Court Defines Limits on Employers’ Vicarious Liability

December 31, 2013

Court Defines Limits on Employers’ Vicarious Liability

In a decision which helps to define the limits of employers’ vicarious liability for the culpable actions of their employees, 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 (Allen and Others v The Chief Constable of the Hampshire Constabulary).

Ms Allen had claimed compensation from the Chief Constable in his representative capacity on the basis that a woman police officer had pursued a jealousy-driven vendetta against her because of her relationship with another officer. The campaign was alleged to have included numerous threatening telephone calls and letters, one of which was said to have contained a sharp scalpel, and also burglary, arson attacks on Ms Allen’s home and criminal damage to her car.

The County Court struck out Ms Allen’s claim on the basis that it had no reasonable prospect of success. She appealed against that decision.

In dismissing her challenge, the Court of Appeal found that, even had the woman police officer done everything that she was accused of, she would not have been acting in the course of her duty but in her capacity as a private citizen. There was ‘no connection, let alone close connection’ between her alleged wrongdoing and the performance of her functions as a police officer.

Ms Allen’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 was also rejected. 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 Ms Allen’s complaints, the police officer concerned had been investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to prosecute, and the force’s professional standards department, which found that there was no evidence to support any misconduct investigation.