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The Interpretation of 'Road Or Other Public Place' In The Road Traffic Act 1988 - Nicholas Dobbs, Temple Garden Chambers

24/01/22. In Brown v Fisk [2021] EWHC (QB) 2769, Master Dagnall gave judgment on an application for reverse summary judgment brought by the Second Defendant. The Claimant had brought a claim asserting that he was wrongfully injured by a car driven by the First Defendant in an area of land at Ham Lane, Lewes, Sussex (referred to in the judgment as “the yard”) on 16 September 2016. The Claimant claimed against the Second Defendant under section 151 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 on the basis the yard was, at the material time, “a road or other public place”. The Claimant also claimed against the Third Defendant, the Motor Insurance Bureau, on the basis that they were liable under the Uninsured Drivers' Agreement. The Second and Third Defendants disputed that the yard was “a road or other public place”, and argued that if they were right then neither of them would be liable. The Court surveyed at length the relevant case law concerning the definition of “a road or other public place”, noting the difficulties in reconciling some of the relevant decisions. It was held, at paragraph [72]:

“72. As I have said I have found trying to find a coherent rationalisation of the various case law difficult, but having considered the various judgments and, in particular, Richardson following May, and May's apparent approval of both Vivier and Spence, it seems to me that the true distinction is whether the area is used, and allowed by the owner to be used, by visitors who are only coming to enjoy the linked owner premises for a private purpose of the owner, or whether there is some real and significant number of visitors whose access is tolerated, who are there other than only for the owner's truly private purposes. By “the owner's truly private purposes” I mean purposes of the owner which are private in nature rather than being the general public doing something which the general public generally does as such, for example buying drinks in a pub, or cars from a car franchise; and where those private purposes dominate the purpose of the visit so sufficiently so as to make the visit private rather than public. It seems to me that that is an effective rationalisation of, and is consistent with, the case law, and in particular the basic principle derived from Harrison that the essence of a public place is actual use by the public at least tolerated by the owner. The cases make clear that the purpose of the access and use of the area is key, which underlies the decision in: first, Pugh, where the access was simply for the purposes of the private members' club, which was a private purpose which dominated the car accessing the area; second, Spence, where the purpose was simply that of the foundry business which dominated why anyone would go there; and third, Richardson where, again, the purpose was simply that of the...

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