Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2008 11:59
From: Robert Stevens
Subject: Interference with property
Sarah: conversion doesn't require an unlawful act of dispossession, but it does require that you intend to exercise a liberty with respect to the thing that you don't have. In both Howard E Perry v BRB and Oakley v Lyster the plaintiff's goods were (lawfully) on the defendant's premises, and the defendant was denying the plaintiff access to them: which the defendant had no right to do. This interfered with the plaintiff's right to possess. That is a long way from this case where there is no denial by the defendant of the plaintiff's right to possession.
Michael asked "Having allowed me onto your land to play with the football, how did you stop me just picking up the ball and marching off your land?"
It would be a trespass to walk off the land with the ball. The football owner has a (bare) licence to enter the land, but it is subject to the condition that he doesn't leave the land with the ball. If he does, he falls outside of the terms of the licence and commits trespass. If there was a passing judge, you could get an injunction.
Adam: that is an interesting suggestion, and the closest I can come to imposing liability, but I am not convinced. In Welton the result would have been precisely the same if the advice had come from a lay person "if you want to comply with the health and safety rules you must do X, Y and Z". But for the absence of consideration, there would have been a contract. We cannot say that in this case. The authorities weren't gratuitously undertaking to do anything, whether provide advice or anything else. They just refused a licence, when as a matter of public law they should not have done.
If it is indeed a private law matter, then I would say that it would amount to a conversion. A defendant need not (at any point) have actual possession of the asset in question to be liable in conversion, and there have been instances in which liability has been found on the basis of preventing a rightful possessor from exercising her full spectrum of proprietary rights over her asset, without there having been an unlawful active dispossession in the first place: Howard E Perry v BRB  1 WLR 1375, Oakley v Lyster  1 KB 148 being two of the most immediate examples that spring to mind.
(Martin, would spuilzie lie even though there was no "violent" taking of possession from the claimants? I have long been unclear about the effect of Brown v Hudelstone (1625) Mor. 11748 on this in a modern context.)
Professor of Commercial Law
University College London
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