Ashby vs White

An analysis of Ashby vs White case (1703)

Case name & citation: Ashby vs White (1703) 92 ER 126

Year of the case: 1703

Jurisdiction: The Court of King’s Bench; The House of Lords

What is the case about?

Ashby vs White is a landmark case of English tort law (also called the eighteenth-century election case) that is believed to have firmly established the principle of Injuria sine damnum. This case is frequently cited by scholars and courts in cases involving the civil & other legal rights of a person.

Facts of the case (Ashby vs White)

In the case of Ashby vs White, the defendant, who was a returning officer at a voting booth in the parliamentary election, refused to allow the plaintiff to vote. Even though the plaintiff was a qualified voter, he was wrongfully prevented from exercising his right to give a vote.

The candidate to whom the plaintiff wanted to vote got elected and thus, no loss was suffered by him. That is, the candidate had come out successful in the election.

Still, the plaintiff brought an action against the defendant and claimed damages. He contended that the defendant wrongfully prevented him from exercising his statutory right to vote at the election.

The case soon attracted the focus of the public as well as the government.

Issues raised

Whether a party can recover damages when one of his civil rights is hindered by the action of another party?

Can the plaintiff recover damages?

Governing principles

The leading case of Ashby vs White throws light on the legal maxim of Injuria sine damnum. Injuria sine damnum is a Latin term that means “legal injury without any damage”. It refers to a violation of the legal rights of a person without causing any actual loss. In this sense, a loss could be in the form of loss of money, loss of health, etc. This maxim explains that where there is an infringement of the legal rights of a person, the right to sue against the wrongdoer is available regardless of the fact whether any actual loss is sustained or not.

Where there is an infringement of a legal right not resulting in harm (or damage), the plaintiff can still sue under tort law. It is not necessary for him to prove the existence of any damage. It is just sufficient to show the violation of a right and the law will presume damage.

This is so because some rights or interests are so important that their violation becomes an actionable tort even without proof of damage. In other words, when there is a violation of an “absolute” private right of an individual, there is an injuria and the plaintiff’s action will be allowed even if there is no Damnum (or damages). An absolute right is one whose invasion is actionable per se, i.e., by or of itself, even though no damage has occurred. For example, trespassing on another person’s property is actionable even if it does not do the plaintiff any harm.

Moreover, the above rule is also based on the old maxim of law, Ubi jus ibi remedium. It says that where there is a legal right, there is a remedy.

Judgment of the Court in Ashby vs White

The Court held that even though the plaintiff did not sustain an actual loss or damage, his legal right to vote was violated. Hence, the plaintiff was granted a remedy. He was allowed to claim damages.

Lord Holt C.J. stated that there was an infringement of a legal right vested in the plaintiff. And the fact that no monetary damage was caused to the plaintiff does not make any difference. Because a person must have a legal remedy if there is an invasion of his legal rights.

Further, even though the infringement of the plaintiff’s rights did not impact the success of the concerned candidate in the elections, still he was granted a compensation of nominal nature. 


In the instant case, the plaintiff suffered no harm because the candidate for whom he planned to vote had already won the elections, yet the defendants were still held accountable. It was determined that harm is not just monetary, but that every legal injury imports a damage. And a man is entitled to remedies when his rights are violated.

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