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Economic Efficiency, Nuisance and Sewage: New Lessons from Attorney-General v Council of the Borough of Birmingham, 1858-1895

Listed author(s):
  • Leslie Rosenthal


    (Keele University, Department of Economics)

This paper examines the post-litigation history of a celebrated and much-cited English nuisance case of 1858 concerning sewage pollution of the river Tame. This legal case is a classic citation purporting to illustrate the absence in English nuisance law of a ‘‘social benefit’’ defence for nuisance. As the court’s judgment in law found in favour of an individual landowner against the polluting city of Birmingham, population 250,000, property rights were manifestly awarded where benefits were lower. Coase’s Theorem arguments would lead to the expectation that post-litigation negotiations would ensue and evidence is presented that in this case such negotiations did occur, but broke down. The legal conflict stretched on over nearly 40 years, during which period the pollution was, in practice, allowed to continue until adequate sewage treatment techniques developed. The argument is made that the English court, in effect, by failing to enforce their decisions decisively, did take note of the calamitous social effects that would have followed an enforcement of the court’s orders.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Research, Keele University in its series Keele Economics Research Papers with number KERP 2004/08.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2004
Publication status: Forthcoming in Journal of Legal Studies
Handle: RePEc:kee:kerpuk:2004/08
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Department of Economics, University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG - United Kingdom

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Order Information: Postal: Centre for Economic Research, Research Institute for Public Policy and Management, Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG - United Kingdom
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