Some useful Latin & some common sense

Lawyers are no longer allowed to use Latin, although we sometimes lapse where there is a good phrase that doesn’t have an easy English equivalent.  One of those is ex turpi causa non oritur actio.  In English, that means that someone who is participating in an illegal activity cannot claim compensation for an injury that arises from that activity.

A lovely example of this occurred recently in which a young man called Mr Joyce sued an older man called Mr O’Brien for severe injuries he suffered when Mr O’Brien was driving and Mr Joyce was his passenger.  The Judge rejected his claim applying the principle ex turpi causa, in circumstances about which most right-thinking people would entirely agree.  Mr Justice Cooke put it like this;

“As a matter of general public policy, a participant in a joint enterprise theft which involves a speedy getaway in a van, with one participant driving and the other clinging dangerously onto the stolen items at the rear of a semi-open van, with a door swinging, cannot recover for injuries suffered in the course of that enterprise”.

“The driver cannot owe a duty of care to his co-conspirator and it is not possible to set a standard of care as to how fast the van should be driven, in circumstances where speed is necessary to get away and there is a need for the other co-conspirator to hang on desperately to the stolen items and the back of the open van in order to effect their joint objective of a speedy escape”.

The Judge did not have any difficulty in rejecting, in these circumstances, the proposal on behalf of Mr Joyce that he thought they were just borrowing the ladders with the householder’s permission, given that the householder wasn’t in, and that Mr Joyce was standing on the rear step of the Transit van trying to hold onto the ladders while his uncle drove off at high speed.  Whether Mr Joyce was prosecuted, either for theft or stupidity, isn’t recorded.

Many years ago Neil Howlett used to practice in Criminal Law.