Previous: Occupiers’ liability

There are two types of nuisance: public nuisance and private nuisance. The former is a criminal offence, while the latter is a tort between land owners.

Public nuisance

The criminal offence of committing a public nuisance was defined in R v Rimmington [2005] as an act not authorised by law which omits to discharge a legal duty as endangering life, health, property, comfort or public rights of a class of persons in a common way. On the facts of the case, sending 538 racist letters was not classed as a public nuisance. Winfield and Jolowicz defined a public nuisance as an interference materially affects the comfort and convenience of life of a class of the public.


Public nuisances may be restrained by an injunction applied for by the Attorney General. They may be applied for directly, or on behalf of a local authority under s 222 of the Local Government Act 1972. For example, in A-G (on the relation of Glamorgan CC) v PYA Quarries [1957], where an injunction was successfully granted to prevent the defendant causing vibrations, dust and noise. Wandsworth LBC v Railtrak [2002] concerned a public nuisance caused by pigeon excrement on the defendant’s railway bridge.

Liability in tort

As aptly summarised by Winfield, it is possible for a person to sue for damages caused by a public nuisance if that person has suffered ‘special damage’ above others. For example, in Rose v Miles [1815], a canal blockage was a public nuisance, and the costs of alternative transport could be awarded...

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