law of tort

The case analysis is written by Nimisha Mishra, a second-year student of NALSAR University of Law. In this case comment, the author has briefly explained the case of Mayor of Bradford Corpn. v. Edward Pickles. 


The law of tort has two main doctrines namely damnum sine injuria and injuria sine damno. Damages are only payable in tort law when there is a legal injury. Without legal injury, a person who suffered loss cannot claim damages. Even when there is malice present in the actions of the defendant but if there is no legal injury to the plaintiff, the former will not be held liable. 

The entire criminal law is based on the concept of mens rea or mental element of the offender. Mens rea, of the offender, is a state of mind capable of committing a crime. To commit a crime, there should be the presence of bad or malign intention.

However in certain cases mental element is not an essential feature in law in order to safeguard the interest of the people from the trivial actions of the plaintiff.    

Equivalent Citation

[1895] A.C. 587


Hon’ble Judge Halsbury L.C., Hon’ble Judge Watson, hon’ble Judge Ashbourne, and Hon’ble Judge Macnaghten.

Date of judgement

29th July, 1895

Relevant Act 

Bradford Waterworks Act 1854

Relevant Section

Section 17, Section 18 and Section 49 of Bradford Waterworks Act 1854.

Facts of the case

In this case the owner of the land has water flowing from under his land. 

The mayor of the Bradford Corporation is the owner of the Tropper Farm which is 140 acres in extent. There is a boundary to the west of his farm, adjacent to which the respondent has a land. The respondent, Edward Pickle’s, land happened to be on a higher level than the Tropper Farm. The steep slope of the respondent’s farm is such that strata of the subterranean water underground his land, by the law of gravitation, eventually found its way to the Tropper Farm.

It was an admitted fact that the appellant has not purchased any part of the respondent’s land in the interest whether above or below the ground. In the year 1892, the responded decided to shink the shaft on his land in the view to the working of his minerals. This resulted in the change in the colour of the water as well as the reduction in the level of water. The appellant claimed before the court that the respondent doe not have a bonafide intention to work on minerals. 

Issues presented before the court

  1. Whether the defendant has the right to divert the flow of water under his land, which flows to the land of neighbours. 
  2. Whether the act was done with malicious intent makes the lawful act unlawful?

Ratio of the case

The court stated that no use of the property would be held unlawful if it is promoted by legal actions even though the intent behind them was malicious and illegal. 

Judges were of the opinion that if the plaintiff wants to restrict the actions of the respondent, he must necessarily prove that he has right on the flowing water and the respondent have no right to restrict the flow of the water. After finding all the evidence it was proved that the petitioner did not purchase any part of the land, above or below the land and hence none of the above two contentions could be proved. The landowner has a right to do whatever he wants to do on his land. 

Section 49 of the statute 17 Vict. deals against the illegal diversion, alter or appropriate the flow of water. The learned judge stated that the act of diverting water is unlawful when the water has reached to the premise of the plaintiff. But before that, the respondent cannot be restricted from diverting the direction of the water. In other words, what is prohibited is what belongs to the company. This is a case of damnum sine injuria where even though the damage is caused but unless it is a legal injury, no damages can be given to the plaintiff. If the act done is a lawful act than the state of mind of the defendant is irrelevant. If it is an unlawful act however good his motives are, the defendant has no right to do it. 

The court stated that the company purchase the Trooper Farm and make arrangements accordingly to carry the water from there to its location. Once the Trooper Farm is purchased by the plaintiff it becomes his absolute property and then the defendant has no right to interfere in his property. 

Final decision 

The court after evaluating all the facts concluded that the plaintiff in the given case did not have water as his property till the time it did not come to their land. But once it crosses the land of the plaintiff, he can collect that water and divert its direction. The court further said that even though the defendant’s action was driven by ill motive he is still not liable since his actions were lawful when he diverted the water route. 

The court said that the cited section 49 does not restrict or prohibits the activities of the defendant. Since at the time of passing the act, his actions were legal and hence now he is legally entitled to do what he wants to do in his land. 

The plaintiff should rather purchase the land from which it is making a profit. The court concluded that the defendant was lawfully exercising his rights and therefore he is not liable. And the appeal of the plaintiff was dismissed.


This case is a very accurate example of Damnum sine injuria which means damage without legal injury. There are several cases that comes before the court of law which claims damages for the trivial issues which generally hampers the functioning of the courts. It is very essential to apply the doctrine of Damnum sine injuria in order to safeguard the interest of the defendant from their daily activities. 

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