• In the case of Cox v Ministry of Justice 2016 UKSC 10, the Supreme Court considered the approach to be adopted in deciding whether a relationship other than one of employment can be enough to give rise to vicarious liability.

Facts of the Case

  • The ministry of justice appealed against a decision that it was vicariously liable for injury caused to the respondent by the negligence act of a prisoner undertaking paid kitchen work.
  • The respondent (C) was a catering manager at prison.
  • Prisons by law are required to ensure that prisoners did useful work.
  • The prisoner responsible for the injury had earned a nominal wage.
  • The Court of Appeal applied the criteria listed in Various Claimants v Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools [2012] UKSC 56 [2013] 2 A.C.1,[2012] 11 WLUK 630, for imposing vicarious liability where the relationship was not one of employment and held that the prison service was vicariously liable.
  • The ministry argued that the relationship was different from an employer/employee relationship as the prison was not for profit.

Issues in Cox v Ministry of Justice 2016 UKSC 10

  • Was the Ministry of Justice liable for the injuries caused by the prisoner?

Held by Supreme Court

  • Appeal dismissed

Lord Reed 

  • Held that defendants could not avoid liability by technical arguments about the employment status of the tortfeasor. (Christian Brothers applied)
  • Christian brothers requirements were met and therefore the ministry was vicariously liable.
  • “I have already explained that it is not essential to the imposition of vicarious liability that the defendant should seek to make a profit. Nor does vicarious liability depend upon an alignment of the objectives of the defendant and of the individual who committed the act or omission in question. It would be as naïve to imagine that all employees are subjectively committed to the interests of their employer as to imagine that no prisoner working in a prison kitchen derives any satisfaction from doing his job well or from obtaining the vocational qualifications available to him. The fact that a prisoner is required to serve part of his sentence in prison, and to undertake useful work there for nominal wages, binds him into a closer relationship with the prison service than would be the case for an employee. It strengthens, rather than weakens, the case for imposing vicarious liability.” [35]