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The NATURE OF CONVERSION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2009

Simon Douglas
Affiliation:
Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
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Copyright © Cambridge Law Journal and Contributors 2009

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References

1 Mallalieu v. Laugher (1828) 3 Car & P 551, 553; 172 E.R. 542, 543. His actual words were the “action of trover”, the old word for conversion.

2 e.g. M. Jones, Textbook on Torts 8th ed. (Oxford 2002).

3 Kuwait Airways Corpn v. Iraqi Airways Co (Nos 4 & 5) [2002] A.C. 883 (HL) 1084. (Lord Nicholls).

4 Kuwait Airways (last note) and OBG v. Allan [2008] 1 A.C. 1 (HL).

5 e.g. Marcq v. Christie Mason [2004] Q.B. 286 (CA), BMW Financial Services v. Bhagwanani [2007] EWCA Civ 1230 (CA) and Iran v. Barakat Galleries [2007] EWCA Civ 1374 (CA).

6 Salmond, J., “Observations on Trover and Conversion” (1905) 21 L.Q.R. 43.Google Scholar

7 The “demand and refusal” hardened into a strict requirement in detinue's later history. This meant that even a defendant who, by his conduct, had made it clear that he intended to keep the claimant's chattel, could not be sued in detinue until a demand and refusal had been made: Clayton v. Le Roy [1911] 2 K.B. 1031 (CA). See generally S. Douglas, “The Abolition of Detinue” [2008] Conv. 30.

8 A passage from Blackstone (3 Comm. 152) mentions these two features: “If I lend a man a horse and he afterwards refuses to restore it, this injury consists in the detaining and not in the original taking, and the regular method for me to recover possession, is by the action of detinue.”

9 C.H.S. Fifoot, History and Sources of the Common Law: Tort and Contract (London 1949), 102.

10 J.H. Baker, The Reports of Sir John Spelman (94 Selden Society), 248; Simpson, A.W.B., “The Introduction of the Action on the Case for Conversion” (1959) 75 L.Q.R. 364, 366.Google Scholar

11 So called as it was once thought that the jurisdiction of the central courts was expanded by a 13th century statute that allowed the courts to hear complaints that were “in like cases” (in consimili casu): J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. (London 2002), 62.

12 Anon (1510) Keil 160, in Baker and Milsom, Sources of English Legal History: Private Law to 1750 (London 1986) (hereafter B & M), 528.

13 Fifoot, History and Sources, 102.

14 Simpson, “The Introduction of the Action on the Case for Conversion” (1959) 75 L.Q.R. 364, 370.

15 Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1555), 532.

16 Y.B. 18 Edw. IV, f.23, pl. 5 (1479); B & M 526.

17 Simpson, “The Introduction of the Action on the Case for Conversion” (1959) 75 L.Q.R. 364.

18 As the defendant would no longer be detaining the claimant's goods.

19 Warton v. Ashpole (1524) B & M 529.

20 Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1555) Dyer 121; B & M 531.

21 The claim eventually failed as the defendant argued that she was still in possession and that detinue was the appropriate action.

22 Gumbleton v. Grafton (1600) B & M 530.

23 The modern position is that detinue was not available in cases of a disposal: Alicia Hosiery v. Brown Shipley [1970] 1 Q.B. 195. The earlier position is less clear. See the two anonymous cases reproduced by Baker & Milsom: Anon (1535) B & M 272 and Anon (1572) B & M 273.

24 Salmond would later write that a “disposal” was the original form of conversion. See Salmond “Observations on Trover and Conversion” (1905) 21 L.Q.R. 43, 44. Although not strictly correct, a disposal was the type of act that fitted most naturally within the “conversion” allegation.

25 Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1555) Dyer 121; B & M 531.

26 Anon (1579) B & M 529.

27 Easom v. Newman (1596) B & M 537, 538. See also Anon (1579) B & M 533.

28 Isaack v. Clark (1615) 3 Buls 306; B & M 541.

29 Ibid., 542.

30 Ibid., 545 (Coke C.J.).

31 Robinson v. Walter (1616) 3 Buls 269, 81 E.R. 227.

32 (1705) 6 Mod 212, 90 E.R. 1290.

33 Ibid., 212; 1290.

34 (1821) 5 B & A 247, 106 E.R. 1183.

35 Law Reform Committee, “Conversion and Detinue” (Law Reform Com No 18 Cm 4774, 1971) 4. The only exception was where a bailee had negligently lost the claimant's chattel.

36 [1980] 1 W.L.R. 1375 (Ch).

37 Ibid., 1380.

38 Baker, Introduction to English Legal History, 86.

39 A likely early example of this is Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1555) Dyer 121; B & M 531. See Baker, Introduction to English Legal History, 398.

40 e.g. Chitty v. Cooper (1756) 1 Burr 20, 31; 97 E.R. 166, 172. For an early example, see Bishop v. Viscountess Montague (1600) B & M 531.

41 (1838) 4 Bing NC 212, 132 E.R. 769.

42 Ibid., 221; 773.

43 (1841) 8 M & W 540, 151 E.R. 1153.

44 Ibid., 547; 1156.

45 Law Reform Committee, “Conversion and Detinue” (Law Reform Com No 18 Cm 4774, 1971) 8.

46 Sec. 1.

47 Birks, P.B.H., “Personal Property: Proprietary Rights and Remedies” (2000) 11 K.C.L.J. 1, 3.Google Scholar

48 P.B.H. Birks, Unjust Enrichment (Oxford 2003), 69.

49 e.g. Lord Mounteagle v. Countess of Worcester (1555) Dyer 121; B & M 531, and Anon (1579) B & M 533.

50 (1852) 11 CB 977, 138 E.R. 762.

51 Ibid., 993; 769.

52 (1874–1875) L.R. 7 H.L. 757, 784.

53 Ibid., 785. See also Simmonds v. Lillystone (1853) 8 Exch 432, 437; 155 E.R. 1417, 420 (Parke B.).

54 (1863) 2 H & C 72, 159 E.R. 31.

55 See also Burroughs v. Bayne (1860) 5 H & N 296, 157 E.R. 1196 and Vaughan v. Watt (1840) 6 M & W 492, 151 E.R. 506.

56 (1791) 4 TR 260, 100 E.R. 1008.

57 Ibid., 264, 1009.

58 e.g. Parker v. Godin (1795) 2 Stra 813, 93 E.R. 866, Stephens v. Elwall (1815) 4 M & S 259, 105 E.R. 830.

59 Chitty v. Cooper (1756) 1 Burr 20, 31; 97 E.R. 166, 172.

60 Compare, for example, the judgments of Martin B. and Bramwell B. in Burroughs v. Bayne (1860) 5 H & N 296, 157 E.R. 1196. Bramwell B. also dissented in Pillot v. Wilkinson on similar grounds.

61 Common Law Procedure Act 1852, Sch. B, no. 28.

62 Oxford English Dictionary, sub. verb.

63 [1983] F.S.R. 453.

64 Ibid.,

65 D.J. Ibbetson, A Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations (Oxford 1999), 108.

66 (1841) 8 M & W 540, 546; 151 E.R. 1153, 1155.

67 (1873) LR 8 Ex 126, 130 (Exch).

68 [1946] C.L.R. 204.

69 Ibid., 230.

70 P. Cane, “Causing Conversion” (2002) 118 L.Q.R. 544, 545.

71 The point being made here is that a subsequent converter infringes the claimant's rights in the same way as the first converter. Whether he causes loss in the same way is discussed below.

72 [2002] 2 A.C. 883 (HL).

73 Ibid., 1106.

74 [1967] N.Z.L.R. 65.

75 e.g. Hillesden Securities Ltd v. Ryjack Ltd [1983] 1 W.L.R. 959 (QB).

76 (1843) 5 Ill 495.

77 A young Abraham Lincoln.

78 Walgrave v. Ogden (1590) 1 Leon 224, 74 E.R. 205.

79 [2007] EWCA Civ 1230 (CA).

80 The car actually belonged to a third party who had possession under a hire purchase agreement with the claimants. When he defaulted on the agreement the claimants became entitled to possession.

81 (1842) 3 Q.B. 699 (QB).

82 Towne v. Lewis (1849) 7 CB 608, 137 E.R. 241 and Barnard v. How (1824) 1 C & P 366, 171 E.R. 1233 also support this line of authority.

83 (1852) 11 CB 977, 138 E.R. 762.

84 [1962] 1 Q.B. 701 (CA). See also Forsdick v. Collins (1816) 1 Stark 173, 171 E.R. 437.

85 Ibid., 706.

86 [1968] 1 W.L.R. 956 (CA).

87 Ibid., 970–1.

88 (1874–5) L.R. 7 H.L. 757 (HL).

89 A. Tettenborn, “Conversion, Tort and Restitution”, in N. Palmer and E. McKendrick (eds), Interests in Goods, 2nd ed. (London 1998).

90 B & M 536. There is no recorded verdict however. For commentary on the pleading in the case see Ibbetson, Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations, 112.

91 (1687) 1 Leo 221, 74 E.R. 203.

92 3 & 4 William IV, c 42, s 13.

93 Baker, Introduction to English Legal History, 399.

94 Hollins v. Fowler (1872) L.R. 7 Q.B. 616 (Ex) 639.

95 Law Reform Committee, “Conversion and Detinue” (Law Reform Com No 18 Cm 4774, 1971) 6.

96 Epstein, “A Theory of Strict Liability” (1973) 2 J. Legal Studies 151.

97 E. Weinrib, The Idea of Private Law (Cambridge Mass. 1995), 152.

98 Perry, , “The Impossibility of General Strict Liability” (1988) 1 Can. J.L. Juris. 147, 158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

99 (1860) 5 H & N 288, 157 E.R. 1192. See also Butler v. Egg and Egg Pulp Marketing Board [1966] 114 C.L.R. 185 (High Ct of Australia).

100 Ibid., 294; 1195.

101 [1967] 1 W.L.R. 295 (CA).

102 Ibid., 299.

103 [2005] EWCA Civ 197 (CA).

104 A similar approach is taken towards consequential loss. It is only consequential losses that a claimant can prove that he has actually suffered that are recoverable: Brandeis Goldschmidt Ltd v Western Transport Ltd [1981] Q.B. 864 and Williams v Peel River Land & Mineral Co (1886) 55 L.T. 689.

105 It is possible to read Lord Hoffmann's judgment as suggesting this justification: [2002] 2 A.C. 883 1106 (HL).

106 See Tettenborn, A., “Damages in Conversion: Exception or Anomaly?” [2003] C.L.J. 128, 134–5.Google Scholar

107 Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, s. 5, largely reaffirming the position at common law: Brinsmead v. Harrison (1871) L.R. 6 C. & P. 584.

108 [2002] 2 A.C. 883 1092 (HL).

109 It has been suggested in Middle Temple v. Lloyds Bank plc [1999] All E.R. Comm 193 and Linklaters v. HSBC Bank plc [2003] EWHC 1113 (Comm), [2003] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 505 that a defendant may be able to seek contribution from other converters under s.1 of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978.

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