(ii) Is the Principle Recognized in English Law?

The unjust sacrifice principle has not been expressly recognized in any English decision. Many of the situations which might be covered by such a principle are better regarded as falling within the principle of unjust enrichment, essentially because of the wide interpretation of incontrovertible benefit. For many of the cases which have been relied on to establish the unjust sacrifice principle involve the supply of necessaries or discharge of the defendant’s liability and are better analysed as cases where the defendant has been incontrovertibly benefited.[1]

(iii) Should the Unjust Sacrifice Principle Be Recognized in English Law?

Despite the absence of case law support for the unjust sacrifice principle, can a case be made for its recognition? Stoljar provides an example of a situation in which this principle would have a useful role to play, namely where the claimant attends to the defendant’s child injured in an accident, but the child dies.[2] Clearly, the defendant cannot be regarded as benefited by the claimant’s services in these circumstances, so a restitutionary remedy cannot lie. But should the defendant be held liable to recompense or reimburse the claimant for the reasonable value of these services? Stoljar suggests the answer is ‘yes’, as long as those services were provided in the expectation that they would be paid for and were ‘manifestly necessary or urgent or useful’ for the defendant, so that the provision of those services cannot be regarded as officious.2 1 Stoljar’s justification for the defendant’s liability in these circumstances is that the claimant’s non-gratuitous provision of services requires protection as though it were his or her property. But this justification is not convincing. Where the defendant has not been benefited, why should he or she be required to recompense the claimant? Where the claimant has attempted to save the life of the defendant’s child but failed, perhaps this was due to the fault of the claimant. Also, where the defendant has not received any benefit at all, it is difficult to conclude that the claimant’s officiousness has been displaced. Although we presumably want people to try to save the lives of children, we must not be misled by the emotive nature of this example. Where the defendant has not been benefited in any way, no obligation to pay the claimant should be imposed, despite the policy that society wishes to encourage intervention in an emergency. It is for this reason that the unjust sacrifice principle should be rejected.

  • [1] 200 Stoljar, ‘Unjust Enrichment and Unjust Sacrifice’, 612. See, for example, Cotnam v Wisdom (1907) 104
  • [2] SW 164 and Matheson v Smiley [1932] 2 DLR 787.
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