The Christian Brothers, child abuse and vicarious liability – yet again

In Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56 – aka the Christian Brothers case – Lord Phillips PSC laid down a series of principles governing vicarious liability for tortious conduct in which it is reasonable “to impose vicarious liability on the employer when these criteria are satisfied:

(i)  The employer is more likely to have the means to compensate the victim than the employee and can be expected to have insured against that liability;

(ii)  The tort will have been committed as a result of activity being taken by the employee on behalf of the employer;

(iii)  The employee’s activity is likely to be part of the business activity of the employer;

(iv)  The employer, by employing the employee to carry on the activity will have created the risk of the tort committed by the employee;

(v)  The employee will, to a greater or lesser degree, have been under the control of the employer” [35].

Subsequent to that judgment, the Supreme Court handed down two linked judgments further clarifying the law on vicarious liability: Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11 and Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10: we noted them here.

Various Claimants was about physical and sexual abuse at St William’s School, Market Weighton, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough, which – as the legislation changed – was a reformatory school for boys, an “approved school” for boys under the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the Approved School Rules 1933 made under it and in 1973, when the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 took effect, an “assisted community home” for children in the care of the local authority. The school was run by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools: James Carragher, who was principal from 1976-1990, is currently serving his third prison sentence for physically and sexually abusing boys at the school, while its former chaplain, Anthony McCallen, is serving a 15-year sentence.

The preliminary point that the Supreme Court was asked to determine was “whether the Institute is responsible in law for the alleged acts of sexual and physical abuse of children at St William’s committed by its members” [2]. The UKSC held unanimously that it was indeed responsible.

Today, 31 October, the trial of the action for damages begins at the High Court in Leeds. The Diocese of Middlesbrough has issued a brief statement expressing “profound regret” for the abuse.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "The Christian Brothers, child abuse and vicarious liability – yet again" in Law & Religion UK, 31 October 2016,

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