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End of term report

This has been a busy term for schools and a successful one for those who insure them.


What lessons can be learnt from the four important school cases which have been decided since March 2012?

First up, on 9 March 2012, was the decision of the Court of Appeal in Woodland v Essex County Council [2012] EWCA Civ 239 in which the Court of Appeal, by a majority, held that it was not appropriate to extend the law of negligence to provide that a local authority owed a non-delegable duty of care to a pupil at a school to ensure that reasonable care was taken to secure her safety while she attended a swimming lesson arranged by the school but provided by a third party.

Four days later, on 13 March 2012, in (1) XVW (2) YZA v (1) Gravesend Grammar School for Girls (2) Adventure Life Signs Ltd [2012] EWHC 575 (QB) Mackay J. found a school and a specialist expeditions company not liable for the rape of two female pupils by a local man who had acted as a guide during an overseas school trip. The judge held that neither the school nor the company could be held vicariously liable for the assault and since the attack had not been reasonably foreseeable it would not be fair, just or reasonable to define the scope of their duty of care to the girls so as to require them to have taken special precautions to avoid it.

The claim also failed in Wilkin-Shaw v (1) Fuller (2) Kingsley School Bideford Enterprises Ltd [2012] EWHC 1777 (QB) in which judgment was given on 28 June 2012. Owen J. concluded that the claimant had failed to show that the death of her daughter while on a school trip training for the Ten Tors expedition on Dartmoor was the result of the negligence of the teacher who organised and supervised the training.

Finally, as Ian Clarke discusses in the previous post, in Hammersley-Gonsalves v Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council [2012] LTL Document No. AC9101225, the Court of Appeal in an extempore judgment on 13 July 2012 held that a local authority was not liable in negligence for an injury sustained by a school pupil when he was hit by another pupil's golf club at the start of a golf lesson. As Ian points out, the court accepted that the teacher had provided adequate supervision and could not have been expected to see every action of all 22 boys at all times.

Do these cases demonstrate that section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006 is having an effect? 

This section was enacted by Parliament in response to wide spread criticisms of the so-called “compensation culture” and is, so far as I am aware, the only example of a provision of an act of parliament being used not to change the law but to allay public concerns about how the law is applied in practice.

However, in Wilkin-Shaw Owen J. made clear his view that section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006 added little or nothing to the existing common law and observed that “it is somewhat difficult to see why it was felt necessary to enact it, and why, as enacted, it was couched in discretionary terms” - see [42] of the judgment.

In my view, the “take home message” from these four cases is that it remains the law that just because there is a risk involved in a particular activity, those who owe a duty of care in relation to that activity are not automatically liable for damages when an accident happens. 

As the cases make clear, the duty of care expected of schools arranging trips and activities is that of the reasonably careful parent taking into account “the nature and conditions of out-of-school activities of the type being undertaken ... [with] the appropriate level of experience and appropriate level of competence to discharge any role required of them” – see, for example, [39] and [40] of the judgment in Wilkin-Shaw.

Lesson over!

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