The Court of Appeal has ruled that ‘abnormal sensitivity’ to noise and other irritations is irrelevant when deciding whether a common law nuisance has been established.
The court dismissed claims by an elderly couple (the appellants) that anti-social behaviour by motorists and others in a lay-by close to their home amounted to a nuisance and that an injunction requiring the lay-by’s closure should be issued.
The appellants had pointed to hundreds of incidents of motorists urinating in the lay-by, as well as leaving their engines running and lights flashing. The lay-by was said to have become a focus for petty theft, vandalism, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour, including loud music, shouting and swearing.
The appellants had argued that the lay-by, as a focus for anti-social behaviour, interfered with their ‘reasonable enjoyment’ of their home, making it impossible for them to relax in their house and garden.
However, the council had responded that the use of the lay-by did not amount to a nuisance, that it had no power to close part of the highway and that any criminal misbehaviour by motorists or others was a matter for the police.
Refusing to order Somerset County Council to close the lay-by, Lord Justice Patten ruled that the appellants had failed to show that they had suffered ‘a real interference with the comfort or convenience of living according to the standards of the average person’.
The judge, sitting with Lords Justice Ward and Longmore, added that ‘abnormal sensitivity to noise or other matters’ was not sufficient to found a cause of action in nuisance.
The use of the lay-by was not excessive and the Court of Appeal could not properly interfere with an earlier county court decision that the use of the layby gave rise to no actionable nuisance.