Cold Justice
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1969, solicitor James Jarvis booked a skiiing holiday in Switzerland. A brochure from Swan Tours Ltd. described the attractions in Mörlialp, Giswil, thus:

House Party Centre with special resident host. … Mörlialp is a most wonderful little resort on a sunny plateau … Up there you will find yourself in the midst of beautiful alpine scenery, which in winter becomes a wonderland of sun, snow and ice, with a wide variety of fine ski-runs, a skating rink and exhilarating toboggan run … Why did we choose the Hotel Krone … mainly and most of all because of the ‘Gemütlichkeit’ and friendly welcome you will receive from Herr and Frau Weibel. … The Hotel Krone has its own Alphütte Bar which will be open several evenings a week. … No doubt you will be in for a great time, when you book this houseparty holiday … Mr. Weibel, the charming owner, speaks English. …

All these House Party arrangements are included in the price of your holiday. Welcome party on arrival. Afternoon tea and cake for 7 days. Swiss dinner by candlelight. Fondue party. Yodeler evening. Chali farewell party in the ‘Alphütte Bar’. Service of representative.

He flew out on Dec. 20 and flew back on Jan. 3 in a bitter and unrefreshed state of mind. Mr. Weibel, the charming owner, certainly had not spoken English, and the vaunted house party had amounted to 13 people in the first week and zero in the second. In the subsequent lawsuit for breach of contract, Tom Denning, the Master of the Rolls, wrote:

So there was Mr. Jarvis, in the second week, in this hotel with no house party at all, and no one could speak English, except himself. He was very disappointed, too, with the ski-ing. It was some distance away at Giswil. There were no ordinary length skis. There were only mini-skis, about 3 ft. long. So he did not get his ski-ing as he wanted to. In the second week he did get some longer skis for a couple of days, but then, because of the boots, his feet got rubbed and he could not continue even with the long skis. So his ski-ing holiday, from his point of view, was pretty well ruined.

There were also no Swiss cakes, just crisps and little dry nut cakes. The ‘yodeler’ was a local man who came in work clothes and sang four or five songs quickly. The ‘Alphütte Bar’ was empty and only open one evening.

Jarvis had paid £63.45, and the trial judge, estimating that he’d received about half of what was promised, awarded him £31.72. But Denning went further: He judged that Jarvis’ disappointment in itself constituted a damage and deserved to be compensated. “I think the judge was in error in taking the sum paid for the holiday £63.45 and halving it. The right measure of damages is to compensate him for the loss of entertainment and enjoyment which he was promised, and which he did not get.” He awarded Jarvis £125.

(Jarvis v Swans Tours Ltd [1972] EWCA Civ 8 [16 October 1972])