Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Man on the Clapham Omnibus Definition:

Phrase coined by English courts in negligence cases, to refer to the reasonable person.

Related Terms: Reasonable Man, Bonus pater familias

The English judicial personification of the reasonable man against which, in some cases, to judge the actions of real people.

"Britain's proverbial reasonable person", wrote Justice Schwelb of the expression, the man on the Clapham bus in the 1988 decision Thompson v US.

The expression is sometimes stated as the man on Clapman omnibus.

In negligence cases or in other cases such as defamation claims, it can be material to judge actions or words as against that of a "ordinary reasonable man"1 which, on one occasion, an English judge casually equated to "the man on the Clapham omnibus", and the expression stuck.

In 1991, while Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa, Ellison Kahn wrote on the topic in the 1991 edition of the South Africa Law Journal:

"If you are interested in the origin of the expression the man on the Clapham omnubus or bus, ... it is variously defined in standard dictionaries and in a few legal decisions as 'the average man' or 'the man in the street'.

"Whether there ever was a Clapham omnibus is a matter of dispute."

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, in Jones v US, described the man in the Clapham bus as, "a reasonably intelligent and impartial person unversed in legal esoterica."

French: In French, civil law in the Canadian Province of Quebec, there is no equivalent strictly speaking though the jurisdiction has deferred to the so-called and very similar standard of the bon père de famille. This is derived directly from the Roman law expression  of the bonus pater familias.

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