Coastguard Not liable in Negligence
Eight children with a teacher and two instructors set off on a canoeing trip but did not return. They got into difficulties at sea. Two became separated from the rest. The canoes capsized and sank. Some tried to swim ashore. Two more members became separated. They were all eventually rescued between 5.30 and 6.40 pm, but four of the children died and the other members of the party suffered severe hypothermia and shock. Proceedings were brought against the organisers of the trip, who sought redress against the Secretary of State as the minister responsible for HM Coastguard. The defendant sought a strike out of the claim.
Held: The claim was struck out. A coastguard owed no duty of care to those in distress even in giving a negligent mis-direction to non-employees. The claimant relied on an internal manual and orders intended and designed to ensure that the coastguard discharged its responsibilities properly, efficiently and effectively. It was said that the coastguard had encouraged an expectation in the minds of the public that they would respond promptly and appropriately to marine emergencies. It had thereby assumed responsibilities to the public for the execution of search and rescue missions in coastal waters.
It was submitted that a duty of care arose from the expectation that the coast guard would act carefully, the expectation being created by ministerial pronouncement, published procedures and a common knowledge that the coast guard would act when it knows of an emergency at sea. These submissions were rejected. They strained what Lord Hoffmann had said in Stovin v Wise beyond breaking point.
Times 22-Jul-1997,  3 All ER 397
England and Wales
Cited – Stovin 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 . .
Cited – Capital and Counties Plc and Another v Hampshire County Council; Etc CA 20-Mar-1997
Three cases were brought against fire services after what were said to be negligent responses to call outs. On one, the fire brigade was called to a fire at office premises in Hampshire. The fire triggered the operation of a heat-activated sprinkler . .
Cited – Chief Constable of Northumbria v Costello CA 3-Dec-1998
A woman police officer was attacked by a prisoner in a cell. She sought damages for the failure of a senior officer nearby not to come to her aid, and from the chief constable under his vicarious liability.
Held: The chief constable’s appeal . .
Cited – Mullaney v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police CA 15-May-2001
The claimant police officer was severely injured making an arrest. He claimed damages from the respondent for contributory negligence of other officers in failing to come to his assistance.
Held: If a police officer owes a duty of care to . .
Cited – Jane Marianne Sandhar, John Stuart Murray v Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions CA 5-Nov-2004
The claimant’s husband died when his car skidded on hoar frost. She claimed the respondent was liable under the Act and at common law for failing to keep it safe.
Held: The respondent had not assumed a general responsibility to all road users . .
Cited – Hertfordshire Police v Van Colle; Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police HL 30-Jul-2008
Police Obligations to Witnesses is Limited
A prosecution witness was murdered by the accused shortly before his trial. The parents of the deceased alleged that the failure of the police to protect their son was a breach of article 2.
Held: The House was asked ‘If the police are alerted . .
Cited – Michael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 19 November 2021; Ref: scu.84444