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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

17 MAR 2014

Cox v Ministry of Justice [2014] EWCA Civ 132; (2014) APIL 012

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was held to be vicariously liable for an injury caused to the claimant prison officer when she was injured by the negligence of a prisoner carrying out paid work.
19 February 2014
Court of Appeal
Lord Justice McCombe, Lord Justice Beatson and Lady Justice Sharp
The claimant prison officer appealed against a first instance decision that the defendant MOJ was not liable for the negligence of a prisoner even though the relationship between the prisoner and the MOJ had some of the salient features of the employment relationship, in the context of the claimant's case this did not justify the imposition of liability. 
On appeal the court found that there were a number of policy reasons why it was fair, just and reasonable to impose vicarious liability on the employer: (i) the employer is more likely to have the means to compensate the victim, (ii) the tort has been committed as a result of the activity of the employer and (iii) as part of the business activity of the employer, (vi) the employer created the risk by employing the employee, (v) the employee will have been under the control of the employer.
Here, the prisoners were bound not by contract but by their sentences of imprisonment and there was an element of compulsion to engage in this activity. The differences from the normal employment relationship rendered the relationship between prisoners and the MOJ closer if anything than that between an employer and employee. As such, the MOJ was not liable.
The court at first instance found that the differences between the relationship of an employee and employer and the MOJ and a prisoner meant that the there could be no vicariously liability: the work was not carried out for commercial advantage, it was penal policy, and the work carried out was not to further the business interest of the defendant.  On appeal, the court found that the work carried out was different from, for example, the rehabilitation of prisoners, and was essential to the functioning of the prison: the MOJ took the benefit of the work and the court stated it could see no reason why it should not take its burden.
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