When Christmas drinks go wrong (Round Two) – Vicarious liability in the Court of Appeal … again

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor of Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School)

In January 2017, I published a blog on the decision of Judge Cotter QC in December 2016 in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB).  This was a High Court decision determining whether an employer would be vicariously liable when a company’s managing director punched a fellow employee during an informal drinking session after the company’s annual Christmas party.   Tort lawyers will know that vicarious liability is a rule of strict liability, by which a person (usually an employer) is held strictly liable for the torts of his employees provided that they take place “in the course of employment”.  Following the House of Lords’ decision in Lister v Hesley Hall [2001] UKHL 22, a tort is now deemed to be in the course of employment if it is so closely connected with the employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer vicariously liable.  In Bellman, the court was asked to apply the “close connection” test in the light of the Lord Toulson’s restatement of the test in Mohamud v Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc [2016] UKSC 11 in March 2016.  In that case, Lord Toulson had stated that, in applying the test for “close connection”, the court has to consider two matters:

  • What are the functions or “field of activities” entrusted by the employer to the employee, or, in everyday language, what was the nature of his job?
  • Is there a sufficient connection between the position in which the employee was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable under the principle of social justice?

Judge Cotter QC in 2016 ruled that the violent assault had not been closely connected to the managing director’s duties for the company. On 11 October 2018, a unanimous Court of Appeal allowed Bellman’s appeal and ruled in favour of vicarious liability: [2018] EWCA Civ 2214.  This blog will consider the implications of this ruling. (more…)

The law governing an arbitration clause

By Prof Jonathan Hill, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

A leading commentator has observed that ‘[t]he choice of the law applicable to an international commercial arbitration agreement is a complex subject’ (Born, International Commercial Arbitration (2nd edn, 2014) p 472). This complexity is reflected by the case law illustrating that the courts of different countries adopt different approaches to certain common scenarios. One area of divergence is the case where parties to a contract containing an arbitration clause choose state A as the seat of arbitration, but the law of state B as the law governing the matrix contract: which law governs the arbitration clause – the law of the seat or the law of the country chosen to govern the substantive contract?

Some legal systems, influenced in part by the doctrine separability (according to which a contractual arbitration clause is, conceptually, treated as a contract separate and independent from the matrix contract) and article V.1.a of the New York Convention of 1958, take the view that, in the absence of an express choice by the parties of the law applicable to the arbitration clause, the law of the seat should govern questions of material validity. English law, however, has never taken this view – although, arguably, the Court of Appeal came close to doing so in C v D [2007] EWCA Civ 1282. (more…)

Dicta… Dictators and Law

By Prof Judith Masson, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies (University of Bristol Law School).

One key piece of knowledge all law students are expected to grasp early on in their legal career is the difference between what a judge says – dicta or obiter dicta and what a case means – the ratio or ratio decidendi. Even when they know the difference, students and practising barristers often prefer to reach for a quotation from a case. It can be comforting to use a well-rounded phrase from Smith J or Jones LJ and it may at first glance suggest wisdom when it really is just about memory. However, reliance on dicta is a really bad habit, does not make better lawyers and can seriously undermine what the law means.

In the hands of some judges dicta are powerful ways of communicating ideas – judicial soundbites – which make the case and the judge memorable. Lord Denning was a past master at this, making it easy to remember the facts of cases, but not always the law. Indeed Lord Denning’s skill with language enabled him to make or even make up law. Of course he was largely dealing with Common Law, developing contract and tort law rather than interpreting statute. (more…)