a particular focus on the medieval period. She is the author of two books and several articles, mainly on this period of Legal History. Current interests include women in legal history and legal humour. This site does not purport to reflect the views of her employer, nor to constitute legal advice.

Assize (still) matters (?)

Clearing out a lot of stuff from my house, as times are very much a-changin’ … came across a cache of overhead projector slides from some long-ago talk on price regulation (odd how that has just hit the news again …). Time to get rid, seeing as I don’t think OHPs are actually going to be coming back. But these are great, so I thought I would snap them for the blog.

Both images come from the Liber de Assisa Panis, a London MS about bread price/quality regulation. That sort of thing was an important part of my PhD thesis, and also formed the basis of an article with the main title ‘Assize Matters’. Not sure whether the editor of the Journal of Legal History at the time did, or did not, get the smutty joke, which owed something to these suggestive car ads … A career high in any case: can’t beat a good pun.

Smut aside, I do love the fact that the top image shows a bit of a space-planning fail. The artist seems to have made everything a bit too big, so that the horses pulling the sledge had to be squashed in (or were the horses drawn by somebody else?) The second one is much more rough and ready, and they decided not to bother with the horses at all. Very ‘relatable’ – horses are hard. I remember that my big sister used to arrange any drawings featuring horses in such a way that she only had to draw the horse’s backside, tail and back legs, because horse heads were so difficult. We are a very artistic family … Also love the fact that this cruder drawing has a label, so we can be in no doubt that it is John de Stratford, whose transgression appears in the entry beside it.  Just in case the likeness was not absolutely apparent.

Enough reminiscing – time to move on (though not dragged on a sledge, I hope ,,,)



From ‘forthcoming’ to ‘coming forth’: a long chapter in academic life

A chapter I wrote quite a while ago, on the legal history of rape in western Europe, has just come out in a collection about medieval crime and deviance.

‘Rape and Law in Medieval Western Europe’ looks at the ways in which different medieval jurisdictions approached rape. The records on which it is based are not straightforward (languages, handwriting, changing meanings of words, and more …), but, carefully examined and considered, they do give at least a sketch of the ways in which rape was thought about, and treated, in medieval law.

There are comparisons and contrasts to be made with regard to the ways in which a case might be brought before a court, the factors which would make sexual misconduct seem to those [men] trying a case more or less serious, and the consequences of a finding of guilt. It is easy to find statements about the serious nature of rape, but often – and this is certainly the case in English records – difficult to find examples of completed, ‘successful’, prosecutions of offenders. This should lead us to ask why that might have been the case, but also to question what we mean by ‘success’ in this context. In medieval English law, if felonious rape was prosecuted through to a conviction, the consequence would be a sentence of death by hanging, and forfeiture of property. The vast majority of rape cases stalled or were diverted at some point before this fatal outcome, however. It seems likely that a significant proportion of them were settled, so as to give some financial assistance to a woman who would now, perhaps, face significant difficulties. No doubt in some cases a complainant simply gave up.

Jurisdictions showed variation in terms of who was seen as a possible victim of rape (Only women? Only or particularly certain sorts of women/girls?) in terms of procedures and in terms of the consequences of a finding of guilt. As we might expect, there were some very negative attitudes towards women embedded in law and practice, though there are also intriguing occasional examples which seem to show sympathy and significant support for women and girls who had been raped. Much of what we would probably like to know lies hidden behind the terse records of cases which remain, and some insights can be gained by considering medieval literary treatments of rape (even though somebody like me, with no real expertise in literature, should tread very warily here). The one law-literature matter which I was, sadly, unable to treat here was the recent developments in the Geoffrey Chaucer-Cecily Chaumpaigne case, which became big academic news long after I actually wrote the chapter (which, I think, was in 2018 … academic publishing can be slow …) and too close to the date of publication to allow for an addition to the text. I intend to write a little more about that soon, as I think there are a couple of ‘legal historian’ points which people might find helpful/interesting).

The overall message of the chapter, I suppose, is one of competing, sometimes contradictory, ideas at play, coming out in different ways in different systems, and even within the same system at different times. Fitting the chapter into a book on the construction of crime and deviance, I would say that the job I hope it does is to warn against seeing medieval rape law as something which can be understood as showing a contrast between ‘the law’ – something stark, simple and clear – and ‘practice’ – which very frequently departs from ‘the law’ so as to let men off with their sexual misconduct. Certainly, a lot of rapists (in our terms) will have ‘walked’, but the ‘escape routes’ were not wholly external to legal doctrine, and legal doctrine was far from the clear, ‘worked out’ and comprehensive thing it is sometimes assumed to have been. Here, as in several other areas of ‘criminal’ law, ‘the law’ is, at least in part, constructed by practice.

Stepping back from the chapter itself, it strikes me that it would have surprised my past self, starting off in the 1990s as a new lecturer and trainee legal historian, that I was working on this area at all. My Ph.D. was on economic regulation, and my early research projects were not focused on women, nor on matters of gender. Not looking into women’s history was a very self-conscious choice, stemming from the opinions of others, influential in the world of legal history, and also from my own thoughts about what it meant to be an academic. The ‘opinions of others’ point was that the legal history tradition in the institutions where I had taken my first steps in the discipline was not given to much consideration of such matters, regarding them as peripheral, trivial, ‘trendy’. The internal inhibitor was that I had drunk in the idea that academics were supposed to be neutral, completely external to the material which they studied. Taking such an approach was the way to win the pat on the back of a good exam grade at school, and at university, and the way to avoid the sniggers and suggestions of ‘stridency’ or ‘special pleading’ from a predictable portion of the department, should there be any suggestion that a woman was focusing her attention on women. To get past that internal inhibition took me quite some time, and the kick up the backside of a combination of  factors.

One shaping factor was where I ended up working. After leaving full-time study, I got a job at Bristol. Arriving here, I was treated with great generosity by the resident co-ordinator of both Roman Law and Legal History, Andrew Borkowski. He made room for me and my interests in the Legal History unit, and the unit he had developed was already rather less private law focused, and rather more open to issues of family law and gender than were those which most undergraduates would have been taught (and still are taught in some places). Initially, I came on a one-year teaching contract, and had every intention of going back to study full time for a Ph.D., in a Law department, where, I would imagine, I would have been immersed once more in the traditions of internal, ‘classical’ legal history, never more to look to matters dismissed as (shudder) ‘social history’ . Bristol made it hard to leave, however, offering both a permanent contract and assistance with doing my Ph.D. part time. A particularly important aspect of this offer was that I could seek supervision from the School of Historical Studies. This, I think, was crucial for the path I have taken. While my Ph.D. thesis was not about anything particularly gender-focused, it did, incidentally, lead me to acquire an additional set of skills and perspectives, which, I think, helped me to break down my own inhibitions against ever, in any way, talking in my academic work about things which were connected to myself. On a less positive note, another factor in the path from economic regulation to a focus on women came in the form of personal experiences of various kinds, including being taken aback by the ways in which institutions and their senior management treated those who took maternity leave or had childcare responsibilities (not so long ago as all that …). (And yes, saying that ‘out loud’, I see how far I have come from the ‘got to look objective’ stance: hinting at some of the less-than-optimal experiences I had with university promotions procedures and those who operated them at key points in my career …). My second monograph, about the many and various ways in which medieval women might be confined marked something of a shift of orientation, as well, perhaps, as something of a burning of bridges. A very influential law-department-based ‘classical legal historian’ was incredulous that I could plan to write a book which would place women to the fore. What about the men?! It felt, though, like something I had to do. Then there were a couple of lucky archival finds (on ‘drug rape’ and ‘work-based sexual harassment) and I began to be known (in certain small and dusty academic corners) as somebody who ‘did women’, and to be asked to write things in this area, including the chapter which has just come out.  So there we are: I am now proud to embrace it, but I think today’s lesson is that it isn’t just academic publishing that can be …

a bit slow.





Photo by Melissa Keizer on Unsplash – tortoise, slow, etc etc.

Flipping Norah …

Confession …

For many years, I assumed that this was some bloke called Nigel or Norbert, who preferred his middle name. And only a man would be a city archivist in 1930, wouldn’t he?

Wrong! This was, in fact a woman, Norah Dermott Harding. And she seems worth a bit of investigation. I am intrigued about her appointment, and how it all went for her, and why she left after just a few years (marriage? And all that expertise lost?). No, don’t tell me there are many other things I am supposed to be doing …



Roman castration pliers

Thoroughly modern mayhem?

There is a story in the UK news[i] which is of potential interest to those of us who like a bit of mayhem. One Marius Gustavson appeared in Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday 22nd March, charged with offences including GBH for removing body parts from other men (those parts including penises, testicles,[ii] nipples, as well as damaging legs beyond healing, requiring amputation …). Other men, allegedly involved in the same activities, appeared in other courts. The chopping of bodies is portrayed in reports as perhaps being consensual, and part of a ‘nullo’ subculture (a new thing to me), and the whole process also involved filming, streaming and charging people to view the footage.

It is the suggestion of consent which caught my attention. It is unlikely that a defence based on consent could succeed in this situation, following, in particular, the decision with regard to less extreme injuries in R v Brown back in the 1990s (gay S & M-inflicted injuries, Lancs; consent defence to offences under ss. 47 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – ABH and wounding – does not work)[iii]. However, I wonder whether it will reignite people’s interest in the law which lies behind Brown, and, in particular, its discussion of mayhem/maim. Whether or not there is a full, discursive, judgment to pore over, I think we can probably anticipate some commentary which takes a bit of a wander through the weird and wonderful world of mayhem.

It does strike me that the injuries in this new case are actually much more clearly within the traditional bounds of mayhem than were those in Brown (or indeed the tongue-splitting etc. in  R v. BM).[iv] Statements on the law of mayhem, and its application, required permanent damage, loss of function or total loss of a ‘member’, which I am not sure was present in Brown, though it certainly is here.[v] They are also very much tied to the male body – so damage to testicles in particular is specifically mentioned in the masculine-focused medieval definitions of mayhem. Leg-removal would also be a clear mayhem. Nipples I am less sure about. And Bracton completely failed to anticipate live-streaming, though it did predict one other aspect of this case – keeping the removed bits

We await the next part of the legal process – apparently due for the 19th April – and further enlightenment.


19th April: further proceedings: two men plead guilty to removing the nipple and penis of the alleged ringleader (GBH); there is also information about the procedure, in that lidocaine seems to have been used for anaesthesia, and about other offences,

There are set to be further court dates in May and June, and a provisional trial date in March 2024.





[i] See, e.g. the Guardian report, though it is in many other places.

[ii] Apparently this is done with something called a ‘burdizzo’. I now know 100% more about how this all works than I did 15 minutes ago. I am not sure that that is a good thing. None of the reports make it clear whether anaesthesia was involved. For castration in Bracton, see this post.

[iii] [1994] AC 212.

[iv] [2018] EWCA Crim 560.

[v] Some of the journalism also draws us into a story from Japan of a man who had his genitalia removed, cooked and eaten … Definitely beyond my mayhem-centric remit. I don’t think this was what Bracton had in mind in its passages on castration and mayhem.

Image: Roman castration pliers, obviously. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Also ran, or a bit of a gallop off in the wrong direction

Some time ago, it became apparent to me that there was a fair chance that any research-related keyword trawl of old newspapers would bring up results relating to horse racing. I suppose it’s not particularly surprising – there are lots of horse races and racehorses, and the equines  can’t all be called Dobbin or Silver, so owners use whatever daft word or couple of words that may pop into their heads.

Today, I did an idle search for ‘Petty Treason’ in a newspaper database, just to check there wasn’t anything more I should be adding to my current project, and was interested and surprised to see quite a few hits from the 1960s and 1970s. I had forgotten the whole horse thing, but, as it turned out, most of the hits were, in fact racing results or lists of runners. It would seem that there was a filly called Petty Treason, which ran in races all over the country for a period in the early 60s. I rather like the fact that she was a lady horse (yes, that is the technical term)  certainly resonates with my project, and its subject matter of women killing their husbands as petty treason. I also like the fact that Petty Treason’s sire [horse daddy – see, I know some of the words] was called High Treason.[i]

Petty Treason does not seem to have been massively successful – I have only seen one victory so far – but at least she did not follow the path of her namesake-offence and end up being burnt at the stake. She seems to have become a brood-mare [yes, again, note horsey vocab – crushing this!] and produced some offspring, with different stallions [and I am remembering more horsey vocab – that’s called ‘covering’ the mare, isn’t it … resonances with ‘coverture’ …?] though sadly they did not get treasonous or criminal names. Poor show.

Now – how on earth am I going to get this into the paper I am writing, on petty treason, for a conference in a few weeks? Stakes, that’s the link, isn’t it? Needs some thought. Giddy up!




[i] See, e.g., Times 14th  Sept 1960 p 14, and, for her win see Times 13th June 1961 p.4.

Image: Photo by Daniel Bonilla on Unsplash  See if you can get it – yes that’s right, it’s a horse! See, this equestrian stuff is easy. Off for a bit of dressaging now. What, you don’t dressage? Oh, you must

[E]stop in the name of love

Yes … wrenched pun heralds a note on the fact that yet another proprietary estoppel case has come out, Gladstone v White [2023] EWHC 329 Ch. Not a massively exciting one in terms of legal doctrine, but some things to notice about the judgment, and the ‘human interest’ reporting of the case in various parts of the press. And vaguely historical because it features an old stately home in Bucks …

Basic facts

The main contenders in the case were solicitor Leigh White and David Gladstone (a former diplomat, i.a. having been the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka). White claimed an interest in Gladstone’s land, (Wotton House, a  Grade I listed ‘£15 million mansion’). White was, until recently,  in the mansion and refusing to leave; she had been there since the pandemic, when Gladstone (a man in his late 80s) had moved out to self-isolate. He now wanted to come back and wanted her out.

There had been a close relationship between White and Gladstone, though there was disagreement as to whether this amounted to her being a ‘surrogate daughter’ (and thus just the person to be left the property) or her being rather more in the nature of a friendly and competent adviser (and thus not likely to expect to benefit in property terms).

So what happened? Read on …


The Legal Bit

Well  … White’s claim was that she had an interest by virtue of proprietary estoppel. She said he had assured her that she would be left this interest, and she had acted to her detriment in reliance on it, so that it would be unconscionable for him not to give her the interest. He disagreed and wanted her out. On Gladstone’s side the argument was that there was no assurance which amounted to something White might reasonably have relied upon to her detriment, and not really any detriment, so no proprietary estoppel.[i] White lost on all fronts – and I don’t have anything very much to say about the law – it is applying the precedents in a fairly unsurprising way.


A long story

Several Land Law academics have commented on the length of this case – and, indeed, other proprietary estoppel cases. This one, from Trower J,  weighs in at 123 pages. Many of us recently had to slog through 108 pages of Guest v. Guest. There is a genuine issue here, for teachers of Land Law – we all like the idea of students reading primary sources, of actually going to the case law, but it is becoming increasingly unrealistic to expect them to be on top of such long cases. (There are a few interesting points in another recent one, Mate v. Mate, a measly-by-comparison 92 pages, but that is not going on any of my reading lists). If it takes us a long time to get through one, we have to expect that it will take students, less (tragically) immersed in the background, and the other cases in the area, much, much longer. Obviously, judgments are not principally written for teaching purposes (unlike, we may think, the old Year Books) but I do wonder whether it is wholly necessary for them to be quite so discouragingly long.

As many of us work with assessment regimes with strict word limits for student answers, there does seem a particularly striking contrast between that insistence on efficiency of expression and the apparently complete lack of limits on the length of judgments. I wonder if the current generation of students, word-limited as they are, will produce shorter judgments when some of them rise to the heights of judgehood. Or will they take these cases as a challenge to produce ever longer judgments?

It certainly appears self-indulgent at times, to have 100 plus page judgments, and I do think that Guest could have benefited from some pruning. There is, perhaps, more reason to have longer judgments in lower courts, so as to set down all of the findings of fact, and the ‘workings out’, and to minimise the possibility of appeals and criticism on the basis that a first instance judge has not considered something or other, or not considered it properly. Still, it is a bit of a heart-sinker, seeing that you are on ‘p. 1 of 123’ in a judgment …

It could probably lose some of the narrative bits. Evidence of Gladstone’s ‘frail’ state of health was, of course, very relevant, as was White’s career as a solicitor, (first, because she was basing her case in having suffered detriment by giving it up to work at Wotton, and, secondly, because, given the knowledge of legal matters which it implied,  it had implications for whether or not it was reasonable for her to rely on certain words as indicating that she would have a property interest). I am not sure that it was pertinent that Gladstone was ‘cultivated’ and ‘sensitive’ (34), or moved in ‘sophisticated circles’ (64), or the name of the architect who had done some revamping (even if that name is Ptolemy Dean. Ptolemy! Good Lord!). [And the suggestion that ‘David could be long-winded (128) may be thought to sit a little uninsightfully in a 123-page judgment….] So, we could do without some of the narrative elements, but nobody would want to redact the excellent passage in paragraph 421 in which we are treated to the exact wording of a quarrel in which somebody called White ‘a fucking nobody’ (though the judge does not use inverted commas, which does make it look rather as if the words are his.)

The coverage

Not that many Land Law cases find their way into the press. Not as exciting as big criminal cases, or Wagatha Christie style defamation cases, I suppose, but still, they do occasionally push the right journalistic buttons – different buttons for different papers. With this one, we have a mixture of:

  • Wealth/prominence of the property owner (Millionaire ex-ambassador, or even ‘multimillionaire’)[ii] The Mail gives us the additional nugget that he was a descendant of William Ewart Gladstone (old families – marvellous …) and throws in the fact that Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Booth had bought ‘a former coach house’ on the estate (how very downmarket! And, at the same time, extravagant!)
  • Value of the property (all accounts). Suspect it was this that drew in that well-known legal journal, the Tatler.
  • The fact that the losing party was a lawyer (always a bit of schadenfreude when lawyers lose lawsuits, I think).[iii]
  • The size of the legal bill faced by the losing lawyer (compounds, or adds an extra degree of piquancy to the schadenfreude felt by journalists, so it seems to me, anyway). £1 million is mentioned …[iv]

Only the Times, as far as I can see, went with a designation of ‘squatter’ for White. And, for a couple of points about Gladstone in his ambassadoring days, you’ll need to look at the Sri Lankan Times.

Anyway – law students, I am not sure I would bother plodding through this one: you have enough on with Guest v. Guest. It would be a rather good plot for a drama, though, should any TV or radio dramatists stumble upon this: class elements, stately home, tension, got to be Winslet as the lawyer-claimant, Nighy as the landowner; and a chance for a bit of a cameo from Michael Sheen as Tony Blair … come on, you know it makes sense.



[i] (There were other things going on, to do with trusts and undue influence, but let’s keep it simple, and think just about Wotton and about the proprietary estoppel case).

[ii] See, e.g., Express.

[iii] See, e.g., Mail.

[iv] See, e.g., Metro and Sun.  In fact, this looks like a conservative figure, if my sums are correct!

Exam question setting season musing

A problem question problem (in the form of an essay)
‘I should spend less time devising “amusing” out-of-date pop culture themed names for my problem question characters, and just call them Arnold, Betty, Charlie and Deborah’
(Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash – though we aren’t doing traditional exam hall exams this year. I miss them.)

Hell is other people[‘s property rights]?

Yes, it’s another infernal easement dispute:

(Fair warning – this is a Land Law post. Normal historical service will be resumed soon. Bracton’s Sister thanks you for your patience).

The High Court judgment in a fiercely-fought easements case has just appeared. Hambling v Wakerly [2023] EWHC 343 (Ch.) is an (unsuccessful) appeal from a decision in Norwich County Court, by HHJ Walden-Smith, and concerns land in Suffolk. (And, to the great relief of those of us still struggling through the whopping proprietary estoppel judgments which have been gushing forth in recent months, it is a mere 12 pages. Appreciated!)

The dispute, which had been brewing for some time, had various aspects, but the only thing which was to be decided in the appeal was whether the judge in the County Court had got wrong her construction of an express easement, to be found in a 2001 Land Registry Transfer.

The land lay like this … The Hamblings were registered proprietors of two separate but almost-adjacent parcels of land: to the west, Garden Cottage (with gardens and post-transfer-constructed stable block) and to the east, a field. A private road ran between the two, and out to the highway, the relevant land being owned by the Wakerlys. There was an easement relating to that private road. It was agreed by both sides in the case that the field had the benefit of that easement. They also agreed that it could not be used as a straightforward right of way from the cottage to the highway. The actual argument was as to whether the Hamblings could use it  between Garden Cottage and the field. They said yes, the Wakerlys said no.

In Norwich County Court, the Hamblings were told that they could not use the track as they wished, between the two parcels. They had run arguments based on: (i)  construction of the wording of the easement; (ii) ancillary use; (iii) proprietary estoppel; (iv) rights to light (in relation to a fence which will be mentioned below, which ran ‘along the entirety of the cottage/track border’. The appeal concentrated on the construction argument. The relevant words involved a grant of a ‘right of way for all purposes with or without vehicles at all times of the day and night over and along the [ road ….] but subject to access over the road marked “Drive” [on the annexed plan] only being used for access to the field not to Garden Cottage.” That looks pretty conclusive against their claim of a right to use the road to gain access to Garden Cottage, so I am not surprised that the case on construction did not work in the County Court.[i] The construction rules, as referred to in the County Court, from the trusty ‘Easements Bible’, Gale on Easements were:

  • Construe according to general rules on interpretation of legal documents
    • Assess the words of the transfer in light of
      • their natural and ordinary meaning (objectively and not taking into account subjective intentions)
      • any other relevant provisions in the Transfer
      • facts and circumstances known or assumed by the parties at the time of transfer
      • commercial common sense.
      • all facts and circumstances (as an aid to interpretation).


The County Court judge decided that the natural and ordinary meaning meant no use of road for access to Garden Cottage, and nothing displaced that.

The Hamblings’ lawyer tried to argue that the County Court judge had taken into account ‘subjective’ material which should not have featured in her construction. However, that was a bit cheeky, since she had also had to deal with the proprietary estoppel argument of the Hamblings, which did require such material to be considered. So that didn’t wash in the High Court. Other criticisms were made of the County Court decision, with regard to whether sufficient account had been taken of the geographical facts, and the suggestion of some odd sort of one-way access from cottage to field, but to no avail. (Incidentally, is there really a need to use locus in quo, terminus a quo and so on? Perfectly good English expressions, avoiding the classical class issues and facilitating accessibility, are available, you know).

The Hamblings’ argued that, even if they lost on basic construction, they could still use the road from Garden Cottage as a matter of ‘ancillary use’. This sort of argument can work, at times, as a sort of ‘escape route’ from restrictive doctrines like the rule in Harris v. Flower, or as a way of enlarging the meaning of clearly-existing easements, but it did not work here, first, because there were express words against such use, and, had it been necessary to go there, there was a second strand – such use would not actually be ‘ancillary’ to the use of the field.

While I am sure that this case is correctly decided on the law, it is, in fact, easy to see why one might think that a grant of two pieces of land to the same people would mean that the rights could, in a sense, be amalgamated, and used for both pieces of land. In England and Wales, however, easements are very definitely attached to pieces of land – operating for the benefit of a specific ‘dominant tenement’. Perhaps this case shows something of the distance between that idea (rather artificial, when you think about it – since it is, in the end, people, not land, who can benefit from such rights) and the ‘common sense’ or ‘gut-feeling’ assumptions of those who have not had the pleasure of a course in Land Law.

From a pure Land Law point of view, I think it is a case which shows the less-than-ideal state of the law on excessive user. Reading between the lines a little, it appears that the main concern of the Wakerlys was to do with the likelihood of intensification of use of the field. Much as the Hamblings’ lawyer might try and portray the situation as stopping the Hamblings doing nice things for their horses – the odd bag of hay, being taken to the field from the cottage, that sort of thing – the Wakerlys were probably rather more concerned with motor vehicle use. But the rules on intensification are rather generous to dominant owners, so resting on the express words of the transfer, and whacking up a fence in accordance with their limitation of the benefited land, was one way of avoiding a level of disturbance they did not want to tolerate.

The reason that I became aware that this case was coming up was that it had been picked up by certain sectors of the press, ever on the look-out for a case which could be fitted into the ‘neighbours from hell’ template. (For a handy starting list of such reports, see Sarah Nield, ‘Inflexibility of enduring property relations: the easement story’, Conv. (2021) 290-304, at note 91). The Daily Mail and Daily Express, and sometimes the Sun and Telegraph, can be relied upon to pounce upon stories like this. Occasionally there might be the potential for a cross-over with other favourite journalistic themes, but the NFH template is usually deployed in one of two slightly different ways – either ‘let’s purse our lips at the ruffianly behaviour of the lower orders’ or else ‘ooh look, we can talk about house prices and property’. This tends to the latter model. I do think that there is scope for some consideration of journalism in this area. Looking at reports of this case, I note the frequent emphasis on the Hamblings’ characterisation of their neighbours as ‘monstrous’,[ii] or ‘monstrous millionaires’ who were ‘boxing them in’.[iii] There is also the ‘dream home turns into nightmare’ trope.[iv] The 6 foot height of the fence was highlighted,[v] and the expense of the litigation, and its length, featured.[vi] There is an interesting ‘spin battle’, or inconsistency, between the idea that the Hamblings were losing the dream cottage/idyll/chocolate box because of the actions of the Wakerlys in building the fence, and the revelation that the insistence on the right to use the access road was connected to a potentially non-dreamy or chocolate-box-adjacent plan to use the field for the parking of vehicles.[vii]

A preliminary scout through other such cases makes me think it would be interesting to see what are the regular negative descriptions of parties in the cases (so far, I find references to spite[viii] and petulance[ix] quite interesting). I would look out for presentation of the matter as a ‘feud’ (well that is a bit legal historical, isn’t it?)[x] or as something of a ‘come-uppance’ tale, especially when it seems that the ‘bad’ neighbour might lose his or her house as a result of the expense of litigation,[xi] or when the loser is a (greedy) lawyer.[xii] Finally, because judges are definitely built up as ‘characters’ in these reports (and I am sure that they are far from unaware of that), I would be on the alert for judges performing  ‘surprise’ that such a dispute could not be sorted out amicably, or without court proceedings.[xiii] The judge in the High Court here avoided this sort of thing, not getting ‘judgey’ or ‘preachy’ about people bringing expensive litigation over such disputes, though this is all too common.[xiv] It always appears to me to be self-important ‘grandstanding’ on the part of judges,  rather talking down to people, who can spend their money on cases if they want to, however foolish, or trivial, it might appear to others.

Finally, on the subject of the intertwining of law and the media, there is a little throw-away comment in another recent judgment of the last decade, which I will use as a concluding thought/conversation opener … the judge in a case in Bristol County Court case, Shortland v. Hill (2017), HHJ Paul Matthews, shared with the world, at paragraph 36, the fact that he had watched the coverage of the case in a reality TV show about such things, ‘Neighbours from Hell’.This had been included in the trial bundle. He was quick to say that this had not been until after he had come to his conclusions – but still, definitely a sign of the back and forth between legal professionals and the media on this one.[i]








[i] There was some potential doubt surrounding the way things had been mapped. My students are always a bit surprised at the … how to put this … inexact … nature of maps in Land Registry records, when they encounter them for the first time. In a world of drones and GPS, when estate agents routinely offer 3D tours of properties, it does seem a little scrappy to be dealing with these rather rough maps.

[ii] E.g. Metro.

[iii] In the Mirror and Mail.

[iv] Again, in the Mirror. And here.

[v] See, e.g., the Metro and Mail

[vi] Express

[vii] As reported here,

[viii] E.g. this one about an ‘aggressive and spiteful pensioner’

[ix] E.g. this one.

[x] E.g. here.

[xi] E.g. this one.

[xii] E.g. here and here.

[xiii] General, see, e.g., this

[xiv]  See, e.g. paragraphs 42 and 43 here.

[i] (He also commented upon the fact that the claimant was bald … which was interesting …)

Image: that’s the flag of Suffolk, that is – new one on me, despite being a bit of a flag-nerd. Can see I will have to revise! Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pulling our Leggatt?

Judicial humour – what do we think? Ever appropriate? I am slightly torn: On the one hand, it can be the cause of horrid sycophantic laughter in court. On the other, I do like a pun, in general, so I suppose there’s no reason why a judge should be barred from the fun. But on the third hand, when these things appear in meticulously-prepared Supreme Court decisions, there is a bit of a feeling that the judge in question must have been rather too pleased with himself (or herself, in theory).

Anyway, I noticed this little pun in Lord Leggatt’s judgement in the recent big nuisance case (about the posh London flats, the owners of which were annoyed at people looking in from a viewing platform at an art gallery), Fearn and others v Board of Trustees of
the Tate Gallery [2023] UKSC 4.

Overlooking in two senses! Ho ho! Groansome or great? You be the judge!



Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Badge saying Coal Not Dole'

Striking times

In these times of strike, my thoughts turn (predictably) to the important question of ‘What did Welsh newspapers of the 19th/early 20th century have to say about strikes?’

And of course the Welsh and English language press had much to say about the great industrial battles which are a part of Welsh and wider British labour history. But naturally enough, there is at least one bad poem on the subject, here, from 1853:

This one takes a bit of a dodgy turn in the middle, having started off in a way which could be read as positive. Be happy with your lot, workers!

And this one tickled me – report from 1904 of a striking choir in the West Midlands. No doubt that would have seemed a particularly terrible thing to readers in the ‘Land of Song’. Note the use by church ‘bosses’ of scab child labour to cover essential services …




Main image – something very evocative of my childhood, not quite so long ago, but long enough.