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Law Notes Tort Law Notes

Omissions Public Authorities And Third Parties Notes

Updated Omissions Public Authorities And Third Parties Notes

Tort Law Notes

Tort Law

Approximately 1070 pages

Tort Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB tort law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

These were the best Tort Law notes the director of Oxbridge Notes (an Oxford law graduate) could find after combing through dozens of LLB samples from outstanding law students with the highest results in ...

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Omissions, third parties and public authorities


D will only owe C a duty of care to save him from harm if some special circumstances exist. The main examples of such circumstances are:

  1. D assumed a responsibility to take care of C

  2. D put C in danger of suffering harm (B indicated to A that A can reasonably rely on B to perform some task to a reasonable degree of care and skill).

  3. D interfered with either C or someone else saving C from suffering harm

  4. D was in control of a dangerous thing that posed a foreseeable threat to C or a dangerous person and C was at special risk of being harmed by that person.

  5. Special relationships*

*Instead of forming a category of ‘special relationships’ can we put the duty that parents owe to their children under the bracket of ‘assuming a responsibility’? If so, how can we distinguish this from walking past a drowning baby?

  • Act = C is worse off than she would have been had D not acted.

  • Omission = C is no worse off than she would have been had D not acted.

  • Impure omission = D fails to do something which can be re-described as ‘improperly doing an action’ ( treated as ‘acts’ in tort law, e.g. failure to brake resulting in injury to a pedestrian). Hence, when we talk about imposing duties for omissions, we are referring to ‘pure omissions’.

Can all cases of pure omission be described as ‘failures to confer benefits’ upon V?

  • What constitutes ‘harming’ and what constitutes a ‘failure to confer a benefit’ depends on what baselines is used.

    • If baseline = the course of events if D fulfils his duty, then D’s omission = harming. If baseline = the course of events independent of D acting, then D’s omission = failure to confer a benefit.

There are a number of reasons against imposing omissions liability:

  1. To impose a duty on someone to not do act X leaves them with the option to do anything other than act X. However, to impose a duty on someone to do act X leaves them with no option other than to pursue that one course of conduct restricts individual autonomy (intrusive).

  2. Imposing liability in some ‘rescue’ cases may lead towards a slippery slope down which individual liberty is overly restricted – this would cause legal uncertainty.

  3. Bringing legal standards up to high moral standards leaves no room for generosity (Tony Weir); this strips generous transactions of their moral value.

  4. Imposing rescue duties may in fact deter rescues, since attempting a rescue may attract legal consequences if done badly or slowly.

  5. If a rescue duty exists and there are multiple passive bystanders, it would be unfair to allow the sufferer to claim damages from any single one of them.

  6. Imposing liability on D for failing to rescue C dilutes the harm-causer’s responsibility.

Two views on public authorities and omissions cases:

Sir Thomas Bingham MR in the CoA in X v Bedfordshire CC (1995) revived the policy approach (albeit a perhaps restrictive one), remarking that “it would require very potent considerations of public policy… to override the rule of public policy which has first claim on the loyalty of the law: that wrongs should be remedied”. However, when the case went to the HoL, again it was held that no DoC existed but this was based on the uniform approach.

The uniform approach was also taken in Capital & Counties Plc v Hampshire CC (1997) which involved two appeals:

  1. Firefighters who failed to deal effectively with fires were not under a duty of care because had the claimants asked their neighbours to help put out the fires, the neighbours would not have owed them a duty of care.

  2. Fire brigade showed up to an office fire. The fire was being kept under control by the building’s sprinkler system, but the chief fire officer ordered that the sprinkler system be turned off, resulting in greater damage than what otherwise would have been done had the sprinklers been left on. This ‘intervening act’ meant that a duty was imposed, as it would be imposed on any private individual who also did the positive act of turning off the sprinklers, as any reasonable person would have foreseen the harm of turning the sprinklers off.

(Policy approach has a detrimental impact on the efficacy of public bodies. See discussion below regarding the HRA and public bodies.)

The current law was set out in Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales Police (2015) by the SC:

  • Joanna Michael lived in St Mellons near the south coast of Wales. She made a 999 call at 2.29am, explaining that her partner had discovered her in bed with another man, hit her, and taken the man away, saying he would be back. Her call was misrouted and picked up by Ms Mason in the neighbouring county. Mason told Joanna to hang up so the police in her area could call back. Mason logged the call as ‘Grade 1’ requiring an ‘immediate’ (<5mins) response, but when Ms Mason spoke to the call handler for Joanna’s area, she failed to mention that Joanna was in fear of her life, so the handler logged the call as ‘Grade 2’, requiring a ‘priority’ (<1hr) response. Joanna made another call at 2.43am, where Joanna was heard screaming and the case was made ‘Grade 1’. By the time the police arrived at 2.51am, Joanna had been stabbed to death.

  • SC ruled 5:2 for the uniform approach, refusing to accept that there was any DoC or that the police had any kind of immunity. The court’s main objection to finding that the police owed Joanna a DoC was that the police force was publicly funded:it does not follow from the setting up of a protective system from public resources that if it fails to achieve its purpose, through organisational defects or fault on the part of an individual, the public at large should bear the additional burden of compensating a victim for harm caused by the actions of a third party for whose behaviour the state is not responsible” (Lord Toulson).

  • NB: Lord Toulson also refused to accept that the police should have any kind of immunity (uniform approach no greater duty than public, “no immunity” no lesser duty than...

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