Damages claim against Secretary of State for Justice dismissed

March 18, 2016

In the first case of its kind, Louis Browne from Exchange Chambers has successfully argued that the Probation Service does not owe a duty of care to a member of the public who allegedly suffered physical and emotional abuse after entering into a relationship with a prisoner released on licence.

The claim was brought against the Secretary of State for Justice, for whom Louis Browne acted, in common law negligence as the department responsible for the West Yorkshire Probation Service and its predecessor, the West Yorkshire Probation Board.

The claimant sought damages to compensate her for alleged physical and emotional abuse caused by a man released on licence following a murder conviction.  The abuse took place between January and July 2010.

She argued that in January 2010 the Probation Board received information to suggest she was in a relationship with the man but acted negligently in its investigation as to the accuracy of the information and negligently failed to assess the risk posed to her.  Because of this neglect, she was not advised of his offending history and he was not recalled to prison.

Similarly she argued that if she had of been told of his offending history in 2010 she would have terminated the relationship, whether he was recalled to prison or not and would not have suffered from the abuse.

Commenting on the case, Louis Browne said:

“This is an important decision as it is the first time this particular point has been litigated.

“The Court found that the Probation Service did not owe the claimant a duty of care to investigate the initial allegations in a different, more thorough manner.

“It also found that the Probation Service did not owe a duty of care to warn the claimant of the licensee’s background.”

Added Louis:

“By virtue of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the Offender Management Act 2007, the Probation Service is responsible for the supervision of prisoners released on licence and is required to have regard to the protection of the public.

“However, this case clearly establishes that the courts will not impose a common law duty of care simply on the back of a statutory obligation by the Probation Service to provide a service.”