The defence of illegality in tort law: Beyond judicial redemption?

James Goudkamp, Mimi Zou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


IN Hounga v Allen [2014] UKSC 47; [2014] 1 W.L.R. 2889, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a claim in the statutory tort of discrimination by a woman who had been dismissed from her employment. The fact that the woman had been working in breach of immigration laws did not enliven the illegality defence. Hounga is one of several recent cases in which the illegality defence has been examined at the ultimate appellate level, the other decisions being Gray v Thames Trains Ltd [2009] UKHL 33; [2009] 1 A.C. 1339, Stone & Rolls Ltd v Moore Stephens [2009] UKHL 39; [2009] A.C. 1391, and Les Laboratoires Servier v Apotex Inc [2014] UKSC 55; [2014] 3 W.L.R. 1257. The fact that the defence has been considered so frequently as of late at the apex level seems to confirm that the Law Commission was wrong in its prediction, made shortly after Gray and Moore Stephens were decided, that the defence would be brought into a satisfactory state if responsibility for reforming it was left to the courts (The Illegality Defence (Law Com 320, 2010), at [3.37]–[3.41]). We are not alone in holding this view. Writing extra-judicially, Lord Mance and Lord Sumption have called for the Law Commission to re-examine the defence (J. Mance, “Ex Turpi Causa – When Latin Avoids Liability” (2014) 18 Edinburgh Law Review 175, 192; J. Sumption, “Reflections on the Law of Illegality” (2012) 20 Restitution Law Review 1, 8–12). We argue here that Hounga perpetuates (and possibly aggravates) the difficulties from which this area of law suffers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-16
Number of pages4
JournalCambridge Law Journal
Issue number01
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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