What is Trespass in tort?

Trespass in English law is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups: to the person, to goods and to land.

Trespass to land involves the “unjustifiable interference with land which is in the immediate and exclusive possession of another”; it is both a tort and, in certain circumstances, a crime under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is not necessary to prove that harm was suffered to bring a claim, and is instead actionable per se. While most trespasses to land are intentional, the courts have decided that it could also be committed negligently. Accidental trespass also incurs liability, with an exception for entering land adjoining a road unintentionally (such as in a car accident).

In English (and Welsh) law, it is mostly a civil tort rather than a criminal offence. The circumstances in which it is a criminal offence are usually trespass on educational premises, railway property, protected sites, etc. Land is defined as the surface, subsoil, airspace and anything permanently attached to the land, such as houses. The rights of landowners over airspace are not unlimited; in Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews & General Ltd, the action for trespass failed because the violation of airspace took place several hundred metres above the land. This was backed up by the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which provides that it is not trespass if the aircraft is flying at a reasonable height.

For example, an overhanging crane can constitute trespass (Woolerton v Costain).

To the person to goods to land


To act in such a way that the claimant believes he is about to be attacked

Any direct and unlawful damage to, or interference with, goods in the possession of another person Any intentional and unjustifiable interference with the land or buildings of another person


The intentional and direct application of force to another person.


– Throwing objects into someone’s land

– Allowing plants/tree branches to hang over into someone’s property

– Allowing your pet to enter someone’s land

– Digging a tunnel under someone’s land

False imprisonment:

Depriving the claimant the freedom of movement without a lawful justification for doing so.

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