Robinson v Balmain New Ferry Co. Ltd [1910] AC 295

False imprisonment – contract relating to entry and exist from a ferry wharf

Facts

Robinson (R) paid a penny to cross on a ferry, however he narrowly missed the ferry and changed his mind about crossing. R attempted to leave through the gate he came through, however it required another penny to be paid to leave. R refused to pay the penny because he had not crossed on the ferry. Balmain New Ferry Co. (D) forcibly prevented R from leaving until he paid the penny. R raised an action for false imprisonment.

Issue

R claimed that he was falsely imprisoned due to the forcible prevention of his leaving the ferry wharf without paying a penny to leave.

Held

A person can be legitimately prevented from leaving if they had entered an earlier contracted permitting so. When R entered the ferry gate, he agreed to pay a penny on both entering and leaving the ferry. This bound him to a contract and D was entitled to impose a reasonable condition before allowing him to pass through their turnstile from a place to which he had gone of his own free will. This case narrows the law on false imprisonment, following the case of Bird v. Jones [1845] 7 QB 742 in which it was held that false imprisonment is constituted by total (and not partial) obstruction, however in the present case it is held that it even where a person is totally obstructed it will not constitute false imprisonment if there is a reasonable condition to passing.