Common law and historical groundwater pollution - a "polluters' charter"?

In a highly significant judgement, the High Court has ruled that a water company has no remedy in civil law for historical pollution of groundwater caused by industrial storage and handling of solvent. The decision not only dilutes further the doctrine of strict liability established in common law in the mid-19th century, but also safeguards industrial management from action under negligence where the polluting consequences of a past activity could not reasonably have been foreseen at the time it was carried out.

Cambridge Water Company v Eastern Counties Leather plc and v Hutchings & Hardings Ltd (Queens Bench Division, 31 July) is believed to be the first case since the 1880s in which established common law principles were applied to pollution of groundwater, and hence the decision of Mr Justice Ian Kennedy is of unusual significance.

The case arose from the discovery of tetrachloroethene, a chlorinated solvent in widespread industrial u

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