It is fairly difficult to miss the many commemorations for the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. We hear, of course, about the warfare itself, though there have also been insights into conditions in civilian life during the war period. What, though, of the law? What were the issues occupying Britain’s most prominent lawyers as the country faced the Great War?
The 1914 A.C. reports show that the House of Lords was dealing with many actions begun before the outbreak of war. By the 1915 volume, there were more cases which had been started (or had been referred to the HL) in the war period itself, but still many involved facts which had occurred prior to the outbreak of war. Matters considered included: Scots land law, charterparties and strikes, bankruptcy, trustees and ultra vires acts, wills and trusts, construction of contracts and measure of damages, rescission of contracts, conveyancing, the Poor Law and labour law.
Several cases involved miners – including an unsuccessful attempt by a miner to claim for false imprisonment by his employers in the mine (Herd v Weardale Steel Coal and Coke Co.  AC 67) – reflecting the uneasy relationship between employees and mine owners, and the dangers of mining. There is also the litigation involving the nuisance of coal dust caused by the Pwllbach Colliery Co. ( AC 634). Sailors and others involved with ships also feature quite frequently, and are not treated with great generosity in the case of industrial injury.
All this suggests an atmosphere of legal business as usual. While the matters discussed were generally important, they do seem somewhat disconnected from the world of fighting and coping with a major war. Going even further, an impression of extreme snobbish triviality is given by the (unsuccessful) continued pursuit of a claim to an extinct barony – with full legal historical argument about the nature of medieval parliaments – by one Captain Francis William Forester: St John Peerage Case  AC 282.
To be continued …