On appeal from: [2014] EWCA Civ 132

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Ministry of Justice’s appeal concerning whether they were vicariously liable for the injury’s sustained by Mrs Cox when she was working in HM Prison Swansea.

The Swansea County Court held that the Ministry of Justice was not vicariously liable as the relationship between the prison service and the prisoner, Mr Inder, who had injured Mrs Cox was not akin to that between an employer and an employee. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal who found that that the prison service was vicariously liable for Mr Inder’s negligence.

Giving the lead judgment, Lord Reed explained that the general approach described in Christian Brothers case [2012] UKSC 56 is not confined to a special category of cases, but provides a basis for identifying the circumstances in which vicarious liability may in principle be imposed outside employment relationships. It extends the scope of vicarious liability beyond the responsibility of an employer for the acts and omissions of its employees in the course of their employment, but not to the extent of imposing such liability where a tortfeasor’s activities are entirely attributable to the conduct of a recognisably independent business of his own, or of a third party. He clarified that the individual for whose conduct it may be vicariously liable must carry on activities assigned to him by the defendant as an integral part of its operation and for its benefit. The defendant must, by assigning those activities to the tortfeasor, have created a risk of his committing the tort. A wide range of circumstances can satisfy those requirements, and defendants cannot avoid vicarious liability on the basis of arguments about the employment status of the tortfeasor.

Turning to the facts in the present case, Lord Reed stated that prisoners working in kitchens are integrated into the operation of the prison. The activities assigned to them form an integral part of the activities the prison carries on in the furtherance of its aims, in particular the provision of meals to prisoners. The Ministry of Justice’s arguments that requiring prisoners to work serves the purpose of rehabilitation and that the prisoners have no interest in furthering the objectives of the prison service are rejected. Rehabilitation is not the sole objective. Penal policy also aims to ensure that convicted prisoners contribute to the cost of their upkeep. The fact that a prisoner is required to undertake work for nominal wages binds him into a closer relationship with the prison service than would be the case for an employee, and strengthens the case for imposing vicarious liability.


For judgment, please download: [2016] UKSC 10
For Court’s press summary, please download: Court’s Press Summary
For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII

To watching the hearing please visit: Supreme Court website