Born in London, 1856, the honourable Judge, Sir Thomas Edward Scrutton, a brilliant scholar (Trinity College Cambridge, University College London), grandfather of English moral philosopher Dr Mary Midgley
, is no stranger to the Bar. 1.
He's immensely informative on topics close to our heart, such as the Law of Copyright and Corrupt and Illegal Practices in Parliamentary Elections, but do not try his patience; he does not suffer fools gladly, and often refuses to suffer them at all. He's an irascible fellow whose bitter antipathy towards another judge recently erupted into an open court shouting match. When not sharing a tipple with us, he gets through an immense amount of work in the hideous room which he occupies in the hideous block called Temple Gardens, and in which a Spartan rigour reigns. He sits on a Windsor chair, without a cushion, at a battered writing-table. When darkness sets in, the only source of light is a Victorian chandelier with fishtail gas burner... 2.
On June 5th 1912 at the High Courts of Justice, King's Bench, he found against the defendant (Catt) who had rented a 'Pickwick' ball catching slot machine from Pessers, Moody, Wraith and Gurr Ltd. of London. Catt refused to pay royalties on the grounds that the machine could not be operated because it was a game of chance and therefore illegal. In adjudging it to be a game of skill and not a game of chance, our judge dealt a significant victory to the fledgling British slot machine industry. Thereafter, many ball catching slot machines, including 'Clown Catchers', proudly sported a label proclaiming their legal status by citing this case. 3.
Over twenty years later, Miss Harriet Mary L'Estrange made a down payment on a Six Column 'Junior Ilam' Automatic cigarette vending machine to operate in her café in Great Ormes Road, Llandudno. Like many of us, she failed to study the small print when signing the Sales Agreement: "...any express or implied condition, statement, or warranty, statutory or otherwise not stated herein is hereby excluded." Of course, a few days later, the darned thing jammed and, despite the efforts of a mechanic, stubbornly refused to serve. When Harriet declined to pay further instalments on the purchase, the manufacturer and supplier, F. Graucob Ltd. of London, sued in the local County Court. Harriet counter-sued, arguing that the machine was not fit for purpose and won the case, but Graucob, represented by a young barrister, AT Denning (later, Lord Denning), appealed before Judge Scrutton. Once again, our judge sided with the manufacturer, finding, "where the document is signed, it matters not that the party has not read it." 4.
The case firmly established in law that parties to a signed, written agreement are bound by its detailed terms, although it was later argued that Graucob should not have won, because his representatives knew Miss L’Estrange was making a mistake in signing the Sales Agreement.
Would the Law favour Harriet today? Well, the Sales Agreement contravenes unfair terms legislation and the machine would be unfit for purpose under the Sale of Goods Act. But as of October 1st, 2011, she would be fined for operating an illegal vending machine. 5.
She'd have no joy with a 'Pickwick' either, the Gambling Commission now deem it 'a game of chance' and illegal to operate in a café. 6.
1. Thomas Edward Scrutton
2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Gambling Commission wrote:...a game in which the outcome or result can be influenced to any appreciable extent by chance is, in the Commission’s view, a game of chance for the purposes of the Act (Gambling Act, Section 6).
It follows that the machine on which the game is played is a gaming machine.
It does not matter for these purposes whether the element of chance / luck predominates over the element of skill.
Nor does it matter whether the element of chance can be eliminated by superlative skill.
In the past, some businesses had a section 34 permit (issued under the Gaming Act 1968) allowing them to provide gaming machines (fruit machines, slot machines) on their premises.
Such business included take-away food shops, taxi offices, or guest houses.
It has been illegal to provide gaming machines on section 34 permits since 31 July 2009.
, FD Mackinnon (paraphrased)
3. Pessers, Moody, Wraith and Gurr Ltd v Catt
4. L'Estrange v F Graucob Ltd
5. Tobacco vending machines - changes to the law
6. Gambling Commission