Coventry v Lawrence: more flexibility about awarding damages over injunction

By Robin Biela and Sarah Moore

Following a benchmark Supreme Court ruling (Coventry v Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13), fewer injunctions can be expected to remedy infringements of property rights. While the case concerned a complaint about noise nuisance, the judgment is relevant to all property rights and in particular whether the court will award damages instead of an injunction where a developer infringes a neighbour’s right of light.

The case strongly criticises the recent tendency to mechanically apply existing principles and award an injunction rather than damages. Instead, the Supreme Court endorsed a more flexible approach when awarding a remedy. If the approach suggested by the Supreme Court is adopted in practice, it is likely that fewer injunctions will be granted and that damages will become a more common alternative remedy. This represents a departure from a severe judicial trend to award injunctions even when the loss suffered is slight and the impact on the wrongdoer is severe (HKRUK II (CHC) Ltd v Heaney [2010] EWHC 2245 Ch).

Coventry was the lessee of a stadium near Lawrence’s house. Planning permission was granted for ‘speedway racing and associated facilities’ to Coventry’s predecessor in title in 1975. Stock-car racing began on Coventry’s land in 1984, which was not a permitted action under the 1975 planning permission. It was submitted by Coventry that these actions had become immune from planning control after 10 years of operation; however, the operations in the stadium created noise that could be heard by local residents…

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