Tag Archives: Our Mutual Friend

‘Dickensian litigation’ – CA judgment in Gilks v Hodgson (2015) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/5.html

Lawyers do like their Dickens references. The concept of ‘Dickensian litigation’ has reared its head in a recent easements case, Gilks v Hodgson (2015) which can be found at



Bean LJ’s allusion, no doubt, is to the preposterously and ruinously extended case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce from Bleak House. Both cases cost significantly more than the subject matter was worth – in the recent case, it has been suggested that costs might be £500,000 – so the characterisation of Gilks v Hodgson seems justified in part. In addition, there is the odd whimsical touch, such as the issue of whether or not some alpacas were being disturbed, which might well have appealed to Dickens. On the other hand, there are clear differences – the parties in Gilks do not sound as if they will be ruined by the case, however foolish it may seem, and it has not lasted anything like as long as Jarndyce.


The idea of ‘Dickensian’ litigation is perhaps more appropriate in long running and complex cases such as Hackney LBC v Sivanandan [2013] EWCA Civ 22, a discrimination case which had lasted at least 12 years, with many twists and turns (see Mummery LJ at 2). It is complexity – again probably alluding to Jarndyce – which is described as Dickensian in the multi party Jackson v Thakrar case ([2007] EWHC 271, per HHJ Peter Coulson QC).


Other Dickens works appear to be the subject of allusion in relation to the chaining of prisoners in hospital – Elias J, whose remarks are reported in Spinks v Secretary of State for the Home Office [2005] EWCA Civ. 295 (referring to A Tale of Two Cities crossed with A Christmas Carol?). Poverty and poor living conditions (which might be drawn from Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, or elsewhere) are the ‘Dickensian’ factors in Murphy v Burrows [2004] EWHC 1900 (Ch) (per Richard Sheldon QC). Malicious and brutal schoolmasters (presumably Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby) are drawn to mind by the reference in R on the application of Williamson v Secretary of State for Education [2001] EWHC 960. Perhaps the most specific (relatively) recent reference is that by Peter Hayward in Burrals of Wisbech Ltd’s Applications [2004] RPC 14. Discussing the peculiarity of a stature which distinguishes between the right to inspect a document, and the right to copy it, he brings in the office Deputy Chaff-Wax(seen in A Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent). See also the specific reference by chapter to the ‘Dickensian’ administration of patents – Oliver LJ in Therm-a-Stor Ltd v Weatherseal Windows Ltd [1981] FSR 579, citing Little Dorrit c. 10.


To return to Gilks v Hodgson, while judges instinct might be for the ‘Dickensian’ reference, media interest has been so keen to note that the location of the dispute is close to the homes of various footballers and celebrities (in Cheshire) that perhaps it would be equally justified to invoke the world of Footballers’ Wives or Heat magazine. The judge at first instance called the parties’ relationship ‘toxic’, though, disappointingly, without any overt Britney Spears reference.

For media coverage, see, e.g.



GS 24/1/2015.