by Krishna Pallavi

Firstly, let us understand what the terms ‘Statutory’ and ‘Authority’ separately mean. The word Statutory means anything which is required, permitted or enacted by a statute or legislature. The word Authority means the power or right to give order, make decisions and enforce obedience. Now, Statutory and Authority clubbed together mean, the right or the power given by the a statute, which permits certain acts. However, this power of the legislature to permit certain acts should not be against the welfare of the people.

Statutory Authority is considered as a defence in tort. Any damage resulting from an act, which if authorised by the legislature to be done, is not actionable even though in normal circumstances it would be a tort. In simple words, an injury or damage caused by a person is authorised by the legislature, then he/she can escape liability. However, if the statute itself provides for some compensation for the said act, then the injured party can claim such compensation.

 

To understand this, let us consider the following example:

A builds a cottage away from the city in order to live a peaceful and a noise-free life. However, after few months from A moving into his new cottage, the railway authorities with the orders from the government start constructing a railway line beside A’s house. After, the construction was complete, the trains start to pass through the line on a regular basis. This caused huge inconvenience to A, as there were constant trains moving to and fro, vibrations, smoke and emissions from the train.

A files a suit against the railway authorities on private nuisance. Will A’s claim stand? No. Why? The act to construct a railway line beside A’s house was an act authorised by the government. However, if the law states, that A could receive any compensation for this act, then A will be entitled to receive such compensation.

If the authorities who are doing a said act under the Statutory Authority are negligent, then they cannot claim the defence of the same.

To understand this, let us consider the above example with a little twist in it:

A builds a cottage away from the city in order to live a peaceful and a noise-free life. However, after few months from A moving into his new cottage, the railway authorities with the orders from the government start constructing a railway line beside A’s house. While constructing the railway line, one day a railway servant left trimmings of grass and hedges near the railway line. He was warned several times to not do it.

The next day, during the trial of the trains on the new railway track, the sparks from the engine set fire to the grass and hedges near the railway line. The sparks were carried to the plaintiff’s cottage, and burnt the cottage down.

In such circumstances, the railways authorities could claim, that such action of theirs was supported by law. Will their claim stand? No. Why? Unlike the situation above, in the present situation, the railway authorities though authorised by law to do certain acts, were negligent which is not excusable.

Therefore, they can be held liable for the present act.

The Authority given by the statute is of two types

Absolute Authority and Conditional Authority. In the former’s case even though nuisance or necessary harm is inflicted through an act, the legislature provides them absolute power and therefore, the authorities cannot be held liable. In the latter’s case, the act authorized can be done provided the same is possible without causing nuisance or some other harm.

Such conditions imposed by the statute can either be expressed or implied.

To understand this, let us consider the following example:

A hospital authority wanted to eradicate smallpox. To do the same, they erected a hospital in a residential area. This created a danger of spread of infection to the people residing in and around the hospital. The court issued the an injunction (an order to stop a continuing activity) against the hospital.

The hospital authorities took the plea, that they were granted authority by a statute to do the act. The court held that, in the present case there was a conditional authority that was vested in the hospital authorities. It was further stated that no statute can grant such action to a person or a body to do an act against the welfare of the people.

Therefore, in this case the hospital authorities were held liable

Note: The railway acts are generally given an Absolute Authority by the statute whether any nuisance is caused by it or not.

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