Barrett v Ministry of Defence: CA 3 Jan 1995

The deceased was an off-duty naval airman. The claim was based upon the alleged negligent failure of the defendant to enforce disciplinary regulations against drunkenness so as to protect the deceased against his own known proclivity for alcohol abuse.
Held: The Ministry of Defence has no duty to prevent a forces member from the abuse of drink. It was not liable, even though the death from drunkenness was contributed to by an officer’s encouragement. The Ministry was liable on the basis that, following his collapse, service personnel voluntarily assumed a duty of care by acting as the deceased’s quasi-rescuer and were negligent in that capacity. In relation to the original drunkenness of the deceased, the court emphasised that foresight of harm alone was not sufficient to create a duty to guard him against his own folly.
Beldam LJ said: ‘The plaintiff argued for the extension of a duty to take care for the safety of the deceased from analogous categories of relationship in which an obligation to use reasonable care already existed. For example, employer and employee, pupil and schoolmaster, and occupier and visitor. It was said that the defendant’s control over the environment in which the deceased was serving and the provision of duty-free liquor coupled with a failure to enforce disciplinary rules and orders were sufficient factors to render it fair just and reasonable to extend the duty to take reasonable care found in the analogous circumstances. The characteristic which distinguishes those relationships is reliance expressed or implied in the relationship which the party to whom the duty is owed is entitled to place on the other party to make provision for his safety. I can see no reason why it should not be fair just and reasonable for the law to leave the responsible adult to assume responsibility of his own actions in consuming alcoholic drink … . To dilute self-responsibility and to blame one adult for another’s lack of self-control is neither just nor reasonable and in the development of the law of negligence an increment too far.’
As to the context of the armed forces and its regulations: ‘In my view the judge was wrong to equate Queen’s Regulations and Standing Orders with guidance give in the Highway Code or in pamphlets relating to safety in factories. The purpose of Queen’s Regulations and Standing Orders is to preserve good order and discipline in the Service and to ensure that personnel remain fit for duty and, while on duty, obey commands and, off duty, do not misbehave, bringing the service into disrepute. All regulations which encourage self-discipline, if obeyed, will incidentally encourage service personnel to take greater pride in their own behaviour but in no sense are the Regulations and Orders intended to lay down standards or to give advice in the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of men when off duty drinking in bars. . .’


Beldam LJ


Times 13-Jan-1995, Independent 03-Jan-1995, [1995] 1 WLR 1217, [1994] EWCA Civ 7, [1995] 3 All ER 87




Fatal Accidents Act 1976, Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934


England and Wales


Appeal fromBarrett v Ministry of Defence QBD 3-Jun-1993
The MOD was liable in negligence for an airman’s death due to its breach of duty if regulations were not kept to. . .

Cited by:

CitedJebson v Ministry of Defence CA 28-Jun-2000
The claimant was a guardsman travelling in the rear of a service lorry. He fell from the tailgate suffering severe injury. He was drunk after a social trip.
Held: Though a person could normally expect to be responsible himself for incidents . .
CitedCalvert v William Hill Credit Ltd ChD 12-Mar-2008
The claimant said that the defendant bookmakers had been negligent in allowing him to continue betting when they should have known that he was acting under an addiction. The defendant company had a policy for achieving responsible gambling, . .
AppliedMichael Alexander Watson v British Boxing Board of Control Ltd, World Boxing Organisation Incorporated CA 19-Dec-2000
The claimant was seriously injured in a professional boxing match governed by rules established by the defendant’s rules. Ringside medical facilities were available, but did not provide immediate resuscitation. By the time he received resuscitation . .
CitedGeary v JD Wetherspoon Plc QBD 14-Jun-2011
The claimant, attempting to slide down the banisters at the defendants’ premises, fell 4 metres suffering severe injury. She claimed in negligence and occupiers’ liability. The local council had waived a requirement that the balustrade meet the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Armed Forces

Updated: 09 December 2022; Ref: scu.78255