The Man on The Clapham Omnibus


The Wikiworm burrows deeper into Wikipedia…

The man on the Clapham omnibus is a hypothetical reasonable person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party has acted as a reasonable person would — for example, in a civil action for negligence. The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured. The concept was used by Greer LJ in the case of Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club (1933) to define the standard of care a defendant must live up to in order to avoid being found negligent.

The phrase was first put to legal use in a reported judgment by Sir Richard Henn Collins MR in the 1903 English Court of Appeal libel case, McQuire v. Western Morning News. He attributed it to Lord Bowen, said to have coined it as junior counsel defending the Tichborne Claimant case in 1871. Brewer’s also lists this as a possible first use.

It may be derived from the phrase “Public opinion … is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus,” a description by the 19th-century journalist Walter Bagehot of a normal London man. Clapham, in South London, was at the time a nondescript commuter suburb seen to represent “ordinary” London. Omnibus is now rather an archaic term for a public bus, but was in common use by the judiciary at the beginning of the 20th century.

The expression has also been incorporated in Canadian patent jurisprudence, notably Beloit v. Valmet Oy (1986), C.P.R. (3d) 289 in its discussion of the test for obviousness.

In Australia, the “Clapham omnibus” expression has inspired the New South Wales and Victorian equivalents, “the man on the Bondi tram” and “the man on the Bourke Street tram”. In Hong Kong, the equivalent expression is “the man on the Shaukiwan Tram.”

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In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

4 thoughts on “The Man on The Clapham Omnibus

    April 25, 2014 at 19:50

    Listen, mush, do we, the PBI, have to endure yet another Londoncentric bloody edict. Albeit one that has been around since London was occupied by Londoners, you know, Smiffies etc. Why not Geordie on the Northern No 49, destination Worswick St bus station via Hebburn’s Hedgley Rd. I humbly, or possibly not, offer this gem of disadvantaged wisdom in an atmosphere of biliousness and morbidity, returning home we chanced to turn on the black plastic thing in the corner in time to be fobbed off with yet another BBC gormless tosser and fully indoctrinated automaton, interviewing the chancellor of the cash he, in fine unbiased mode suggested that,,,,A/ the evil Tories were wrong in opposing the RBS, a nest of thieves in Edinburgh , no bonus here and B/ the evil Tories were wrong in not allowing said bonuses to be paid, various idiots were wheeled out of the BBC steel container marked ‘idiots who prove our unbiased theories.’ This was followed by a frustrating session installing Ubuntu 14.04, Gnome flashback and discovering that Firefox could not install the English (British) spell chekka.
    It’s pissing down outside, the tups have broken through the fence (the march) the farmer informs me that we are liable for 50% of the costs, so preventing his sodding sheep from crapping all over our land. It’s so cold that the newly installed condensing boiler is issuing so much steam that malty towers has assumed the appearance of the flying Scotsman, We have just discovered that we will, yet again, have to Journey to Florence via Ryanair, the low cost, low airline, fronted by a low cost, low Irishman. We had spent the day investigating possible parachutes for the possible outcome of the independence referendum, hence bilious morbidity, y’all have a nice weekend.

    • Worm
      April 26, 2014 at 12:29

      Malty, your comments make my day!

      (on a geeky note, I have recently installed mint 16 and it is fantastic, much better than ubuntu imho)

    April 26, 2014 at 11:48

    The Man on the Ryanair Charter? Yes, malty, that would do nicely as an update of our legal standard for negligence . Although, conveying as it does the smoldering ire of the caged animal, it might be a more appropriate test for lawful assault.

    • Worm
      April 26, 2014 at 12:28

      “The man on the ryanair charter” is pretty perfect!

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