As an avid fan of the game, I have been looking at the approach taken by the courts when assessing the right to enjoy the game against the risk of injury and damage to property.
In the 1951 case of Bolton v Stone Cheetham 2nd XI were playing at their Manchester ground when a batsman from the away team smashed the ball out of the park and into the profile of a Miss Stone who was doing nothing more remarkable than standing outside her house in Cheetham Hill Road, minding her own business. Miss Stone’s claim for her injuries was rejected by the High Court on the basis that the shot was so ‘altogether exceptional’ that the accident could not have been foreseen. The Claimant appealed, and the case went all the way to the House of Lords where it was also rejected, their Lordships resolving that the test of foreseeability was based on the view of the ‘reasonable man’ and not the ‘timorous’ Miss Stone. This judgement seems pretty unfair, but you have to remember there was no third umpire 70 years ago and decisions made at that time can often appear distorted when viewed through the prism of the twenty-first century.
The other leading ‘cricket’ authority is the 1977 case of Miller v Jackson which followed the construction of a new Wimpey estate within 100 feet of a long-established County Durham cricket field. Needless to say, balls rained down ‘like thunderbolts’ and the subsequent High Court injunction closing the ground went to the Court of Appeal at which time presided the legendry Lord Alfred Thompson Denning. This is an extract from his judgement. You can almost hear Greensleeves playing in the background.
“In summertime, village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practise while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there anymore. He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket. But now this adjoining field has been turned into a housing estate. The newcomer bought one of the houses on the edge of the cricket ground. No doubt the open space was a selling point. Now he complains that when a batsman hits a six, the ball has been known to land in his garden or on, or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at week-ends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the judge to stop the cricket being played. And the judge, much against his will, has felt that he must order the cricket to be stopped: with the consequence, I suppose, that the Lintz Cricket Club will disappear. The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. I expect for more houses . The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much the poorer. And all this because of a newcomer who has just bought a house there next to the cricket ground.”
It was a masterful assessment, for while the court quashed the injunction (the local authority should never have granted planning permission) they ordered the Club to pay for all the damage ruling it was no defence that the Wimpey occupants ‘came to the nuisance’. The decision has been followed ever since. Cricket Clubs are liable for any loss or injury caused by flying balls (no matter how ‘altogether exceptional’ the stroke) and the issues now boil down to a matter of safety nets, shutters and insurance.
I sometimes wonder what the teams of 70 years ago would have made of the feats of today’s cricket stars? The ‘exceptional shot’ that struck the unfortunate Miss Stone was said to have travelled nearly 100 yards (90m) yet tune into any of the games on at the moment and the ball is consistently smashed further than this. The longest recorded six in International Cricket belongs to Shahid Afridi who, in the third ODI at Johannesburg in 2013, walloped the ball 158 meters. Think of it. 158 metres. Miss Stone would have to be very unfortunate indeed to be on the receiving end of something so remote but in an age where anything appears possible, I suspect this time she would prevail.
It’s a terrific competition, this World cup. I obviously want England to win, but I fear India. New Zealand are dark horses, you can never rule out the Aussies and in Chris Gayle, the West Indies have the greatest ODI opening batsman in the history of the game. I look again at the wonderful image of the game in Lord Denning’s judgement and measure it against the noise, colours, glitz, fireworks and glamour of the sport today. I can’t help thinking what he and his colleagues would have made of it all.
Partner and Head of Regulatory