Why Robinson v Chief Constable West Yorkshire is important
In Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, the Court clarified that Lord Bridge did not create a tripartite test in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman. Instead, he identified a set of factors which indicate whether a duty of care is owed. These factors should only be considered in novel cases. Otherwise, the Court should develop the law incrementally according to established principles.
Mrs Robinson, an elderly lady, was knocked to the floor during the arrest of a suspected drug dealer. The suspect and two police officers landed on top of Mrs Robinson, causing her significant injuries.
Mrs Robinson brought a claim for personal injury in the tort of negligence against the suspect and the police force. The Supreme Court hearing concerned the claim against the police.
Whether the police owed to Mrs Robinson a duty of care, and if so whether that duty had been breached.
In particular, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the existence of a duty of care always depends on an application of the ‘Caparo test’. This was important because Hallett LJ had specifically asked whether liability would be ‘fair, just and reasonable’.
The Supreme Court held that the police did owe a duty of care to Mrs Robinson.
Lord Reed, with whom Lady Hale and Lord Hodge agreed, gave an important judgement on the theory of the duty of care, and the relationship between the various tests.
Firstly Lord Reed highlighted that Lord Bridge in Caparo was not developing a tripartite test. Lord Reed, quoting Lord Toulson’s analysis in Michael, identified that Lord Bridge actually said the search for a single test was inappropriate. Instead, the three principles of foreseeability, proximity and policy were factors to consider when asking whether to impose a duty of care.
Secondly, Lord Reed emphasised that the Court should only resort to considering the Caparo factors in novel circumstances (para ). The Court should therefore not consider whether liability is ‘fair, just and reasonable’ in all cases.
“Where the existence or nonexistence of a duty of care has been established, a consideration of justice and reasonableness forms part of the basis on which the law has arrived at the relevant principles. It is therefore unnecessary and inappropriate to reconsider whether the existence of the duty is fair, just and reasonable (subject to the possibility that this court may be invited to depart from an established line of authority).” (para )
When a case is not novel, the Court should develop the law incrementally according to the established principles. (para )
As this was not a novel case, Hallett LJ erred when considering the Caparo factors (specifically by asking whether a duty of care was ‘fair, just and reasonable’). Instead, the CA should have assessed whether a duty of care was owed based on the established tests and principles.
The application of these ‘established principles’ is important in understanding when a public authority owes a duty of care. A summary of this reasoning is coming soon.
For more analysis on the case, check out the Lucid Law case note considering Robinson alongside Poole Borough Council v BG: Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire  UKSC 4 and Poole BC v GN  UKSC 25: public authority negligence liability today/