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Vicarious Liability – Barclays Bank PLC v Various Claimants

The Supreme Court has held in Barclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 13 that Barclays was not vicariously liable for the sexual assaults allegedly committed between 1968 and about 1984 of the late Dr Bates on some 126 claimants in this group action.

Dr Bates was a medical practitioner who was engaged by Barclays to carry out medical examinations and assessments of employees or prospective employees. 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 with Dr Bates was to show that they were medically fit for working at Barclays and could be recommended for life insurance at ordinary rates required by Barclays pension scheme.

The 126 claimants sought damages against Barclays for the assaults which took place over a 16-year period. The trial Judge, Nicola Davies J, held that Barclays were vicariously liable. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal but was reversed by the Supreme Court which held that Barclays are not vicariously liable for the actions of Dr Bates.

The Supreme Court reinforced that the question, as it always has been, is whether the tortfeasor is carrying on business on his own account or whether he is in a relationship akin to employment with the defendant.

Lady Hale held that Dr Bates was not at any time an employee of Barclays, nor was he anything close to an employee. She continues to say that whilst Barclays made the arrangements for the examinations and chose the questions which it wanted answered, the same would be true for many other people who did not work for Barclays but were clearly independent contractors such as window cleaners or auditors. Dr Bates was in business on his own account; he was free to refuse examinations should he wish to do so and carried his own medical liability insurance. He had a full portfolio of his own clients, Barclays being one those clients. On that basis Barclays could not be held liable for the actions of Dr Bates.

Should you require any further information or advice on dealing with specific issues such as vicarious liability or employment matters generally, please contact the Employment Law Unit:-                              

 Tel: 028 9024 5034

Copyright 2020 Elliott Duffy Garrett

Every care has been taken in the preparation of this bulletin; readers are advised however to seek legal advice in relation to specific issues.