Herd v Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co.

Mentioned in Source 5.

Facts and Desisions

Several miners went down a mine lift to work. Close to the start of their shift they believed the work they were being asked to do was unsafe, and asked for the lift to come back down in order to pick them up. Weardale Steel, their employer, refused to send a lift until their contracted shifts had finished, which was 5 hours later (In the end they sent the lift 20 minutes later). The miners were originally sued in the County Court for breach of their employment contract, which they appealed stating false imprisonment. Weardale was not liable, based on the grounds that the claimants had willingly entered the pit, and that they were only obliged to take them to the surface at the end of their shift. (source 5, lines 1-6)

How did it change the law?

Expands the rules for false imprisonment by adding that an employer can legitimately refrain an employee from leaving, if they are working within contracted hours, even if the employer has a way of letting the employee leave. This case narrows the law, as less cases will get heard. It was heard in the House of Lords, so is the leading case.

Has it achieved justice in the law?

D was not liable, based on the grounds that C had willingly entered the pit and that they were only obliged to take him to the surface at the end of his shift. Viscount Haldane LC stated this in his judgement (source 5, lines 8-11,and 25-27)

However it could be argued that it is unfair as it is in an employer context, and the bargaining power is not equal, as seen in Smith v Baker.
If a similar case were to happen today, the verdict may be different in the same situations. This is due to changing health and safety laws, human rights laws and a changing public perception of such situations.

What is its significance for the developments of the law?

Bird v Jones established that a false imprisonment must be total. This case said a restraint will not be total in false imprisonment if a person is held according to conditions which he agreed to (source 5, lines 12-21) As such a person can be volenti to a false imprisonment.

It also highlights the importance of contract law and the freedom of the claimant to agree only to a contract that they agree the tems to.

References to other cases.

In Robinson v Balmain New Ferry (source 5, lnes 21-25), the claimant was made to pay for his freedom. The claimant failed for similar reasons, in that he had already agreed to a contract, which he breached.