Hill v Ministry of Justice [2022] EWHC 370 (QB)

The case concerned an appeal against the order of Recorder Bright QC dismissing a claim for personal injury suffered by Mr Hill (“the appellant”) in the course of his duties as a probationary prison officer. The appellant was instructed to escort two young offenders when one of the prisoners (“DB”) assaulted him, causing the appellant to sustain a spinal injury.

The recorder found that whilst DB was a “volatile, impulsive, manipulative and troubled young man who could be violent and fell into the worst 25% of prisoners in terms of conduct”, he was not a very dangerous prisoner and it was not necessary to automatically deem him as high risk whenever he left his cell. Further, DB did not pose any specific, imminent or foreseeable risk to staff beyond that routinely faced by prison officers.

The appellant submitted that the recorder had erred by (i) having regard the actual circumstances of the assault in assessing whether some injury was foreseeable; (ii) applying an incorrect and unduly onerous test of immediacy of harm in assessing whether any injury to the appellant was foreseeable; and (iii) failing to find that the respondent should have taken certain precautions.

Dismissing the appeal, Cotter J held that the judge had been entitled to dismiss the claim. The court confirmed:

There is a duty on an employer to take reasonable care to protect his employees against a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury in the workplace. Reasonable foreseeability of injury is not a fixed point on the scale of probability. The test is objective, but takes account of all relevant circumstances, including characteristics of the defendant in determining what is foreseeable. It is not necessary that the precise manner in which an accident happens should be foreseeable, so long as an accident of that general kind can be foreseen.”

The common law principles applicable to inherently dangerous occupations were the same as those applicable in any other type of occupation. However, for prison officers, the risks in question could not be wholly eradicated save by measures which would be impracticable, unacceptable, unlawful or too costly to be met by public funding. Escorting inmates to their cells was a routine task which carried a baseline risk of violence. The recorder had been entitled to find that there was no risk sufficiently above the baseline risk posed by many young offenders to require additional measures.

June 23, 2022 · Editorial Team · Comments Closed
Posted in: Cases