Rookes v. Barnard & others: personal papers of Douglas Rookes

Scope and Content

Case papers, correspondence file, draft and published copies of book 'Conspiracy', magazines and press cuttings.

Administrative / Biographical History

Rookes v Barnard, Silverthorne and Fistal was a long running legal dispute which resulted in legislative changes and the establishment of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (Donovan Commission) in 1965.

In 1949 agreement was made between the employers’ and employees’ sides of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport that no strike action should take place. This formed part of the contract of employment of members of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (AESD) employed in the design office of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). There was 100% union membership in the design office and an agreement by BOAC that non-union staff wouldn’t be employed.

In November 1955 Douglas Rookes, a draughtsman employed by BOAC at London Airport, resigned his AESD membership. On 10 January 1956, members of the union voted in favour of a resolution that if Rookes wasn’t removed from the design office, they would go on strike. After being informed of the union’s decision, BOAC suspended Rookes and, on 16 March 1956, sacked him. Rookes sued the trade union representatives Alfred Barnard, Reginald Silverthorne and Trevor Fistal, claiming that they had conspired to get him dismissed by threatening BOAC with strike action. In 1961, in the High Court, Justice Sachs ruled in Rookes’ favour, awarding him £7,500 in damages. At the Court of Appeal in 1962, that judgment was reversed in favour of the defendants. Rookes in turn appealed and the case went to the House of Lords, where, on 21 January 1964, the original decision was upheld in Rookes’ favour.

The 1906 Trade Disputes Act had given unions immunity from certain torts during an industrial dispute. The use of the tort of intimidation (threat to do an unlawful act = unlawful threat) in the Rookes v Barnard case caused controversy, and the 1965 Trade Disputes Act was passed to prevent its use in similar cases.

Access Information

This collection is available to researchers by appointment at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick. See

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