Liability in Tort
SECTION 2 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 provides (subject to a number of exceptions and qualifications)1 that the Crown shall be liable in tort to the same extent 'as if it were a private person of full age and capacity' in respect of vicarious liability,2 employers' liability, and occupiers' liability. The assumption underlying this general provision is that prior to the Act the Crown enjoyed a general immunity from liability in tort. Governmental bodies other than the Crown never enjoyed such an immunity;3 nor did (or does)4 the immunity of the Crown prevent a person suing personally the Crown servant or agent who committed the tort. The general principle now is that all governmental bodies may be sued and held liable in tort in the same way and to the same extent as private individuals and corporations.
There are, however, two important difficulties in applying this general principle to the exercise of statutory functions. The first concerns the relationship between liability in tort and the doctrine of ultra vires. To say that someone has committed a tort is to say that they have acted unlawfully in a private law sense. To say that a body has acted ultra vires is to say that it has acted unlawfully in a public law sense. A body can be held to have acted unlawfully in a public law sense only if it has acted ultra vires. However, it is possible, in theory at least, that a body might____________________
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Publication information: Book title: An Introduction to Administrative Law. Edition: 3rd. Contributors: Peter Cane - Author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 241.