The man on the Clapham omnibus  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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" mentioned by Greer LJ in Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club (1933) 1 KB 205.

The phrase was first put to legal use in a reported judgment by Sir Richard Henn Collins MR in the 1903 English Court of Appeal libel case, McQuire v. Western Morning News. He attributed it to Lord Bowen, said to have coined it as junior counsel defending the Tichborne Claimant case in 1871. Brewer's also lists this as a possible first use.

It is possibly derived from the phrase Public opinion ... is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus, 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 in its eloquent discussion regarding the test for obviousness.

In Australia, the "Clapham omnibus" expression has inspired the New South Wales and Victorian equivalents, "the man on the Bondi tram". and "the man on the Bourke Street tram".

The term was used once by D. Kelly Weisberg in her work Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations.

See also

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