Public nuisance at common law is a crime against which criminal proceedings can be sought after an individual. The difference in its private counter part is that, this type of nuisance is considered to be so widespread that the public at large is affected by its nature. Thus this further creates two basic scenarios the first of which is that the locus standi (i.e. the eligibility of the person bringing the claim in the eyes of the law) is fairly limited in comparison to private nuisance.
Secondly there is also the problem of overlap with private nuisance as traditionally a person bringing a claim in public nuisance was rejected for not having met the locus standi for the offence; however the recent trend of the courts has shown relaxation as to the position of the person bringing the claim.
Examples of public nuisance include obstructing the highway, though everyday obstructions such as road repairs and scaffolding are lawful so long as they are reasonable and do not occur for an excessive time.
Historically, public nuisance has embraced a wide number of activities, ranging from dumping sewage into a river to playing loud music on a stereo in a public park. In its early incarnation, offences had only a criminal nature.
The law subsequently developed to allow private individuals to bring actions if they had suffered a peculiar nuisance that was different in kind to that suffered by the public at large.
Following a number of important cases and statutory developments the common law crime of public nuisance has all but disappeared, and been replaced by provisions in legislation such as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Prosecutions should now be brought under the relevant legislation, which is less vague than the common law and which more clearly outlines the various defenses. Public nuisance at common law is still a crime, however, and has not been abolished.
But in practice, charges of public nuisance should be brought under the relevant statute, where possible, and it seems there will be fewer and fewer instances in future where the common law will apply.
Public nuisance is a tort as well as a crime and arises when the injured party is a member of a class of the neighborhood or community affected by the public nuisance, whereas, private nuisance is suffered by individuals.
It also exists as a tort but it is important to realize that it is primarily a crime in the sense that it is prosecuted by the Attorney General and this reflects the involvement of the public or a section of it.
An example of a public nuisance might be the unauthorized and unreasonable use of the highway or the obstruction of the highway, but this may well need to be something substantial or significant. As a tort, the claimant will need to demonstrate that they have suffered loss or damage beyond that suffered by other members of the public.
Therefore as mentioned above a claim to be brought under public nuisance is fairly limited and the claimant needs to show that he/she has suffered loss resultant to that nuisance beyond that suffered by the public at large.