Law students spend a lot of time looking at specific cases. Some of these are simply good examples, but many are studied because they set precedents and established principles that continue to have major consequences for the way the law is administered in the UK. The following cases are a few key examples of such landmark legal events:
In the late 1990s, General Pinochet (pictured right), former dictator of Chile, was placed under arrest in London and detained following a request for extradition to Spain. He was facing charges of crimes against humanity. Ultimately Pinochet was never extradited, but the case still established an important principle. Before the establishment of the international courts that would now be tasked with handling such charges – as recently demonstrated by the conviction of Radovan Karadzic for crimes against humanity – this incident established that heads of state were accountable and were not immune from legal consequences for their actions.
The Belmarsh Decision
One of the more recent landmark cases, the Belmarsh Decision of 2004 related to the then-government’s policy of detaining foreign individuals suspected of terrorism indefinitely without making charges against them. After nine law lords reviewed the policy and a subsequent legal challenge, a majority declared that the practice was both discriminatory and illegal. This is now one of the key precedents to consider when debating the delicate balance between individual freedoms and national security.
The Snail in the Bottle Case
This 1932 case firmly established a legal concept so powerful that, today, it is the basis for an entire area of the law. It was arguably the first case in which an individual made a claim for criminal negligence, and enshrined into law the need for individuals and businesses to take due care to ensure that they do not cause harm to others. A Mrs Donoghue brought a claim against the manufacturer of a bottle of ginger beer in which she had found “the decomposed remains of a snail which were not, and could not be, detected until the greater part of the contents of the bottle had been consumed.” The court found that, as the manufacturer was creating a product designed for human consumption and placing it in a bottle which did not allow the customer to inspect it before drinking, they had a duty to ensure that the contents were indeed suitable for their intended purpose and not likely to cause harm to the drinker.