Racz v Home Office

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Templeman,Lord Goff of Chieveley,Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle,Lord Browne-Wilkinson,Lord Mustill
Judgment Date16 December 1993
Judgment citation (vLex)[1993] UKHL J1216-1
Date16 December 1993
CourtHouse of Lords
Racz (A.P.)
Home Office

[1993] UKHL J1216-1

Lord Templeman

Lord Goff of Chieveley

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Mustill

House of Lords

Lord Templeman

My Lords,


For the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, I would make the orders he proposes.

Lord Goff of Chieveley

My Lords,


For the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle I too would make the orders which he proposes.

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle

My Lords,


On 9 March 1988 the appellant was a remand prisoner in Armley Prison, Leeds. On 8 March 1991 he issued a writ against the respondent claiming damages and aggravated and exemplary damages in respect of events occurring in the prison on 9–11 March 1988. In his statement of claim, as amended, he alleged that he suffered ill treatment at the hand of prison officers and claimed damages under three heads, namely, assault and battery, negligence and misfeasance in public office. On the application of the respondent Ebsworth J. struck out that part of the claim based on misfeasance in public office and rejected the appellant's submission that the action should be tried by a jury. The Court of Appeal affirmed Ebsworth J. on both grounds although differing from her reasons for refusing trial by jury. The appellant now invites this House to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeal both as to striking out and mode of trial.

Misfeasance in public office

In his amended statement of claim the appellant averred that the respondent was the Department of State responsible for prisons and the actions of its servants working therein. After describing in paragraph 3 how he had been assaulted by certain prison officers and removed from an open ward in the hospital wing of the prison to a strip cell where his clothes were forcibly removed, the statement of claim proceeded:

"4. After the assault had finished the plaintiff remained in the strip cell until 11 March 1988 when he was transferred to a cell in the segregation unit. While located in the strip cell prison officers interfered with the plaintiffs food by tipping it on the floor of the cell and ordering the plaintiff to clean it up. The plaintiff went on hunger strike in protest. During the time he was located in the strip cell the plaintiff was only given a nylon/canvas 'dress' to wear and had to sleep on the floor with the covering of [a] single blanket. He received no medication.

5. The plaintiff will say his detention in the strip cell in the conditions and for the period of time set out in paragraph 4 herein amounted to detention in intolerable conditions and/or a cruel and unusual punishment contrary to the Bill of Rights 1688 and was caused by negligence on the part of the defendant, its servants or agents.


  • (i) causing the plaintiff to be locked up in the strip cell in circumstances where there was no reason or justification for so doing;

  • (ii) stripping the plaintiff of his clothing for no good or proper reason;

  • (iii) deliberately interfering with the plaintiff s food.

6. Further or in the alternative the plaintiff will say that the officers who ordered the plaintiff's removal/location in the strip cell knew they had no lawful power under the Prison Rules for such removal/location and/or were motivated by malice and their actions thereby amounted to misfeasance in public office."


Mr. Harris, for the appellant, explained that the inclusion of the claim based on misfeasance served two purposes, namely, (1) to provide a remedy for the period of detention in the strip cell since such a remedy might not be available under the claim in negligence and (2) to provide the basis for an award of exemplary damages.


The Court of Appeal ordered paragraph 6 of the amended statement of claim to be struck out because in law the respondent could not be vicariously liable for misfeasance in public office by the prison officers. The Court of Appeal reached that conclusion because of the decision of this House in Weldon v. The Home Office [1992] 1 A.C. 58 and, in particular, of certain observations therein of Lord Bridge of Harwich. In order to see whether that conclusion was justified it is necessary to look at the case in some detail.


In Weldon a convicted prisoner claimed damages against the Home Office for assault and battery and false imprisonment by certain prison officers. He averred, inter alia, that he was removed from his cell without good cause to one in the punishment block and was then removed to a strip cell where his clothes were taken from him. The Home Office application to strike out so much of the averments as related to false imprisonment was dismissed, both by the assistant recorder and by the Court of Appeal. This House allowed the appeal of the Home Office, holding that there could be no false imprisonment of a prisoner who was lawfully confined under section 12(1) of the Prison Act of 1952 and that a restraint upon movement, which was not in accordance with the Prison Rules 1964, did not confer on a prisoner a cause of action for breach of statutory duty under the rules: (see per Lord Bridge of Harwich, at pp. 162G–163H). In his conclusion, Lord Bridge at p. 166D said:

"For the reasons I have given I conclude that a claim for damages either for breach of statutory duty or for false imprisonment is not sustainable in either of the cases before the House."


I expressed a similar view, at p. 178H.


At p. 14D of the transcript Neill L.J. analysed the reasoning of Lord Bridge in Weldon as follows:

"It is clear from the speech of Lord Bridge, at p. 162, that he considered that it was necessary to examine the claim by Weldon as set out in the particulars of claim on two bases:

(a) on the basis that the prison staff had acted with the authority of the Governor;

(b) on the basis that the prison staff had acted in bad faith and without authority.


At p. 162F Lord Bridge began his examination of what he described as the primary and fundamental issue, that is 'whether any restraint within defined bounds imposed upon a convicted prisoner whilst serving his sentence by the prison governor or by officers acting with the authority of the prison governor and in good faith, but in circumstances where the particular form of restraint is not sanctioned by the Prison Rules, amounts for that reason to the tort of false imprisonment.' On this aspect of the case Lord Bridge concluded that in view of the wide terms of section 12(1) of the Prison Act 1952 a prisoner was not entitled to damages for false imprisonment on the ground that he had been subject to restraint which was not in accordance with the Prison Rules.


Lord Bridge next considered the legal position of a prisoner who had been locked in a shed by fellow prisoners. Lord Bridge dealt with this point as follows, at p. 164C:

'The restraint in the shed is unlawful because the fellow prisoners acted without the authority of the governor and it is only the governor, who has the legal custody of the prisoner, and persons acting with the authority of the governor who can rely on the provisions of section 12(1).'


Lord Bridge then turned to examine the case of a prison officer who had acted in bad faith. In a crucial paragraph, at p. 164D, Lord Bridge said:

'This consideration also leads to the conclusion that a prison officer who acts in bad faith by deliberately subjecting a prisoner to a restraint which he knows he has no authority to impose may render himself personally liable to an action for false imprisonment as well as committing the tort of misfeasance in public office. Lacking the authority of the governor, he also lacks the protection of section 12(1). But if the officer deliberately acts outside the scope of his authority, he cannot render the governor or the Home Office vicariously liable for his tortious conduct.'"


After expressing the views that other members of the House must also have approached Weldon's claim on both bases, the Lord Justice said:

"It follows therefore that by their unanimous rejection of Weldon's claim...

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