What is public nuisance?
Public nuisance is traditionally a criminal offence, defined as an unlawful act or omission which endangers or interferes with the lives, comfort, property or common rights of the general public. Though a criminal offence, a public nuisance can also give rise to a civil claim for damages.
A public nuisance is conduct, behaviour, (or lack thereof), where injury, loss or damage is suffered by the local community as a result. Court proceedings for public nuisances are generally instigated by local authorities through the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. On conviction, the defendant can be ordered to pay a fine and/or receive a prison sentence.
Public nuisances can include:
- Obstructing the highway (everyday obstructions such as road repairs and scaffolding are, however, lawful if they are reasonable and do not occur for an excessive time).
- Dust emanating from factories.
- Noise from brothels.
- Sewage leaking into rivers.
Many public nuisances cause damage to individuals and businesses. In those cases, a claimant can bring civil proceedings for damages.
Who are the ‘public’ for a successful public nuisance prosecution?
Many types of commercial operations are at risk of committing a public nuisance, but identifying the public affected is not always straightforward. For example, in a 1957 case, a quarry produced noise, dirt and vibrations which affected the neighbourhood. The court had to decide if this was a private nuisance which only affected some residents; or a public nuisance affecting all Her Majesty’s subjects in the area.
An injunction was ultimately granted to stop the quarry from causing a public nuisance.
For more information on:
- Knowledge of the nuisance
- Developments in the law
- Statutory nuisance