The Dukes of Hazzard

At 5.25pm on Saturday evenings in the 1970s, it was possible to settle down in front of a television set, which offered no less than three channels to choose from, with cheese on toast with a poached egg on top and to engage in the willing suspension of disbelief for 50 minutes or so, that watching the Dukes of Hazzard entailed.

Why were the doors of the General Lee welded shut? Why did Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane never catch the Duke boys? Why, every week did they become involved in a crazy scheme involving Boss Hogg and a treasure map or illicit moonshine? And how on earth did Daisy Duke squeeze into those shorts?

Of course, what the Duke boys were routinely doing as they sped across Hazzard County was illegal, for all sorts of reasons, and if, when the General Lee was written off due to failing to make a jump across a broken bridge, they had hypothetically hired a replacement vehicle on a credit hire basis, they may have had consequential difficulty recovering the charges.

In this country from time to time, a credit hire company will find to its horror, that it has hired a vehicle to a claimant who has perhaps been driving his own vehicle without insurance, or has refused to engage in the redtape of obtaining road tax, and it will be argued by the defendant insurance company, that the hire is irrecoverable as it is tainted by reason of illegality: or as it used to be called in the old language, ex turpi causa non oritur damnum.

I have argued this point uphill and down dale, many times over the years, and sometimes won and sometimes lost, but for one reason or another the point has never reached the Court of Appeal. But from time to time a first instance decision in the County Court on whether an illegality defence exists appears, in recorded form. Such happened in a case earlier this year, decided in Central London County Court, a copy of the judgment of which  which can be found here: Ms Amudalat Adefunmilayo Agbalaya v London Ambulance Service County Court 17th February 2022.

The actual finding of illegality is obiter dicta: the judge due to his earlier finding on causation did not need to go so far. The decision does not grapple with the public policy underpinning the Road Traffic Act 1988: that Parliament has decided what criminal conduct merits an insurer being excused from compensating a party, in section 151, and driving without insurance or an MOT, is not one of the circumstances, where compensation will be refused. But the case was well argued and the judge has provided a thoughtful judgment which illuminates many of the key issues.

Credit hire is of course a world wide phenomenon these days, and so I was also interested to discover this Australian decision, Taleb v Rijal which illustrates how principles of illegality are being deployed in that jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, I shall keep my eyes open to see if there ever is a reported credit hire decision from the Hazzard County State Court, in Georgia, and will be delighted to put it on this blog for your edification, in due course.

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