Universe Tankships of Monrovia v Int’l Transport Workers Federation

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Citation: Universe Tankships of Monrovia v International Transport Workers Federation [1983] 1 AC 366

This information can be found in the Casebook: Paterson, Robertson & Duke, Contract: Cases and Materials (Lawbook Co, 11th ed, 2009), pp. 906-7 [34.15] or here


Background facts

  • The Plaintiff [Universe Tankships] was being threatened by the Defendant [International Transport Workers] that unless they pay money into the fund, the Defendant will not tug the Plaintiff's ship.
  • After payment, the Plaintiff brought a claim to recover the money


  • The Plaintiff argues that he paid under duress.
  • The Defendant admitted it had caused economic duress, but claimed immunity pursuant to a certain Act.

Legal issues


  • The act did not excuse the duress.
  • However, we look at this case not for the ultimate decision, but rather for the discussion on duress by Lord Scarman.

Lord Scarman:[1]

  • There are two elements in duress:
    1. Pressure amounting to compulsion of the will of the victim, and
    2. The illegitimacy of the pressure exerted.
  • What amounts to ‘compulsion’?
    • Coercion or vitiation of consent, thus abrogating victim’s choice. The absence of choice can be proved by either of the following:
      1. Protest
      2. The absence of independent advice
      3. A declaration of intention to go to law to recover the money paid or the property transferred.
    • These elements, however, are not exclusive - the victim’s silence does not aid the bully.
  • What determines ‘illegitimacy’ of pressure?
    • Many acts are done under ‘pressure’, but not duress.
    • In determining what is legitimate, consider two matters:
      1. The nature of the pressure; and if required,
      2. The nature of the demand which the pressure is applied to support.
    • Threat of unlawful action is illegitimate.
    • Duress can still exist for lawful action – this depends on the nature of the demand. Good example: blackmail. Thus, often one has to justify not the threat, but the demand.
  • So, in this case, we deal with whether the pressure was illegitimate, and more specifically, the nature of the demand.
    • If unlawful, the owner acted under duress and can recover.
    • If lawful, there is no duress and the sum sought is irrecoverable.
  • Lawfulness or otherwise depends on whether the act was done in contemplation of a trade dispute.
  • If yes, it is not actionable in tort, particularly here with statutory protection.


  1. [1983] 1 AC 366, 400-1
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