Clunis (By his Next Friend Prince) v Camden and Islington Health Authority: CA 5 Dec 1997

The plaintiff had killed someone and, as a result, been convicted of manslaughter and ordered to be detained in a secure hospital when subject to after-care under section 117 of the 1983 Act. He sought damages from the health authority on the basis that he would not have killed anyone but for negligence on the part of the authority.
Held: The claim was struck out. A convicted criminal may not sue the Health Authority for failing to take care of him and allowing the commission of an offence. It would be against public policy to allow such a claim. The breach by a local health authority of the duty imposed by section 117 does not of itself give rise to a cause of action for damages for breach of statutory duty on the part of the patient concerned.
Beldam LJ explained the plaintiff’s counsel’s argument: ‘[The plaintiff’s] relationship with the defendant was that of doctor and patient, which clearly gives rise to a duty of care. Even if that was not the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, the obligations imposed under the Mental Health Act 1983 created duties owed by the defendant to a limited class, i.e. mental health patients, whom Parliament must have intended should have a right to sue for breach of that duty. Failing that, the obligations imposed by Parliament on the defendant gave rise to a duty of care owed to him at common law.’ and answered: that ‘[t]he court ought not to allow itself to be made an instrument to enforce obligations alleged to arise out of the plaintiff’s own criminal act’
As to whether a private law claim for damages might arise: ‘Under section 117(2) the authorities named are required to co-operate with voluntary organisations in setting up a system which provides after-care services for patients who have been discharged from hospital after treatment for mental disorder. The services have to be made available to such persons until ‘the person concerned is no longer in need of such services.’ Undoubtedly the section is designed to promote the social welfare of a particular class of persons and to ensure that the services required are made available to individual members of the class. However section 124 provides the Secretary of State with default powers if he is of the opinion ‘on complaint or otherwise’ that the functions conferred or imposed under the Act have not been carried out. Thus the primary method of enforcement of the obligations under section 117 is by complaint to the Secretary of State. No doubt, too, a decision by the district health authority or the local social services authority under the section is liable to judicial review at the instance of a patient: see Reg. v. Ealing District Health Authority, Ex parte Fox [1993] 1 W.L.R. 373. The character of the duties created seem to us closely analogous to those described by Lord Browne-Wilkinson in X (Minors) v. Bedfordshire County Council [1995] 2 AC 633, 747 as requiring: ‘exceptionally clear statutory language to show a parliamentary intention that those responsible for carrying out these difficult functions should be liable in damages if, on subsequent investigation with the benefit of hindsight, it was shown that they had reached an erroneous conclusion and therefore failed to discharge their statutory duties.’
In our view the wording of the section is not apposite to create a private law cause of action for failure to carry out the duties under the statute.’

Beldam LJ
Gazette 14-Jan-1998, Times 10-Dec-1997, [1997] EWCA Civ 2918, [1998] 3 All ER 180, [1998] QB 978, (1998) 40 BMLR 181, [1998] PNLR 262, (1997-98) 1 CCL Rep 215, [1998] 2 WLR 902
Mental Health Act 1983 117
England and Wales
Appeal fromClunis v Camden and Islington Health Authority QBD 12-Dec-1996
The plaintiff brought proceedings against the defendant health authority for negligence and breach of duty of care on the ground that, if he had been properly treated, he would not have killed his victim and would not have been convicted of the . .

Cited by:
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The claimant was awarded damages for injuries suffered in his work as a seaman. The respondents claimed that he should not receive damages, since he had made false declarations as to his health in order to obtain employment, hiding his epilepsy . .
CitedCorr v IBC Vehicles Ltd CA 31-Mar-2006
The deceased had suffered a head injury whilst working for the defendant. In addition to severe physical consequences he suffered post-traumatic stress, became more and more depressed, and then committed suicide six years later. The claimant . .
CitedVellino v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police CA 31-Jul-2001
The police were not under any duty to protect someone who had been arrested from injuring himself in an attempt to escape. The claimant had a history of seeking to avoid capture by jumping from his flat window. On this occasion he injured himself in . .
ExplainedK v Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust and Another QBD 30-May-2008
The claimant appealed against an order striking out his claim in negligence. He had leaped from a window in a suicide attempt. The accommodation was provided by the defendant whilst caring for him under the 1983 Act.
Held: The case should be . .
CitedGray v Thames Trains and Others HL 17-Jun-2009
The claimant suffered severe psychiatric injured in a rail crash caused by the defendant’s negligence. Under this condition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the claimant had gone on to kill another person, and he had been detained under section . .
CitedRichards v Worcestershire County Council and Another ChD 28-Jul-2016
Application for claim to be struck out. . .
CitedHenderson v Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust CA 3-Aug-2018
Upon the allegedly negligent release of the claimant from mental health care, she had, while in the midst of a serious psychotic episode, derived from the schizophrenia, killed her mother and been convicted of manslaughter. She now sought damages in . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Negligence

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.143317