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The man on the Clapham omnibus: Wikis


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The man on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated and intelligent but non-specialist person — a reasonable person, a hypothetical person against whom a defendant's conduct might be judged in an English law civil action for negligence. This is the standard of care comparable to that which might be exercised by "the man on the Clapham omnibus" was first mentioned by Greer LJ in Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club (1933) 1 KB 205.

The first reported legal quotation of the phrase is in the 1903 case of McQuire v. Western Morning News[1] a libel case, in which Sir Richard Henn Collins MR attributes it to Lord Bowen, who had died nine years earlier.

It is possibly derived from the phrase Public opinion ... is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus,[2] coined by the 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot to describe the normal man of London. Clapham in south London at the time was a nondescript commuter suburb seen to represent "ordinary" London. Omnibus is now rather an archaic expression for a public bus, but was in common use by the judiciary at the beginning of the 20th century.

The expression has also been incorporated in Canadian patent jurisprudence, notably Beloit v. Valmet Oy (1986), C.P.R. (3d) 289[3] in its eloquent discussion regarding the test for obviousness.

In Australia, the "Clapham omnibus" expression inspired a local equivalent, "the man on the Bondi tram".[4]

The term has frequently been discussed by feminist critics, amongst them D. Kelly Weisberg in Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations[1].


  1. ^ [1903] 2 KB 100 (CA) at 109 per Collins MR
  2. ^ "The English Constitution", Walter Bagehot
  3. ^ The Beloit-Valmet saga continues
  4. ^ "Plain Language for Lawyers", Michèle M. Asprey, 2003, Federation Press, page 119.


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