Crazy British Common Law Cases You Need to Read About

The current British legal system is an accumulation of centuries and centuries of all sorts of legal disputes. And like many other countries, they’ve had their fair share of wacky stories and situations that are still talked about even to this day. Many of these cases were so unique that the legal community gave them their very own nicknames such as “Paisley snail.” Confused? Intrigued? Keep reading so we can clear it all up and teach you about five of the craziest British common law cases in history.

1. R v Dudley and Stephens

When caught in extreme situations like having no food, many might find themselves doing the unthinkable. The court didn’t see this particular case as having a valid defense even if the couple involved was acting out of necessity. In the 1884 case of R v Dudley and Stephens, two men (along with another mate) were charged after devouring crew member, Richard Parker, while stranded at sea without food or water. The court’s reason for charging them was that it could be used as an excuse for future crimes of passion and other atrocious acts.

2. R v White

If you planned on doing something horrible to someone but they later passed away in some kind of freaky coincidence, are you still responsible for their death? This was the basis of the R v White case where a man had clear intent to do just that, but the person passed later that night from unrelated heart problems. While it was proven that the man was not responsible for the death, he was still sentenced to jail for having attempted it to begin with.

3. R v Lipman

There have been several instances where people committed heinous and unspeakable acts while under the influence. In the case of R v Lipman, Lipman hallucinated that he was being attacked by snakes and unintentionally did something he could never take back, under the assumption he was defending himself. The court still charged him to life in prison, an act that was meant to prevent the intoxication defense to be used in similar crimes in the future.

4. Scott v Shepherd

Scott v Shepherd is famously dubbed “squib case” where the defendant Shepherd threw a lit squib into a crowded market place in Somerset. Naturally, people panicked and the small, device was constantly thrown around until it landed in the goods of a market stall. At this point a man in the next stall picked it up and accidentally threw it in the plaintiff’s (Scott) face. The device went off and Scott lost his vision in one eye in the process. The case ended with Shepherd being held liable for all charges, even though he didn’t actually throw the squib into Scott’s face.

5. Donoghue v Stevenson

The Donoghue v Stevenson is well known in the British legal community; even rookie lawyers and legal students know about it. This popular dispute is nicknamed the “Paisley snail” after the plaintiff, Mrs. Donoghue, found a snail at the bottom of a ginger beer she had purchased to pour over her ice cream. But this was only discovered after she chugged down the dessert. Shortly after, she was hit with stomach pains which was later confirmed to be severe gastroenteritis. Understandably, Mrs. Donoghue took legal action which ended with the court taking her side and the manufacturer covering her legal expenses.


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