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Barlow v Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council - a complex highways case

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A recent and fairly high-profile case in the North West of England has highlighted the complexities of UK laws around highways.

The case was Barlow v Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council and involved the claimant, Mrs Barlow, claiming compensation after she fell on a path within a council-owned park.

Mrs Barlow made her claim against the local authority for breaching their duty, under the Highways Act 1980, to maintain the highway properly. The High Court initially agreed that the council was indeed liable.

Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council took the opportunity to appeal the High Court’s decision. The Court of Appeal dismissed the council’s appeal, which meant the original decision was upheld, but the Court of Appeal reached this decision in a different way to the High Court.

In a nutshell, and without trying to go into too much complexity, the High Court considered that the council-owned path in question was a ‘highway maintainable at public expense’ by virtue of Section 36(2) of the Highways Act, which provides that a highway constructed by a highway authority will be a highway maintainable at public expense.

However, the Court of Appeal established that the path was maintainable at public expense by virtue of Section 47(1) of the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949, which can infer the dedication of a public highway at common law.

This is a brief overview of the case which has attracted wide commentary from experts and other firms across the country. For me, this is a reminder of the complexities with the laws surrounding highways: the multiple statutes, the different means by which a highway can be maintainable at public expense, and the importance of case law when interpreting the legislation.

If you would like to read more about this far from straightforward case, you can click here which takes you to the UK Judiciary website.

Hannah Taylor is an Associate within the Agriculture and Rural Affairs department at mfg Solicitors. Readers can contact Hannah, who specialises in a variety of highway-related matters, through