‘Forgive us our trespasses’ ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ What is the law of trespass about? And what could it be about?

17th July 2021

My blogging and journalism tends often to be about public law – that is the law relating to or enforced by the state: constitutional law, criminal law, and so on.

But my primary interest in law – at least on a day-to-day basis as a solicitor – is the law of obligations and of (intellectual) property.

And one concept that has long fascinated me is the law of trespass – and how it contrasts with other areas of common law such as contract and tort.

So over at Prospect magazine this month, my column is on what the law of trespass is about – and what the law of trespass could be about.

In the event of any questions or comments on that column or the topic generally, do set them out below.



You can subscribe for each post on this blog to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).


Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.

6 thoughts on “‘Forgive us our trespasses’ ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ What is the law of trespass about? And what could it be about?”

  1. A considered and thought provoking alternative route to personal data protection. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Viewing the modern law of privacy as emanating from trespass to the person rather than a breach of confidentiality is an interesting thought. Thank you. I wonder if some enterprising senior judges could be prevailed upon to reanalyse the common law in this area.

    Trespass is, in the words of Madness, “One Step Beyond” (from the Latin “trans+passare”).

    But I wonder where the well-known sign “Trespassers will be prosecuted” comes from (sometimes given added spice by adding “with the utmost rigour of the law, by order”).

    There are and were situations in which trespass was a criminal matter – for example the Trespassers in Parks and Ponds Act 1275 (3 Ed. 1, c.20).

    So perhaps a similar place of half memory, half wishful thinking, as “common law marriage”?

  3. Thank you for this. David.

    There is currently an investigation into possible breaches of Data Protection law by those responsible for the videos of Matt Hancock and Ms Coladangelo and I had some difficulty fitting the events in question under the concept of data. The approach you suggest, that this might be regarded as trespass against the person, seems to make much more sense.

  4. Trespass in a personal data context led to the thought of agricultural vermin trampling all over my data sets (rather than onion sets). Which led to the thought of a data protection shotgun. Which in turn led to pondering how effective such a tool might be against secret squirrels.

    So, a data protection shotgun might let you know when some naughty person was wandering around your data sets but remain entirely silent and ineffective against certain privileged trespassers. A very strange situation.

  5. Never forgetting: ” … the Piglet lived in the middle of the house. Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had: “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time. Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one—Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.