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Bradford-Smart v West Sussex County Council

29 January 2002
The issues

Bullying – psychiatric injury – liability of the School.

The facts

The Claimant was a school child at Ifield Middle School. She was bullied but the Judge found as a fact only on the public service bus to and from school and on the estate where she lived. While she had been in school the staff had protected her from harassment. The School had a satisfactory bullying policy. The issues therefore were whether the School owed any and what duty in respect of bullying outside the school gates and if there was such a duty what it should reasonably have done to comply with it. At first instance Garland J found for the Council. The Claimant appealed.

The decision

1. The School owed no general duty to its pupils to supervise their activities after they left its charge, since it was not directly in control of them.

2. The School could not be criticised in respect of the steps it had taken to protect the Claimant from bullying when in school.

3. It was accepted that a Head Teacher could use his disciplinary powers against a pupil who attacked a child outside school (see R -v- London Borough of Newham and Another, ex parte 1994).

4. There might be circumstances in which the School would be at fault and in breach of its duty of care if it failed to exercise these powers. The duty was therefore wider than the way in which it had been expressed by the Judge below. However, such occasions would be rare. It was agreed by the experts that where an incident occurring outside school carried over into school, a reasonable Head Teacher would investigate if it was having a harmful effect on the victim’s education. There were no such adverse effects in this case that were clearly the result of the bullying. There was a responsible body of professional opinion that would have agreed that enough had been done. (Bolam -v- Friern Hospital Management Committee).

5. The Judge would have reached the same conclusion if he had directed himself less restrictively.

6. In this type of case generally the Judge had to identify precisely what breach of duty had occurred and whether the steps that should have been taken would have been effective in preventing the bullying. He had to find a direct causal connection between the breach and the injury. That would be generally a difficult thing to prove.

Appeal Dismissed

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