Meaning: The welfare of the people, or of the public, is supreme law.
In all cases of necessity the interests of an individual must give way to the interests of the multitude, even though it extend to his life. This is shown in the experience of every nation and people upon the face of the earth. The principle governing this rule extends to private, as well as to public interests. And from the peasant to the sovereign, all are amenable to its illimitable sway.
If a public road be rendered impassable by floods or otherwise, the public have a right of way over the adjoining property. Or, if there be but one road to a place, and no other mode of going, that is a public road and a common highway of necessity, and the public are entitled to use it as such. Nor will an obstruction be permitted to be erected in a public highway, without the authority of Parliament, where it is a nuisance to the general public, though it may be advantageous to some portion of the public. If a man's house be on fire, both it and other property not on fire, may be pulled down to prevent the fire spreading to other more valuable property. So in time of war, any and every man's property may be taken for the defence or preservation of the kingdom generally. It is upon this principle that private individuals are bound to perform certain public duties when called upon, as to prevent a breach of the peace, serve as jurors, soldiers, sailors, etc. It is upon this principle, also, that public officers acting in the proper discharge of their duties are not liable for injury to private individuals.
The payment of taxes by burgesses and citizens for the support of a particular municipality, and by owners and occupiers of property generally to defray the expenses of the nation at large, are apt instances of the liability of individuals to contribute to the support of the whole nation, and to sacrifice private interests to the public good. And when it is considered that the general taxes of this country are imposed by the people themselves through their representatives in Parliament, it is not difficult to understand how intimately connected individual is with the general welfare, nor how highly the principle of this maxim is esteemed in this country.
All persons who are called upon to make individual sacrifice for the public good know that they receive a corresponding benefit in the protection afforded to them in their person and property by the laws of the country, and in other privileges thereby accorded to them.
The most arbitrary demand made upon an individual in this country now-a-days is where, contrary to the rule. “Nemo cogitur rem suam vendere, etiam justo pretio,” he is by Act of Parliament compelled, at the instance of a few speculating individuals, to give up his private property for some commercial undertaking, as to give up some cherished country residence for the purpose of a line of railway, or his business premises for some so called town improvement, professedly of course, but often questionably, for the public good. In these cases, however, the principle said to be adopted is. that private interest is not to be sacrificed to a greater extent than is necessary adequately to secure the public interests, and that private interests are duly considered in all such cases, not only by Parliament in the making of such laws, but also by the courts of law and equity in the construction of them.