Webb v Ireland

JurisdictionIreland
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeFINLAY C.J.,Walsh J,McCARTHY J.
Judgment Date01 January 1988
Neutral Citation[1987] IESC 2
Docket Number[1982 No. 3139P - S.C. No. 19 of 1987]
Date01 January 1988
WEBB v. IRELAND & AG

BETWEEN

MICHAEL T. S. WEBB and MICHAEL O'CONNELL WEBB
Plaintiffs/
Respondents

and

IRELAND and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Defendants/
Appellants

[1987] IESC 2

Finlay C.J.

Walsh J.

Henchy J.

Griffin J.

McCarthy J.

19/87

THE SUPREME COURT

Synopsis:

CONSTITUTION

State

Sovereignty - Attributes - Property - Treasure trove - Nature of State's rights - ~See~ Contract, bailment - (19/87 - Supreme Court - 16/12/87)

|Webb v. Ireland|

EVIDENCE

Estoppel

Promissory estoppel - Transaction - Basis - Underlying assumption - Treasure trove - Surrender - Reward promised - ~See~ Contract, bailment - (19/87 - Supreme Court - 16/12/87)

|Webb v. Ireland|

ORDER

Detinue

Return of goods - Treasure trove - Decision of High Court (29/7/86) reversed - ~See~ Contract, bailment - (19/87 - Supreme Court - 16/12/87)

|Webb v. Ireland|

TREASURE TROVE

State

Landowner - Finder - Respective rights - Derrynaflan hoard - Nature of State's rights as bailee of the finder - ~See~ Contract, bailment - (19/87 - Supreme Court - 16/12/87)

|Webb v. Ireland|

CONTRACT

Bailment

Detinue - Goods - Bailor's title - Denial - Estoppel - Treasure trove - Landowner's rights - Derrynaflan hoard - On 17th February, 1980, the plaintiffs entered, as implied invitees, certain land which belonged to two owners - The land consisted of an island of pasture situated in the middle of a bog and on the island were the ruins of an ancient abbey which had been designated as a national monument - The plaintiffs, by the use of a metal detector, discovered the presence of metal buried in a bank of earth near the ruins; the plaintiffs dug and removed from the bank a hoard of precious metal consisting of a chalice, a paten and a wine strainer - The articles so found were made in the 9th century and were later valued at over #5 million - On the next day the plaintiffs delivered the articles to the director of the National Museum on the terms stated, in a letter written by their solicitor, as follows:- "... These articles appear to be a chalice, tray and screener and it is possible that they constitute treasure trove. Our client has been advised that these articles should, with the minimum possible delay and handling, be delivered to the care and custody of experts who have the facilities for examination and preserving same. We have, accordingly, advised our client that he should deliver these articles to your care for the present and pending determination of the legal ownership or status thereof; and also, of course, subject to any rights to payment or reward which our client and his son have." - An offer by the Government of #10,000 reward to the plaintiffs was not accepted by them and on 23rd November, 1981, they demanded the return of the articles - On 7th July, 1981, each of the two owners of the land, in consideration of the sum of #25,000 paid to him by the Minister for Education, assigned to the Minister all that landowner's rights in respect of the articles found by the plaintiffs - As the articles were not returned, the plaintiffs claimed in the High Court the return of the articles or the payment of their value - The trial judge held (29/7/86) that no part of the former royal prerogative had been transferred to the State under the Constitution of 1937, that the State had received the articles as bailee, that the State was estopped from denying the title of the plaintiff bailors to the articles, and that the plaintiffs had committed trespass when they excavated and removed the articles from the bank of earth on the owners" land; by his order (10/12/86) the judge declared that the plaintiffs were entitled either to the return of the articles on payment of #25,800 (the cost of their restoration) or to recover from the defendants the sum of #5,536,000 less #25,800 - The defendants appealed against the order of the High Court - Held, in allowing the appeal, that the terms of the said letter were inconsistent with the implication of a term of the bailment compelling the bailee to accept the title of the plaintiff bailors to the possession of the articles bailed: ~Rogers Sons & Co. v. Lambert & Co.~ [1891] 1 Q.B. 318 distinguished - Held that proof by a bailee of a right to the possession of the goods bailed terminates the bailment: ~Biddle v. Bond~ 6 B. & S. 225 considered - Held that the owners of the land had rights to the possession of the articles so found which were superior to any such rights acquired by the plaintiffs by their trespass: ~Parker v. British Airways Board~ [1982] 1 All E.R. considered - Held that the landowners" rights to the possession of the said articles had been transferred to the State, subject to any rights of the true owner, prior to the commencement of the plaintiffs" action - Held that no former royal prerogative had vested in the State under the provisions of the Constitution: ~Byrne v. Ireland~ [1972] I.R. 241 applied - Held that, by virtue of the sovereign nature of the State and the provisions of Article 10 of the Constitution, the State has a right to treasure trove - Held that an assurance given to the plaintiffs by the director of the National Museum that they would be "honourably treated" was an integral part of the transaction by which the State acquired the articles and that the plaintiffs, despite their trespass, were entitled to receive reasonable payment for delivering the articles: ~Amalgamated Investment v. Texas Commerce~ [1982] Q.B. 84 considered - Held that, pursuant to such assurance, the defendants were bound to pay the plaintiffs the sum of #50,000 - ~Semble~: the trespass of the plaintiffs prevented them from acquiring, as against the landowners, any rights to the possession of the articles found by the plaintiffs in the lands of those landowners - Constitution of Ireland, 1937, Articles 5, 10, 49, 50 - (19/87 - Supreme Court - 16/12/87)

|Webb v. Ireland|

Citations:

NATIONAL MONUMENTS ACT 1930 S8

ROGERS V LAMBERT 1891 1 QB 318

BIDDLE V BOND (1865) 6 B&S 225, 122 ER 179

SHELBURY V SCOTSFORD 80 ER 17

NATIONAL MONUMENTS ACT 1930 S14

NATIONAL MONUMENTS ACT 1930 S26

ELWES V BRIGG GAS CO 33 CH 562

SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE WATER CO V SHARMAN 1896 2 QB 44

CITY OF LONDON CORPORATION V APPLEYARD

BRIDGES V HAWKESWORTH 21 LJQB 75

PARKER V THE BRITISH AIRWAYS BOARD 1982 1 AER 834, 1982 QB 1004

HANNAH V PEEL 1945 KB 509

NATIONAL MONUMENTS ACT 1930 S14(1)(b)

CONSTITUTION ART 11

CONSTITUTION ART 49.2

BYRNE V IRELAND 1972 IR 241

CONSTITUTION ART 2

CONSTITUTION ART 51

CONSTITUTION ART 5

CONSTITUTION ART 10.1

CONSTITUTION ART 10.3

AMALGAMATED INVESTMENT V TEXAS COMMERCE INVESTMENT BANK LTD 1982 QB 84, 1981 3 WLR, 1981 3 AER 577

IRISH EMPLOYERS MUTUAL INSURANCE ASSOC LTD, IN RE 1955 IR 176

SUCCESSION ACT 1965 S65

MINES & MINERALS ACT 1979

AG OF ONTARIO V MERCER 8 AC 707

BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT 1867 S109

WEEKS V HACKETT 71 ATLANTIC REPORTER 858

ARMORY V DELAMARIE 1 STRANGE 505

CONSTITUTION ART 49.1

1

JUDGMENT delivered on the 16th day of December 1987by FINLAY C.J. [Henchy, Griffin Concurring.]

2

This is an appeal brought by the Defendants against the Order of the High Court made on the 10th day of December 1986 directing the return to the Plaintiffs of certain valuable antique articles constituting what has become known as "the Derrynaflan Hoard" upon payment of£25,800 by the Plaintiffs to the Defendants, or in the alternative at the option of the Plaintiffs an Order that the Plaintiffs do recover against the Defendants the sum of £5,510,200.

3

The Derrynaflan Hoard consists of a chalice, silverpaten, silver and bronze paten stand, gilt bronze strainer and a bronze basin. It has been described as one of the most significant discoveries ever made of Christian art. The chalice is believed to date from the ninth century and the entire find constitutes an immensely important contribution to knowledge.

4

The Plaintiffs, who are father and son, on the 17th February 1980 went to a place near Killenaule in County Tipperary, known as Derrynaflan which consisted of an island of pasture land surrounded by a very large area of bog. It contains the remains of a church and other buildings which formed part of an abbey and also a tomb which is supposed to be that of the Guban Saor. Buildings described as "Derrynaflan Abbey" or "Guban's Church and Grave" were the subject matter of a Preservation Order made by the Minister for Finance under Section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930, which Order was made on the 8th June 1935.

5

The lands known as Derrynaflan were at the time of the finding of the hoard jointly owned in unequal sharesby a Mr. Denis O'Brien and a Mr. John O'Leary.

6

Each of the Plaintiffs had with him a metal detector and the purpose of their visit to these lands which they reached by travelling on a raised road going through the bog was to search for metal objects which might be buried in the lands. They did not seek any permission from the owners of the lands before entering on them. After a relatively short time searching with the metal detectors one of the Plaintiffs got a positive reaction and upon digging into the bottom of a bank close to the abbey and buildings with a small hand trowel the Plaintiffs succeeded in unearthing the objects which constitute the hoard. They brought these objects back to their house in Clonmel and having consulted an archaeologist as to their importance and also having received the advice of their Solicitor, Mr. Binchy, the first-named Plaintiff delivered the articles the following day to the National Museum, bringing with him a letter written by his Solicitor in the following terms:

"18th February 1980"

7

Dear Sir,

8

We have been consulted by Mr. Michael T. S. Webb with reference to certain articles which he and his son, Mr. Michael Webb, Junior, found on the 17th February 1980. These articles appear to be a chalice, tray and screener and it is possible that they may constitute treasure trove. Our client has been...

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