HM Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc: HL 21 Jun 2006

The claimant had served an asset freezing order on the bank in respect of one of its customers. The bank paid out on a cheque inadvertently as to the order. The Commissioners claimed against the bank in negligence. The bank denied any duty of care.
Held: The bank’s appeal succeeded. The bank owed a duty to the court but no duty to the creditor. There was no voluntary acceptance of the bank’s involvement. Its duty was to the court to comply with order. It would be an independent contempt of court for a third party to do an act which deliberately interfered with the course of justice by frustrating the purpose for which the order was made.
Lord Bingham said: ‘it seems to me in the final analysis unjust and unreasonable that the Bank should, on being notified of an order which it had no opportunity to resist, become exposed to a liability which was in this case for a few million pounds only, but might in another case be for very much more. For this exposure it had not been in any way rewarded, its only protection being the Commissioners’ undertaking to make good (if ordered to do so) any loss which the order might cause it, protection scarcely consistent with a duty of care owed to the Commissioners but in any event valueless in a situation such as this. ‘
As to pure economic losses: ‘The parties were agreed that the authorities disclose three tests which have been used in deciding whether a defendant sued as causing pure economic loss to a claimant owed him a duty of care in tort. The first is whether the defendant assumed responsibility for what he said and did vis-a-vis the claimant, or is to be treated by the law as having done so. The second is commonly known as the threefold test: whether loss to the claimant was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of what the defendant did or failed to do; whether the relationship between the parties was one of sufficient proximity; and whether in all the circumstances it is fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the defendant towards the claimant (what Kirby J in Perre v Apand Pty Ltd (1999) 198 CLR 180, para 259, succinctly labelled ‘policy’). Third is the incremental test, based on the observation of Brennan J in Sutherland Shire Council v Heyman (1985) 157 CLR 424′
Lord Mance: The recognition of a duty of care in the present case would not be closely incremental upon any existing duty. Here, the bank has not been entrusted by statute or otherwise with the provision of any public service. It has simply been notified of an order made by the court in favour of a claimant, and warned that it will be liable for contempt if it knowingly assists or permits a breach of that order.
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘ There is, in my opinion, a compelling analogy with the general principle that, for the reasons which I discussed in Stovin v Wise, the law of negligence does not impose liability for mere omissions. It is true that the complaint is that the bank did something: it paid away the money. But the payment is alleged to be the breach of the duty and not the conduct which generated the duty. The duty was generated ab extra, by service of the order. The question of whether the order can have generated a duty of care is comparable with the question of whether a statutory duty can generate a common law duty of care. The answer is that it cannot: see Gorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council. The statute either creates a statutory duty or it does not. (That is not to say, as I have already mentioned, that conduct undertaken pursuant to a statutory duty cannot generate a duty of care in the same way as the same conduct undertaken voluntarily.) But you cannot derive a common law duty of care directly from a statutory duty. Likewise, as it seems to me, you cannot derive one from an order of court. The order carries its own remedies and its reach does not extend any further.’


Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Mance


[2006] UKHL 28, [2007] 1 AC 181, [2006] 4 All ER 256, [2006] 2 LLR 327, [2006] 3 WLR 1, [2006] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 327, [2006] 1 CLC 1096, [2006] 2 All ER (Comm) 831




Civil Procedure Rules 25.1(1)


England and Wales


At First InstanceCommissioners of Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc ComC 3-Feb-2004
The claimant had obtained orders against two companies who banked with the respondent. Asset freezing orders were served on the bank, but within a short time the customer used the bank’s Faxpay national service to transfer substantial sums outside . .
Appeal fromCustoms and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc CA 22-Nov-2004
The claimant had obtained judgment against customers of the defendant, and then freezing orders for the accounts. The defendants inadvertently or negligently allowed sums to be transferred from the accounts. The claimants sought repayment by the . .
CitedHedley Byrne and Co Ltd v Heller and Partners Ltd HL 28-May-1963
Banker’s Liability for Negligent Reference
The appellants were advertising agents. They were liable themselves for advertising space taken for a client, and had sought a financial reference from the defendant bankers to the client. The reference was negligent, but the bankers denied any . .
CitedPhelps v Hillingdon London Borough Council; Anderton v Clwyd County Council; Gower v Bromley London Borough Council; Jarvis v Hampshire County Council HL 28-Jul-2000
The plaintiffs each complained of negligent decisions in his or her education made by the defendant local authorities. In three of them the Court of Appeal had struck out the plaintiff’s claim and in only one had it been allowed to proceed.
CitedWilliams and Another v Natural Life Health Foods Ltd and Another HL 30-Apr-1998
A company director was not personally reliable in negligence for bad advice given by him as director unless it could clearly be shown that he had willingly accepted such personal responsibility. A special relationship involving an assumption of . .
CitedWhite and Another v Jones and Another HL 16-Feb-1995
Will Drafter liable in Negligence to Beneficiary
A solicitor drawing a will may be liable in negligence to a potential beneficiary, having unduly delayed in the drawing of the will. The Hedley Byrne principle was ‘founded upon an assumption of responsibility.’ Obligations may occasionally arise . .
CitedSutherland Shire Council v Heyman 4-Jul-1985
(High Court of Australia) The court considered a possible extension of the law of negligence.
Brennan J said: ‘the law should develop novel categories of negligence incrementally and by analogy with established categories. ‘
Dean J said: . .
CitedSmith v Eric S Bush, a firm etc HL 20-Apr-1989
In Smith, the lender instructed a valuer who knew that the buyer and mortgagee were likely to rely on his valuation alone. The valuer said his terms excluded responsibility. The mortgagor had paid an inspection fee to the building society and . .
CitedHenderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd HL 25-Jul-1994
Lloyds Agents Owe Care Duty to Member; no Contract
Managing agents conducted the financial affairs of the Lloyds Names belonging to the syndicates under their charge. It was alleged that they managed these affairs with a lack of due careleading to enormous losses.
Held: The assumption of . .
CitedSpring v Guardian Assurance Plc and Others HL 7-Jul-1994
The plaintiff, who worked in financial services, complained of the terms of the reference given by his former employer. Having spoken of his behaviour towards members of the team, it went on: ‘his former superior has further stated he is a man of . .
CitedCaparo Industries Plc v Dickman and others HL 8-Feb-1990
Limitation of Loss from Negligent Mis-statement
The plaintiffs sought damages from accountants for negligence. They had acquired shares in a target company and, relying upon the published and audited accounts which overstated the company’s earnings, they purchased further shares.
Held: The . .
CitedSearose v Seatrain UK 1981
Third parties who are unconnected with a dispute but who incur expense in complying with an order may specifically be covered by a cross-undertaking as to their costs and otherwise. Robert Goff J said: ‘the banks in this country have received . .
CitedGangway Ltd v Caledonian Park Investments (Jersey) Ltd 2001
The purpose of an asset freezing order is not to give a claimant security for his claim or give him any proprietary interest in the assets restrained. . .
CitedX (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council; M (A Minor) and Another v Newham London Borough Council; Etc HL 29-Jun-1995
Liability in Damages on Statute Breach to be Clear
Damages were to be awarded against a Local Authority for breach of statutory duty in a care case only if the statute was clear that damages were capable of being awarded. in the ordinary case a breach of statutory duty does not, by itself, give rise . .
CitedZ Bank v DI ChD 1994
A company in contempt of court may have acted with a greater or lesser degree of culpability and the court has a discretion to impose punishment commensurate with that culpability, although some penalty is likely to be appropriate unless the . .
CitedChapman v Honig CA 1963
A landlord’s notice to quit was held valid notwithstanding that the landlord seeking to uphold its validity had himself given it in contempt of court.
A contractual right may be exercised for any reason good, bad or indifferent and the motive . .
CitedDean v Allin and Watts (a Firm) CA 23-May-2001
An unsophisticated lender running the business of a car mechanic wanted to lend money to borrowers on the security of real property owned by an associate of the borrowers. The borrowers instructed the defendant solicitors to give effect to this . .
CitedRe Hudson, Hudson v Hudson ChD 1966
The plaintiff’s marriage had been dissolved and her former husband was ordered to pay her maintenance at a specified rate. The husband subsequently filed evidence that he was unable to comply with that order but offered to undertake to pay one-third . .
CitedMinistry of Housing and Local Government v Sharp CA 1970
Mr Sharp was the local land registrar with statutory duty to maintain the local registry, issuing certificates in response to search requests. A clerk who had been seconded by another Council to assist him negligently issued an inaccurate . .
CitedZ Ltd v A-Z and AA-LL CA 1982
The plaintiffs, an overseas company with an office in London had been defrauded here. They sought and obtained Mareva injunctions against defendants and against six clearing banks. The banks sought clarification of their duties.
Held: The . .
CitedDigital Equipment Corporation v Darkcrest Ltd 1984
One party in litigation owes no duty of care to the other. . .
CitedBusiness Computers International Ltd v Registrar of Companies ChD 1988
A winding up petition was served at an address which was not that of the plaintiff’s registered office, and nobody appeared at the hearing. A winding up order was made against the plaintiff company, which now sued the solicitors who had misserved . .
CitedAl-Kandari v J R Brown and Co CA 1988
A solicitor had undertaken to look after certain passports, but failed to do so. The husband had twice previously kidnapped his children whose custody was an issue before the court. Once the husband regained the passports, he again fled with the . .
CitedCoggs v Bernard 1703
The defendant had care of the plaintiff’s cask of brandy. He broke the cask and spilt the brandy.
Held: A bailment can exist notwithstanding that it is gratuitous, i.e. without consideration passing from the bailor to the bailee. The . .
CitedBrooks v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others HL 21-Apr-2005
The claimant was with Stephen Lawrence when they were both attacked and Mr Lawrence killed. He claimed damages for the negligent way the police had dealt with his case, and particularly said that they had failed to assess him as a victim of crime, . .
CitedGorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .
CitedAnns and Others v Merton London Borough Council HL 12-May-1977
The plaintiff bought her apartment, but discovered later that the foundations were defective. The local authority had supervised the compliance with Building Regulations whilst it was being built, but had failed to spot the fault. The authority . .
CitedPerre v Apand Pty Ltd 12-Aug-1999
(High Court of Australia) The plaintiff farmers sought damages for financial losses incurred after the defendant negligently introduced a disease. Although the disease was not shown to have spread, neighbouring farm owners suffered economic loss by . .
CitedAttorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd HL 1-Feb-1979
The appellants were magazines and journalists who published, after committal proceedings, the name of a witness, a member of the security services, who had been referred to as Colonel B during the hearing. An order had been made for his name not to . .
CitedHer Majesty’s Attorney General v Punch Limited and another HL 12-Dec-2002
A former MI5 agent, Mr Shayler, was to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, and an injunction against publication was granted. The respondent published further works by Mr Shayler, and now appealed a finding that it had acted in contempt of . .
CitedStovin v Wise, Norfolk County Council (Third Party) HL 24-Jul-1996
Statutory Duty Does Not Create Common Law Duty
The mere existence of statutory power to remedy a defect cannot of itself create a duty of care to do so. A highway authority need not have a duty of care to highway users because of its duty to maintain the highway. The two stage test ‘involves . .
CitedMorgan Crucible Company Plc v Hill Samuel and Co Ltd ChD 24-Jul-1990
The court laid down the procedure on a strike out application: ‘On an application to strike out a pleading under RSC Ord.18, r.19(1)(a) no evidence is admissible and since it is only the pleading itself which is being examined, the court is required . .
CitedElguzouli-Daf v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and Another CA 16-Nov-1994
The Court upheld decisions striking out actions for negligence brought by claimants who had been arrested and held in custody during criminal investigations which were later discontinued. The Crown Prosecution Service owes no general duty of care to . .
CitedAttorney-General v Times Newspapers Ltd HL 1991
Injunctions had been granted to preserve the status quo in proceedings brought to prevent the publication of the book ‘Spycatcher’. The defendants published extracts, and now appealed a finding that they had acted in contempt.
Held: The . .
CitedMurphy v Brentwood District Council HL 26-Jul-1990
Anns v Merton Overruled
The claimant appellant was a house owner. He had bought the house from its builders. Those builders had employed civil engineers to design the foundations. That design was negligent. They had submitted the plans to the defendant Council for approval . .

Cited by:

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, . .
CitedPatchett and Another v Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association Ltd CA 15-Jul-2009
The claimant suffered damages when the contractor he engaged to construct his swimming pool went into liquidation. Before employing him, he had consulted the defendant’s web-site which suggested that its members were checked for solvency on becoming . .
CitedConnor v Surrey County Council CA 18-Mar-2010
The claimant teacher said that she suffered personal injury from stress after the board of governors improperly failed to protect her from from false complaints. The Council now appealed against an award of substantial damages.
Held: The . .
CitedPoulton v Ministry of Justice CA 22-Apr-2010
The claimant was trustee in bankruptcy but the court failed to register the bankruptcy petition at the Land Registry as a pending action. The bankrupt was therefore able to sell her land, and the trustee did not recover the proceeds. The trustee . .
CitedIrwin Mitchell v Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office and Allad CACD 30-Jul-2008
The solicitors had been paid funds on account of their fees in defending the client. By the time a freezing order was made under the 2002 Act in respect of his assets, the firm’s fees exceeded the amount held. The court was asked what was to happen . .
CitedGlaister and Others v Appelby-In-Westmorland Town Council CA 9-Dec-2009
The claimant was injured when at a horse fair. A loose horse kicked him causing injury. They claimed in negligence against the council for licensing the fair without ensuring that public liability insurance. The Council now appealed agaiinst a . .
CitedSteel and Another v NRAM Ltd (Formerly NRAM Plc) SC 28-Feb-2018
The appellant solicitor acted in a land transaction. The land was mortgaged to the respondent bank. She wrote to the bank stating her client’s intention to repay the whole loan. The letter was negligently mistaken and the bankers allowed the . .
CitedJSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov SC 21-Mar-2018
A had been chairman of the claimant bank. After removal, A fled to the UK, obtaining asylum. The bank then claimed embezzlement, and was sentenced for contempt after failing to disclose assets when ordered, but fled the UK. The Appellant, K, was A’s . .
CitedJames-Bowen and Others v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis SC 25-Jul-2018
The Court was asked whether the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (‘the Commissioner’) owes a duty to her officers, in the conduct of proceedings against her based on their alleged misconduct, to take reasonable care to protect them from . .
CitedPoole Borough Council v GN and Another SC 6-Jun-2019
This appeal is concerned with the liability of a local authority for what is alleged to have been a negligent failure to exercise its social services functions so as to protect children from harm caused by third parties. The principal question of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Banking, Negligence

Updated: 11 February 2022; Ref: scu.242663