• In the case of Goldman v Hargrave 1967 1 ac 645, it was held that there were no defences available to D within The Fires Prevention (Metropolis Act 1774) where he is liable in both nuisance and negligence.

Facts of the Case

  • A tall tree in the centre of D’s land was struct by lightning and caught fire.
  • D called a tree feller and had the tree felled however instead of extinguishing the fire with water as he could have done, he left it to burn out.
  • As wind picked up, the fire continued to burn and increase.
  • The fire spread to P’s neighbouring land and damaged it.
  • P claimed damages.

Issues in Goldman v Hargrave 1967 1 ac 645

  • Could D rely on the defences afforded by The Fires Prevention (Metropolis Act 1774)

Held by Court

  • D was held to be negligent and therefore liable.  

Lord Wilberforce

  • As D was held to be negligent in not extinguishing the fire, there was no defence within The Fires Prevention (Metropolis Act 1774)
  • “This was based upon the provisions of the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act, 1774, which provides that no actions hall lie against any person on whose estate ” any fire shall accidentally begin.” This statute replaces the earlier Act of Anne (6 Anne, c. 31). It is accepted that this statute is part of the law in Western D Australia, and that it applies to such an area as that in which the fire in question arose.  The words ” shall accidentally begin ” are simple enough, but
    the simplicity is deceptive. Read literally they suggest that account need be taken of nothing except the origin of the fire and that given an accidental beginning, no supervening negligence or E even deliberate act can deprive a defendant of the benefit of the statute. But further reflection suggests a doubt both because such a result seems capable of producing absurdity and injustice, and because of the inherent difficulty of saying what the expression ” any fire ” is intended to mean.
  • A fire is an elusive entity; it is not a substance, but a changing state. The words ” any fire ” may F refer to the whole continuous process of combustion from birth to death, in an Olympic sense, or reference may be to a particular stage in that process—when it passes from controlled combustion to uncontrolled conflagration. Fortunately, the Act has been considered judicially and, as one would expect, the process of inter-pretation has taken account of these consideration” pg. 664.