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Eight legal cases that changed the course of law


Category: Law, crime and investigation

22 June 2018

Eight curious legal cases that shouldn’t have happened, but did – supplied by Cliona Fletcher, 2nd-year law student at ARU.

R v Dudley & Stephens

A pretty grisly case from the 1880s. After a shipwreck and 19 days at sea, captain and crew member Dudley and Stevens were accused of killing and eating their cabin boy, Richard Parker, to avoid dying themselves.

Initially sentenced to death, their sentence was commuted to six months in prison by Queen Victoria. This case is often cited as setting a legal precedent that ‘the defence of necessity is no defence to murder’.

Fisher v Bell

In 1961, advertising the sale of knives could land you with a hefty penalty. In this case, the court was left scratching their heads asking, 'Does a grapefruit knife count as a knife?' After all, it’s hardly a weapon likely to cause a life-threatening wound, right? In the end it was decided that it was, but as the shopkeeper wasn’t technically offering the knife for sale, it counted as an ‘invitation to treat’. Nice dodge.

R v Collins

It could be a tale from Shakespeare: a man falls in love with a woman and decides to climb a ladder to her window, completely nude except for his socks. She invites him in, thinking it's her boyfriend, before realising it's the wrong guy. This case examines the meaning of ‘enters as a trespasser’, as although she had mistaken his identity, she had invited him in.

R v G & R

A couple of kids decided to get that authentic camping experience – near their local Co-Op. When the night turned chilly they started a fire, which quickly got out of hand. They covered the fire with a wheelie bin which then caught fire itself, and then set fire to the Co-Op.

They caused £1million of damage, but avoided conviction as this was clearly an accident and they ultimately weren’t guilty of ‘recklessness for criminal damage’. Try explaining that one to your parents.

McCaig v University of Glasgow

In his will, a man from Glasgow requested that statues of himself were to be built all around the University of Glasgow in his honour. The courts decided that the request was ‘eccentric’ and of no use to anyone, and was firmly rejected. Nice try.

Jaffa Cake v HMRC

Yes, Jaffa Cakes. Those tasty orangey discs got involved in a court case against HMRC over whether or not a Jaffa Cake counts as a cake or a biscuit. This was because cakes are taxed less heavily than biscuits. In the end, McVitie’s baked a birthday cake-sized Jaffa Cake just to prove that they are indeed, cakes. Best day in court ever.

Donoghue v Stephenson

It was 1928 and May Donoghue got a shock when she discovered a snail at the bottom of her ginger beer bottle. Gross. She developed gastroenteritis and subsequently sued the manufacturer and the ruling established the obligation for businesses have 'a duty of care towards their customers.

Hoover free flight disaster

Although this isn’t technically a case, the disaster did give rise to hundreds of others. During 1992, Hoover offered free flights to destinations in America and Europe when customers bought £100 worth of vacuum products.

Hoover’s profits soared and their surplus stock plummeted, and Hoover expanded the promotion to include flights to America people started buying up Hoovers left right and centre, sometimes leaving them in the shop after taking the receipt to redeem on free flights.

Hoover made a profit of £30 million during the promotion. However, they could not supply enough tickets to fulfil demand. This lead to a shedload of court cases, and Hoover had to pay out £50 million for extra airline seats and legal costs for those who never received their tickets. An absolute disaster from start to finish.

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