Decisions, proceedings and news from the courts in some common law jurisdictions in the past week.
R v Lawlor  SCC 34 (15 December 2023)
Successful appeal from Ontario CA – Case about whether judge in murder trial correctly instructed jury regarding accused’s mental health conditions and post-offence conduct –
In 2014, L participated in sexual encounter with two other men in park in Ontario – Following day, body of one of men was found in park – Died due to external neck compression –
L had consumed both psychiatric medication and alcohol around time in park with victim and third man – Made several statements both before and after victim’s death about how he wanted to harm and kill gay men and that he had at times carried rope and knife to do so – In days following killing, L also searched internet for news regarding discovery of body in park –
L tried by judge and jury – In judge’s instructions to jury on element of intent required to find accused guilty of first-degree murder, judge did not specifically highlight any evidence related to L’s mental health – Such evidence could have affected whether he intended to commit offence – Rather, asked jury to consider “all of the evidence” including L’s state of mind and any evidence of impairment by drugs and alcohol – Judge also briefly referred to L’s internet searches after offence, but did not give jury further instructions to limit what it could infer from this evidence to determine guilt – Jury ultimately found L guilty of first-degree murder –
Appeal to Ontario CA L did not contest fact he caused victim’s death and acknowledged he was at least guilty of manslaughter – However, said trial judge failed to expressly instruct jury on use of evidence of his mental health which was relevant to determining intent to commit offence – L also claimed trial judge should have provided jury with instructions limiting use of evidence with respect to conduct after offence – Majority dismissed appeal –
SC allowed appeal – Conviction set aside and new trial ordered.
Thaler v Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks  UKSC 49 (20 December 2023)
Unsuccessful appeal from CA – In October and November 2018, T filed two applications for patents for what were said to be inventions for new, useful devices and methods – Request for grant forms which accompanied them, said T not inventor –
T said inventor in each case was machine, DABUS, acting autonomously and using artificial intelligence (AI) and T acquired right to patents’ grant as he owned machine –
Following hearing, Hearing Officer for Comptroller, said DABUS could not be inventor under Patents Act 1977 (1977 Act) and T not entitled to apply for patents simply by owning DABUS –
T’s appeal against Comptroller’s decision dismissed in HC and by CA majority – He appealed to SC –
SC unanimously dismissed appeal saying, among other things, inventor within 1977 Act meaning had to be natural person – Appeal dismissed.
Zubaydah v Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and ors  UKSC 50 (20 December 2023)
Unsuccessful appeal from CA – Concerned law applicable to torts alleged to have been committed by UK Security Service and UK Secret Intelligence Service (UK Services) – Preliminary issue decided on basis claimant Z’s allegations –
Z sought compensation for personal injuries said were sustained in pursuit of information UK services sought in CIA black site facilities in Thailand, Poland, Morocco, Lithuania, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay (Six Countries) – Brought claim naming Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Home Office and Attorney General as they were vicariously liable UK Services’ acts – Torts alleged against them under law of England and Wales were misfeasance in public office, conspiracy to injure, trespass to person, false imprisonment and negligence –
Z’s primary case that law of England and Wales applied whereas defendants said laws of each of Six Countries applied – HC agreed with defendants but CA overturned decision –
FCDO and others appealed to SC – SC majority dismissed appeal saying England and Wales law applied – Said, among other things, while appeal court should be slow to interfere with trial judge evaluation under relevant law, CA right here to identify errors in HC approach which were sufficiently significant to justify CA intervening – Appeal dismissed.
Byers and ors v Saudi National Bank  UKSC 51 (20 December 2023)
Unsuccessful appeal from CA – Between 2002 and 2008, Al-S acquired shares in five Saudi Arabian companies (Shares) – Held Shares on trust for Saad Investments Company Limited (SICL) In September 2009, Al-S transferred Shares to Samba Financial Group (Samba) in breach of trust in favour of SICL (Transfer) –
Distinction in English law between: (i) legal title to property (being, here, title held in Shares by Mr Al-Sanea as trustee); and (ii) equitable interest in property (here, SICL interest in trust property as trust beneficiary) –
However, law governing Transfer Saudi Arabian law, which did not recognise distinction – Consequently, transfer effect under Saudi Arabian law extinguished SICL’s equitable interest in Shares – Samba, therefore, became Shares’ sole owner following Transfer –
In September 2009, SICL went into liquidation – In May 2017, SICL and its joint liquidators claimed for knowing receipt against Samba, alleging that it received trust property knowing property transferred in breach of trust – In April 2021, Samba’s assets and liabilities were transferred to Saudi National Bank (SNB) –
England and Wales HC dismissed SICL’s claim – Said, as SICL’s equitable interest in property had been extinguished, not possible to claim for knowing receipt – SICL appealed to CA, which dismissed appeal – Appealed to SC –
SC unanimously dismissed appeal – Said knowing receipt claim could not occur if claimant’s equitable interest in property in question has been extinguished by time of defendant’s knowing receipt of property –
Although case law pointed toward DC conclusion, did not provide definitive answer in this case – SC decided matter by applying relevant equitable principles – Appeal dismissed.
HXA v Surrey County Council; YXA v Wolverhampton City Council  UKSC 52 (20 December 2023)
Two unsuccessful appeals from CA – Two separate claims in negligence brought, respectively, by HXA against Surrey County Council and by YXA against Wolverhampton City Council (together, LAs) – On assumed facts (no factual determinations having been made), HXA and YXA (claimants) children when they suffered parental or parent partner sexual or physical abuse – Necessary component of negligence claim that defendant owed claimant duty of care – Both claimants alleged LA owed them duty of care because LA had, by its conduct, assumed responsibility to protect them from harm caused by third parties –
LAs applied to strike out claims as contained no arguable duty and should not proceed to trial – First instance judges and on appeal to HC judge, struck out claims – CA allowed HXA and YXA’s appeal and reversed strike-out – LAs appealed to SC –
SC unanimously allowed each appeal – Said claimants’ particulars of claim disclosed no basis upon which LAs’ relevant assumption of responsibility could be made out at trial – No arguable duty of care as alleged in either case – Both cases correctly struck out at first instance – Appeals allowed.