Friday 13 July 2012

Vicarious Liability of Catholic Church (civil case)

[Thanks to Michael Reed, Employment Legal Officer at the Free Representation Unit for preparing this case summary]

Can the Catholic Church be vicariously liable for a Priest's actions? It could in JGE v The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust.

JGE was in a children's home run by the Church. She brought a personal injury claim alleging that she had been sexually abused.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that a Catholic Priest is not an employee. But they extended the scope of vicarious liability to non-employees in relationships so close in character to employment that it was just and equitable to hold the 'employer' liable.

When identifying such relationships courts should consider:

  • the control the organisation had over the individual;
  • whether the individual performed a core function of the organisation;
  • whether the individual was integrated into the organisation and
  • whether the individual was in business for themselves.
Applying these tests the Court of Appeal concluded the Church could be vicariously liable for a Priest. Since this arose as a preliminary issue, the factual disputes, including whether the Priest was acting in the course of his 'employment' were returned to the High Court.

Despite its unusual facts this case has great significance for the scope of vicarious liability in atypical employment situations.

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