Grenouille v National Union of Seamen
A frog was a person in law and accordingly had the necessary locus standi to bring injunction proceedings before the courts, especially where the respondent was a wicked and irresponsible trade union. The Court of Appeal so held in allowing an appeal by Mr Grenouille, a frog, of Ball’s Pond, against a decision by Mr Justice Woolf refusing to grant an injunction restraining the National Union of Seamen from mounting a picket around the appellant’s pond.
Mr George Carman QC and Mr Douglas Hogg appeared for the frog. Mr Peter Taylor QC and Mr Fenton Bresler for the union.
THE MASTER OF THE ROLLS said that the appeal raised issues of profound importance to the rule of law. No less than the continued existence of the courts to protect citizens from oppression was at stake. The facts were simple. Mr Grenouille awoke one May morning to find his pond surrounded by pickets belonging to the National Union of Seamen. They were stopping the public from throwing food into the pond. The frog became ill. He was on the way to starvation. The National Association for Freedom, Enterprise, and Self-Reliance took up his case and last week, through counsel, asked a judge to order the union to remove the pickets. The union, in an affidavit to the court, said that the picket was lawful. It was “in furtherance of a trade dispute”, it claimed, the dispute being between Sandanista guerillas and the Nicaraguan government over working hours and conditions. The court had no doubt that the union’s action did not fall within the criteria laid down for a union to be able to claim immunity from an action in the courts.
But counsel for the union had persuaded the learned judge below that a frog had no legal right to be heard by the courts at all. Lord Denning said that he had no hesitation in adopting the opposite view. It would be a black day indeed for British justice if it were only available to brave men such as Mr John Gouriet and Sir Freddie Laker, and not to humble, law-abiding frogs. No one, however lowly, was below the law. It was the court’s duty to protect the weak against the strong. The decent member of the community- frog or human- who has fallen victim to injustice at the hands of dangerous, unchristian, wicked and irresponsible conglomerations of power, of which trade unions were, together with the Home Office, the main examples, must have the right to seek help from the courts, and the courts must offer a remedy. For them to do otherwise would be to betray those revered men who, so many centuries ago, gathered in that silent meadow at Runnymede. To those who said that frogs were beyond the law, the answer was that if frogs were beyond the law, then the rule of law existed no longer. He was in no doubt that this could not be so, and that frogs, for all legal purposes, were persons able to sue and be sued in the courts of Her Majesty.
It was true, Lord Denning said, that there were six decisions of the House of Lords which appeared to be dead against that proposition. He would pay little heed to them. They seemed to him to have been all wrongly decided, and it was settled law, at any rate in his court, that decisions of the House of Lords were not binding on the Court of Appeal. But even if he were obliged to follow precedent set by that House (and, it was fair to point out, some commentators took that view) he would have no difficulty in distinguishing that facts of the present case. None of the House of Lords cases relied on by counsel for the union referred specifically to the legal status of frogs. Their Lordships had simply not turned their minds to Ranidae, and it could not be assumed that the principles which governed the legal positions of horses, prawns and budgerigars would necessarily apply to the very different circumstances of the appellant. He could not see how Mr Grenouille’s case could be said to be analagous to the facts in Red Rum v Marks and Spencer Ltd  AC 165 where the court had refused to allow Mr Rum, a horse, to sue for fees owed to him for opening the store’s Hampstead branch.
Lord Denning said that he had been conducting some researches and had found a case in point, supporting his view. It was a decision by the deputy magistrate of East Tonga (South Sea Reports, 1931-1958, p. 645) prohibiting the destruction of 5000 toads for use in a marriage ceremony. With the greatest respect to their noble Lordships, he found their reasoning less persuasive than that of the experienced Tongan magistrate.
LORD JUSTICE LAWTON said that although he had the greatest possible respect for the Master of the Rolls, he disagreed with everything he had said. Nevertheless he agreed that the appeal should be allowed. Trade unions ought to be restrained from actions which would result in anarchy and the inevitable breakdown of parliamentary democracy.
LORD JUSTICE EVELEIGH said that the law was under attack from a number of politically motivated groups.
Solicitors: Goodman Derrick & Co.; Kingsley Napley & Co.
(Satirical law report -published during a strike-induced hiatus in the publication of the Times- quoted in Lord Denning’s memoir The Family Story)