Barclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLady Hale,Lord Reed,Lord Kerr,Lord Hodge,Lord Lloyd-Jones
Judgment Date01 April 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] UKSC 13
CourtSupreme Court
Date01 April 2020
Barclays Bank plc
Various Claimants

[2020] UKSC 13


Lady Hale

Lord Reed

Lord Kerr

Lord Hodge

Lord Lloyd-Jones

Supreme Court

Hilary Term

On appeal from: [2018] EWCA Civ 1670


Lord Faulks QC

Nicholas Fewtrell

Katie Ayres

(Instructed by Keoghs LLP (Liverpool))


Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC

Robert Kellar QC

(Instructed by Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP (Manchester))

Heard on 28 November 2019

Lady Hale

( with whom Lord Reed, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lord Lloyd-Jones agree)


“The law of vicarious liability is on the move.” So stated Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers in Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56; [2013] 2 AC 1, generally known as Christian Brothers, at para 19. The question raised by the current case, and by the parallel case of WM Morrison Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 12, is how far that move can take it. Two elements have to be shown before one person can be made vicariously liable for the torts committed by another. The first is a relationship between the two persons which makes it proper for the law to make the one pay for the fault of the other. Historically, and leaving aside relationships such as agency and partnership, that was limited to the relationship between employer and employee, but that has now been somewhat broadened. That is the subject matter of this case. The second is the connection between that relationship and the tortfeasor's wrongdoing. Historically, the tort had to be committed in the course or within the scope of the tortfeasor's employment, but that too has now been somewhat broadened. That is the subject matter of the Morrison's case.

The facts

The issue before us is whether Barclays Bank is vicariously liable for the sexual assaults allegedly committed between 1968 and about 1984 by the late Dr Gordon Bates on some 126 claimants in this group action. Dr Bates was a medical practitioner practising in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. According to his son's evidence, he had a portfolio practice. Some of it was as an employee in local hospitals. Some of it was doing medical examinations for emigration purposes. Some of it was doing miscellaneous work for insurance companies, a mining company and a government board. Some of it was doing medical assessments and examinations of employees or prospective employees, originally for Martins Bank, and later for Barclays Bank following their merger in 1969. This was, however, a comparatively minor part of his practice. He also wrote a newspaper column.


Applicants for jobs at Barclays who were successful at interview would be told that they would be offered a job, subject to passing a medical examination and obtaining satisfactory results in their GCE examinations. The purpose of the examination was to show that they were medically fit for working in the Bank and could be recommended for life insurance at ordinary rates as required by the Bank's pension scheme. The Bank arranged the appointments with Dr Bates, told the applicants when and where to go, and provided him with a pro forma report to be filled in. This was headed “Barclays Confidential Medical Report” and signed by Dr Bates and the applicant. Dr Bates was paid a fee for each report. He was not paid a retainer by the Bank. If the report was satisfactory, the job offer would be confirmed, subject to examination results.


At that time, the Bank was recruiting young people, many of them female. Many of the claimants were teenagers at the time, some aged 16, going for their first jobs on leaving school. The examinations took place in Dr Bates' home in Newcastle. A room in the house had been converted into a consulting room. The claimants were always alone in the room when they were examined by the doctor, although some attended on their own and some were accompanied by other family members. It is alleged that Dr Bates sexually assaulted them in the course of those examinations, by inappropriate examination of their breasts and/or digital contact with or penetration of their anus or vagina.


Dr Bates died in 2009 and his estate (worth over half a million pounds) has been distributed. He cannot be sued by the claimants but neither can the Bank claim contribution from him should any of these actions succeed.


This litigation began in 2015 and a group litigation order was made in 2016. The managing judge, Nicola Davies J, ordered a trial of the preliminary issue of whether the Bank is vicariously liable for any assaults that Dr Bates is proved to have perpetrated in the course of medical examinations carried out at the Bank's request. On 26 July 2017, Nicola Davies J held that Barclays is vicariously liable for any assaults proved: [2017] EWHC 1929 (QB); [2017] IRLR 1103. On 17 July 2018, the Court of Appeal dismissed Barclays' appeal: [2018] EWCA Civ 1670; [2018] IRLR 947. The Bank now appeals to this court.

The parties' cases

The parties' respective positions can be simply put. As Lord Bridge of Harwich stated in D & F Estates Ltd v Church Comrs [1989] AC 177, 208 (echoing the words of Widgery LJ in Salsbury v Woodland [1970] 1 QB 324, 336), “It is trite law that the employer of an independent contractor is, in general, not liable for the negligence or other torts committed by the contractor in the course of the execution of the work”. The Bank argues that, although recent decisions have expanded the categories of relationship which can give rise to vicarious liability beyond a contract of employment, they have not so expanded it as to destroy this trite proposition of law, which has been with us since at least the decision of Baron Parke in Quarman v Burnett (1840) 6 M & W 499, 151 ER 509.


The claimants, on the other hand, argue that the recent Supreme Court cases of Christian Brothers, Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10; [2016] AC 660, and Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council [2017] UKSC 60; [2018] AC 355, have replaced that trite proposition with a more nuanced multi-factorial approach in which a range of incidents are considered in deciding whether it is “fair, just and reasonable” to impose vicarious liability upon this person for the torts of another person who is not his employee. That was the approach adopted both by the trial judge and the Court of Appeal in this case.


It will be apparent, therefore, that it is necessary to examine those three decisions in some detail, along with their precursor, the decision of the Court of Appeal in E v English Province of Our Lady of Charity [2012] EWCA Civ 938; [2013] QB 722, some four months before the decision in the Christian Brothers case, as well as some later cases. As it happens, I sat on all three of the Supreme Court cases and agreed with the leading judgment in each; Lord Reed sat on Cox and Armes, in each of which he delivered the leading judgment; Lord Kerr sat on Christian Brothers and Armes and agreed with the leading judgment in each.

The recent decisions

The recent expansion in the law of vicarious liability began with the House of Lords' decision in Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2001] UKHL 22; [2002] 1 AC 215. The owners of a children's home were held vicariously liable for the sexual abuse perpetrated by their employee, the warden. It was thus concerned with stage two of the enquiry — the connection between the employment and the wrongdoing — and not with stage one. Nevertheless, it proved influential in later cases, partly because of the willingness to expand the law, and partly because of the prominence it gave to some important decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, which had placed emphasis on the policy considerations underlying the law. Although their lordships did not endorse all of those policy considerations, they did adopt the same test as had been adopted in Canada. Furthermore, some of those policy considerations found their way into the later cases dealing with stage one of the enquiry.


In Bazley v Curry [1999] 2 SCR 534, the owners of a children's home were held vicariously liable for sexual abuse committed by one of their employees in the home. The fundamental question was whether the wrongful act was sufficiently related to the conduct authorised by the employer to justify imposing vicarious liability. This was generally appropriate where there was a significant connection between the creation or enhancement of the risk and the wrongdoing. Vicarious liability would then serve the policy aims of providing an adequate remedy and deterring the risk. Once engaged in a business it was fair that the employer be made to pay for the generally foreseeable risks of that business. In contrast, in Jacobi v Griffiths [1999] 2 SCR 570, a children's club was not vicariously liable for the acts of an employee which took place in the employee's home outside working hours. It was not enough that his employment in the club gave him the opportunity to make friends with the children.


The first English case to consider directly whether the enquiry at stage one might expand beyond the relationship of employee and employer was E's case. This built upon the earlier decision in Viasystems (Tyneside) Ltd v Thermal Transfer (Northern) Ltd [2005] EWCA Civ 1151; [2006] QB 510. Severe flood damage had been caused to a factory, where air-conditioning was being installed, by the negligence of a fitter's mate; the fitter and his mate had been supplied on a labour only basis by the third defendant to the second defendant to whom some of the work had been sub-contracted; the Court of Appeal held both...

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