A guide to some of the most impactful UK law cases

In the ever-evolving landscape of the UK legal system, certain cases shape the course of legislation and set crucial precedents for future judgements. Join us as we journey through some of the most impactful law cases in the UK. By delving into these legal battles in recent history, we offer a glimpse into the intricacies of the law as well as the marks they leave in society and the judicial system.

Injunctions exposed by the internet

The beginning of the 2010s was a strange time. Social media was rapidly going mainstream, injunctions were all the rage, and the extramarital engagements of football celebs were a popular scandal. However, the case of Ryan Giggs’ injunction against a tabloid newspaper stood out.

In April 2011, the footballer sought to prevent The Sun from publishing claims that he had an extra-marital affair. However, his wish to stay anonymous was short-lived – the gagging order was flouted by thousands of people on Twitter. This became one of the first prominent cases where the law had to react to the age of social media that we were entering.

The case grew even more farcical when an MP used his parliamentary privilege to name Giggs in the House of Commons itself when he was meant to have anonymity. Between this and the Twitter gossip, Giggs ultimately consented to the removal of his injunction’s anonymity in February 2012.

Snail Beer

A court decision was credited with laying the foundations of negligence in common law worldwide… all thanks to a snail. Quite the legacy! Donoghue v Stevenson, also known as the ‘Paisley Snail’ or ‘Snail in a Bottle’ case, was a 1932 debate when Mrs. Donoghue was drinking a ginger beer in a café in Paisley, Scotland. Little did she know that an unfortunate snail was decomposing inside the bottle, and subsequently made her ill.

As a result, Mrs. Donoghue sued the beer manufacturer. The House of Lords held that the manufacturer had breached its duty of care to Mrs. Donoghue as a consumer, resulting in Donoghue winning the case as well as making a full recovery. We can’t say the same for the snail, sadly.

Before this case took place, liability for personal injury was quite restrictive. There had to be physical damage inflicted directly or indirectly, but a noxious substance, like ‘the snail’ beer, was defined by neither trespass. This meant that from the orthodox perspective, Mrs. Donoghue had no sustainable claim, but the court’s decision created a new kind of liability.

Manslaughter under the influence

Another law-defining case that took place in 1967, R v Lipman helped establish what could be used as a defense in English criminal law. It forced the court to deal with the issue of unintentional murder, specifically committed under the influence.

In this case, a couple that regularly partook in recreational drugs, used LSD. The man hallucinated, claiming that he was being attacked by snakes, and while defending himself from these imaginary terrors, he strangled his partner. The police quickly saw the evidence of his guilt, but he claimed that he had no intention of murdering her.

The man was eventually found guilty despite his intoxication, as the court found that by creating a reckless situation with LSD, he had also created a risk that “ordinary sober and responsible people would recognise”. Cause vs intention is a timeless debate that even today is taken on a case-by-case basis in the court of law, but this decades-old tragedy still defines whether a person’s voluntary intoxication could be used as a defense against manslaughter.

Splashing civilians

In January 2014, a 22-year-old driver in Essex faced court summons and a £50,000 fine for driving through a puddle. Why? While doing so, he splashed a mother and her two children. Debbie Pugh was convinced that the driver had done it deliberately because he could have easily avoided the water.

Claims are one thing, but witnesses are another. To the driver’s bad luck (and Pugh’s good fortune!) a police officer was driving behind all of this and seeing the whole thing, PC Mark Hercules pulled over the driver. Officially, the driver was reported for careless driving under violation of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act upon grounds of driving ‘without reasonable consideration’. According to the Crown Prosecution Service policy, this included ‘driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed’.

While some cases are isolated incidents in legal history, others become solicitor folklore and the basis of our profession. Fascinating cases like the Paisley Snail and R v Lipman prompt the law to evolve and adapt to new scenarios, becoming milestones in our profession. They reveal insight into the laws that we take for granted, and how they may have had to be created in the first place.

Whatever your legal case, here at Thomas and Thomas Solicitors we can help. We offer a range of legal services, from conveyancing to probate and criminal law on