St Patrick’s Day, Leprechauns and the law of unjust enrichment
  • 15th Mar 2019
  • Article written by David Riordan
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St Patrick’s day celebrates the life of St Patrick who is said to have banished snakes from Ireland. My Celtic heritage makes it a special occasion for me and it is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends and to celebrate our nation’s struggles and triumphs through history.


In Ireland it is a public holiday and the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin is a great family event and a real celebration for the nation. If you are considering a trip to Ireland at some point, you could do worse than book to be there on St Patrick’s day to savour the cultural experience and festivities.


Now you may rightly ask what has this to do with the law. Well very little on the face of it.. but if we delve a little deeper into the iconography of the day a story starts to unfold with some legal questions.  St Patrick’s day is synonymous with shamrocks, green paraphernalia, the occasional Guinness and let us not forget…. Leprechauns.


Leprechauns have a mystical and somewhat controversial image. A type of fairy dressed in green attire, bearded with a hat, with a short stature who enjoy making and mending shoes. A playful mischievous creature which can be found at the base of a rainbow with a hidden crock of gold. Now the question arises… where did that gold come from and how did it find its way into the Leprechaun’s possession…


Well their association with gold dates back to a mythological story found in the depths of Celtic history when the Danish invasion of Ireland also known as the Viking invasion took place. Legend has it that the Danes left the Leprechauns in charge of their plundered wealth. The Leprechauns stored it in crocks and then hid it throughout Ireland. A Leprechaun may reveal the location of the gold if questioned and if the person questioning him keeps an eye upon him. Looking away from the Leprechaun guarantees that they shall vanish in an instant – unlikely to be seen again…


The law is tolerably clear that if a party is unjustly enriched the law of restitution may be applied in order to reverse the unjust enrichment. In order to bring a claim for unjust enrichment: 1) the Defendant has to be enriched or have received a benefit, 2) the enrichment of the Defendant must be unjust 3) and the enrichment of the Defendant must be at the expense of the Claimant. This type of case frequently arises where goods or services were provided and there was no contractual basis. In relation to goods and services the Defendant may be required to pay for those goods or services according to any price or in the absence of a price at a reasonable rate which is called on a “quantum meruit” basis.


Examples include: a payment by mistake; a case where a claimant brought a claim against his brother in law for building work that he did over a number of years on the alleged basis that he would be paid in money or property when the brother in law could afford to do so; and services provided in an emergency where there is no contractual basis for payment.


In Chief Constable of Greater Manchester -v- Wigan AFC Limited extra policing services had been provided by the police at a football match. The Defendant maintained that those additional services were unnecessary and made it clear that contractually he was not required to pay for those extra services. The Court found that an award of restitution could not be granted on the basis of unjust enrichment as there was no unjust factor.


Now the question is could the Danes seek to pursue the Leprechaun for their losses. Well, limitation would be an issue as in the normal course one would have 6 years to bring a claim for restitution on the basis of unjust enrichment. That time limit can however be extended such as in cases of fraud. Further there would be interesting arguments regarding the question of whether it would be unjust to deprive the Danes of their gold in all the circumstances. Further they would need to determine whether to bring their action under Danish law, Irish law (if in Republic of Ireland) or UK law if in northern Ireland. At present there is scope to enforce a Judgment obtained against a Defendant in another country in the EU under EU Legislation. It is unclear at present if Brexit proceeds whether that reciprocal right shall be retained by UK Claimants and vice versa by EU Claimants seeking to enforce a Judgment in the UK. There is also the practical consideration of ensuring your barrister keeps an eye on the Leprechaun at all times during cross examination. On balance, we are unlikely to recommend a claim if approached by the Danes but if you have a potential claim for unjust enrichment or would like some advice on this area please do get in touch with our Dispute Resolution and Litigation Team and we would be glad to assist.