In a ruling which underlines that payment for services does not necessarily imply the existence of an employment relationship, a court has decided that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) could not be held vicariously liable for the negligent act of a prisoner who was paid £11.55-a-week in respect of his work in the jail’s kitchen.
The prison’s catering manager had sued the MoJ for substantial damages after the inmate failed to obey her instructions to stand still following a spillage and lost his footing, dropping a 25kg food sack on her back. She was left disabled by the damage caused to her thoracic and lumbar spine.
In pursuing the woman’s personal injury claim, the woman’s lawyers argued that the MoJ should bear indirect responsibility for the prisoner’s action on the basis that the modest payment he received for his work in the kitchen meant that his relationship with the MoJ was ‘materially similar to that of employer and employee’.
Dismissing the claim, however, the court ruled: “The provision of work is a matter of prison discipline, of prisoners’ rehabilitation and, perhaps, of the discharge of prisoners’ obligation to the community. Payment for the work is an ‘element in the process of motivating prisoners’, as the Prison Service Orders make clear. The position is not properly analogous to the employment situation.”
The court also dismissed an alternative plea that the MoJ should be held liable for failing to ensure the prisoner was trained in manual handling techniques. Any such breach was not causative of the accident which had arisen through the prisoner’s own ‘disobedient and foolish’ action in breach of instructions.