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Court Defines Limits on Employers’ Vicarious Liability

Police vanIn a decision which helps to define the limits of employers’ vicarious liability for the culpable actions of their staff, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a police Chief Constable could not be held responsible in law for a campaign of harassment allegedly carried out by one of his officers.

A woman had claimed compensation from the Chief Constable in his representative capacity on the basis that a woman police officer had orchestrated a jealousy-driven vendetta against her which was alleged to have embraced numerous threatening telephone calls and letters – in one of which a sharp scalpel was said to have been enclosed – arson attacks on her home and criminal damage to her car.

The woman appealed against a county court decision to strike out her claim on the basis that it had no reasonable prospect of success. However, in dismissing her challenge, the Court found that, even had the officer done everything that she was accused of, she would not have been acting in the course of her duty. There was ‘no connection, let alone close connection’ between the officer’s alleged wrong-doing and the performance of her functions as a constable.

Also rejecting the woman’s plea that the summary dismissal of her case amounted to a violation of her human rights to a fair hearing and respect for her home and private life, the Court observed that she had not taken up the opportunity to sue the officer herself, nor had she sought an injunction against the officer under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The Court noted that, in the light of the woman’s complaints, the officer concerned had been investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service and the force’s professional standards department who had each decided that she had no case to answer and that no further action should be taken against her.