Cooper v. Board of Works

Shabnam Saidalavi, School of Legal Studies, Cochin

Editor’s note: This paper examines the facts and decision laid down in Cooper v. Board of Works for Wandsworth District, a case based on the principles of natural justice, fair hearing and a rule against bias. It examines the arguments from both sides, lays down the judgment and the reasoning behind the same.

Natural Justice

  • Natural justice is technical terminology for the rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to a fair hearing (audi alteram partem).
  • Rule requiring fair hearing includes rule against bias.
  • Fair hearing- unbiased
  • The right to a fair hearing requires that individuals are not penalized by decisions affecting their rights or legitimate expectations unless they have been given prior notice of the cases against them, a fair opportunity to answer them, and the opportunity to present their own case.

76 of the Metropolis Local Management Act

  • Impowers the district board to alter or demolish a house, where the builder has neglected to give notice of his intention to build seven days before proceeding to lay or dig the foundation.

Facts of Cooper v. Board of Works

  • Plaintiff, builder, was employed to build a house within the Wandsworth district.
  • He had already reached the second storey, when the defendants, without giving him any notice, sent their surveyor and a number of workmen, at a late hour in the evening.
  • Building razed to the ground.
  • Conflicting evidence as to whether or not the plaintiff had given the notice required by the 76th section of the Metropolis Local Management Act, of his intention to bild.
  • Admitted by the plaintiff that he had commenced digging out the foundations within five days of the day on which he alleged he had sent notice.


  • Whether specific right affected gives rise to obligation to accord natural justice?
  • Whether the statutory authority provide the board a defence to act in arbitrary and stringent manner?

Arguments by plaintiff

  • Provisions of the 76th Section is subject to the universally-applicable principle of natural justice.
  • The statue is subject to repeatedly recognized qualification.
  • P & D not on amicable terms( evidence shown). They had to proceed to demolish the house without any delay.
  • It is statutory that they should hear a man who is to suffer from their judgment.
  • 76 contains “The vestry or district board shall make their order in relation to the matters aforesaid, and cause the same to be notified to the person from whom such notice was received, within seven days after the receipt of such notice.
  • The board has to give notice, whether it acted ministerially or judicially- provided in S. 211.

Arguments by defendant

  • Statute in question – public benefit
  • It safeguards the abuses in the administration.
  • Unless the local board have the power in S. 76 exercised, there being no penalty provided for disobedience, the direction of the 76th Section will never be complied with
  • There is no necessity for giving the party notice, when he well knows that he is doing an illegal act.
  • It has been said that the principle that no man shall be deprived of his property without an opportunity of being heard, is limited to a judicial proceeding. But the board’s act was not judicial, it was ministerial.


  • The Court held the demolition was unlawful because the Board had not given Cooper a hearing.
  • No one is to be deprived of property by an administrative authority, without an opportunity of being heard.


Erle CJ:

  • The words of the statute are subject to a qualification that no man is to be deprived of his property without having an opportunity to be heard.
  • I cannot conceive of any harm that could happen to the district board from hearing the party before such a serious act is executed
  • The power of statute carries enormous consequences, and therefore the board ought to have given notice to the plaintiff and to have allowed him to be heard.
  • The default of sending notice may have been explained, the party may have intended to conform with the law.
  • Re: right to be heard only in relation to judicial acts; I cannot agree that a district board ordering a house be pulled down is not a judicial act. The district board must do the thing legally.
  • The appeal clause also indicates that the exercises of the power of a district board would be in the nature of judicial proceedings since an appeal would require the appellant and respondent to be heard as parties.

Edited by Neerja Gurnani

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