Robinson v balmain new ferry co 1910

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[1910] AC 295 (PC). The claimant paid for a ferry crossing and entered the defendant's wharf. He changed his mind and asked to be let out. He was only released on the payment of a penny. His action for false imprisonment failed, it appears, because he voluntarily placed himself into a situation where where his liberty was deprived, and had a contractual obligation to his imprisoner. This is an awkward case, because it appears to have all the elements of a false imprisonment. Clearly if I invite you into my house, then charge you money to be released, that would constitute a false imprisonment. If I invite you into my house, on the understanding that you would leave by the back door, then charge you money to leave by the front door, is that false imprisonment? According to Robinson it probably would not be. If Mr Robinson had not had a penny, could the ferry company have locked him on the wharf until he starved? On the other hand, if I voluntarily board a non-stop train from London to Glasgow, is it false imprisonment if the train operator refuses to let me off at Potters Bar?


Case Text

PRIVY COUNCIL

ROBINSON v BALMAIN NEW FERRY CO LTD (1919) AC 295

LORD LOREBURN LC:

… The plaintiff paid a penny on entering the wharf to stay there till the boat should start and then be taken by the boat to the other side. The defendants were admittedly always ready and willing to carry out their part of this contract. Then the plaintiff changed his mind and wished to go back. The rules as to the exit from the wharf by the turnstile required a penny for any person who went through. This the plaintiff refused to pay, and he was by force prevented from going through the turnstile. He then claimed damages for assault and false imprisonment.

There was no complaint, at all events there was no question left to the jury by the plaintiff’s request, of any excessive violence, and in the circumstances admitted it is clear to their Lordships that there was no false imprisonment at all. The plaintiff was merely called upon to leave the wharf in the way in which he contracted to leave it. There is no law requiring the defendants to make the exit from their premises gratuitous to people who come there upon a definite contract which involves their leaving the wharf by another way; and the defendants were entitled to resist a forcible passage through their turnstile.

The question whether the notice which was affixed to these premises was brought home to the knowledge of the plaintiff is immaterial, because the notice itself is immaterial.

When the plaintiff entered the defendants’ premises there was nothing agreed as to the terms on which he might go back, because neither party contemplated his going back. When he desired to do so the defendants were entitled to impose a reasonable condition before allowing him to pass through their turnstile from a place to which he had gone of his own free will. The payment of a penny was a quite fair condition, and if he did not choose to comply with it the defendants were not bound to let him through. He could proceed on the journey he had contracted for.

Their Lordships will humbly advise His Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.

UK LAW