The question of local authority liability in negligence for failing to intervene to protect vulnerable parties from harm has been discussed by the highest UK courts in recent years. Local authorities have statutory powers to intervene to assist citizens in need. When, then, should they be liable for failing to intervene to protect citizens from harm from third parties? In recent years, the Supreme Court in two cases relating to the police sought to move away from policy-based analysis (seen famously in the controversial decision in X (Minors)v Bedfordshire CC  2 A.C. 633) to one based on traditional common law approaches to omissions and precedent: see Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales  UKSC 2 and Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire  UKSC 4. These cases draw an important distinction between a defendant who harms the claimant and one who fails to stop a third party harming the claimant. The second situation will not generally give rise to liability unless:
A relationship exists between the parties in which one party assumes responsibility for the welfare of another; or
The authority can be said to have created the source of danger or
The third party who has harmed the claimant was under the defendant’s supervision or control.
The latest Supreme Court decision in Poole BC v GN  UKSC 25, delivered on 6 June 2019, marks an attempt by the Court to provide clearer guidance to litigants, while trying to reconcile somewhat contradictory earlier case-law. It is a rather complex decision – although given in a single judgment – and an important one. The purpose of this blog, therefore, is to explain the Court’s reasoning and give some indication of its implications for future case-law development. (more…)
In April the Financial Conduct Authority issued a Feedback Statement (FS19/2) on its Discussion Paper (DP18 /5) ‘A duty of care and potential alternative approaches’ affecting the financial services industry. The Feedback Statement reports on the outcomes of the consultation and summarises the views of those who responded to the consultation. This is a topic that has been on the regulatory agenda for several years, originally initiated by the Financial Services Consumer Panel (FSCP), but also considered by the Law Commission and the House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, with varying degrees of support. The authors have assessed these reform proposals in an earlier blog post. Whilst it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this round of discussions as to the FCA’s future policy in this area, it does indicate how the FCA’s work on this topic is developing. (more…)
In this blog, I will discuss two recent publications which address comparatively the doctrine of vicarious liability in tort and demonstrate the value of a comparative perspective in this field. Vicarious liability is a rule of responsibility which is found across the common law of tort and typically renders an employer strictly liable for the torts of its employees provided that the tort takes place in the course of employment.The idea of holding an employer liable to pay compensation to victims of its employees’ torts, regardless of the absence of personal fault, is not, however, unique to the common law. Ideas of strict liability for the torts of others may also be found in civil law systems, although in some systems it is subject to a rebuttable presumption of fault (see, generally, Giliker, Vicarious Liability in Tort (CUP, 2010) and J Spier (ed), Unification of Tort Law: Liability for Damage Caused by Others (Kluwer Law International, 2003)). In all systems, it has proven controversial with some commentators arguing that the imposition of no-fault liability on employers conflicts with notions of corrective justice and notably, in a number of systems, it has been questioned to what extent liability can be said to be founded on economic justifications based on enterprise risk and loss distribution via social or private insurance. (more…)
In January 2017, I published a blog on the decision of Judge Cotter QC in December 2016 in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  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  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  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:  EWCA Civ 2214. This blog will consider the implications of this ruling. (more…)
The changes to personal injury law announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn Spending Review have already raised considerable controversy. Claims for damages for whiplash injuries are to be abolished (along it seem with claims for all low value minor soft tissue injuries incurred in road accidents). In addition, the small claims limit for personal injury cases is to be increased from the current £1,000 to £5,000.
As a result of the latter change, a much greater number of personal injury cases will be determined in a procedure under which a winning claimant will be unable to recover any costs. The purpose of this comment is not to consider the immediate implications of these changes, but rather to ask what they tell us about how the personal injury system is likely to develop in the future. (more…)
“To search for certainty and precision in vicarious liability is to undertake a quest for a chimaera”: Lord Dyson (Mohamud)
On 2 March 2016, the Supreme Court delivered two judgments which it described as “complementary to each other” on the controversial topic of vicarious liability in tort. Vicarious liability imposes strict liability on an employer for the wrongful actions of (usually) its employees which are committed in the course of his or her employment. Recently, however, as Lord Phillips (former President of the Supreme Court) stated in the case of Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society  UKSC 56 (“the Christian Brothers case”), “the law of vicarious liability is on the move.” Since 2001, it has been an area of law subject to expansion. The question on appeal to the Supreme Court was essentially how far this expansion would go, examining, in particular:
The relationship needed to give rise to vicarious liability. This was examined in Cox v Ministry of Justice  UKSC 10.
The manner in which the wrongful acts of the employee have to be related to the relationship giving rise to vicarious liability – in other words, were the employee’s torts so closely connected with his employment that it would be just to hold the employers liable? This was examined in Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc  UKSC 11.
Both judgments are short and unanimous. Neither claim, however, to provide absolute tests, taking the view that a lack of precision is inevitable, given the infinite range of circumstances where the issues arise. (more…)