vicarious liability for the acts of a non-employee
Determining a preliminary issue in the case
of JGE v English Province of Our Lady of Charity and
another, the High Court has held that a diocesan bishop could
be held vicariously liable for the torts of a priest of his diocese
(who is not an employee).
Vicarious liability places a liability on
somebody (party A) for the acts of another person (party B).
It is generally applicable in employment relationships.
However, the High Court ruling makes it clear that a formal
employment relationship is not necessary for vicarious liability to
The Court has ruled that in examining
whether party A was vicariously responsible for the acts of party
B, it is necessary to look carefully at the surrounding facts and
circumstances and the full nature of the relationship. This
includes examining the nature and purpose of the relationship,
considering whether tools, equipment, uniform or premises were
provided to assist the performance of the role, and examining the
extent to which party B might reasonably be perceived as having
acted on behalf of party A.
On the facts of this case, there was no
written contract, no formal supervision, the diocese did not pay
the priest and could not dismiss him. However, the priest was
appointed by and on behalf of the diocese in order to do its work
and was given training and full authority to undertake the ministry
on behalf of the diocese. On this basis, the Court found that
the relationship between the priest and the diocese was a
"sufficiently close" relationship to which vicarious liability
This is the first time that the English
courts have been asked to look at vicarious liability in these
particular circumstances. Permission has been granted for
appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The decision has potentially wide
implications for volunteers and self-employed persons working for
charities and other not-for-profit organisations.
If you are concerned about how this decision may affect your
organisation, please contact Debbie Sadler, Employment law
specialist in our Charities team.