Kalma v African Minerals. Court of Appeal confirms absence of vicarious liability, no omissions with the mother holding.

Update 18 May 2020 for an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, see here.

I reviewed [2018] EWHC 3506 (QB) Kalma v African Minerals et al in an earlier post. It essentially entails vicarious liability of UK-incorporated companies (jurisdiction firmly settled therefore) for human rights abuses committed by Sierra Leone police (SLP), who ensured security at the defendants’ mine. All claims were held to have failed and the Court of Appeal in [2020] EWCA Civ 144 has confirmed same on 17 February (a little before the important SCC ruling in Nevsun).

The High Court’s discussion of the factual involvement of the companies with SLP activities, required to establish vicarious liability, as I noted at the time has echoes of the discussion on the level of oversight required for mother companies to be held liable for subsidiaries’ actions (such as e.g, in Apartheid, Shell (in The Netherlands) or of course in Vedanta). (The case otherwise does not raise the kind of jurisdictional or applicable law issues readers often find on this blog).

Of most relevance for the corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues are the grounds of appeal concerning the alleged duty of care owed, discussed at 110 ff: appellants say that the judge wrongly approached this case as a case of “pure omissions” and that, instead, he should have considered the existence of the duty by reference to first principles and, in particular, the three elements identified in Caparo v Dickman, namely foreseeability, proximity and whether or not such a duty was fair, just and reasonable (Ground 3). The appellants also have an alternative case that, if this was a case of pure omissions, the judge should have found that it was one of the recognised exceptions to the rule, namely that it involved the creation of the danger by the respondents themselves (Ground 4). Core factual consideration in all this are the money, vehicles and accommodation provided to the SLP, which the judge had found was common in Sierra Leone.

Coulson LJ reiterated with the judge that the duty of care tenet was one of omission: failure to protect the claimants (the respondents, arguendo, having failed to protect the claimants from the harm caused by the SLP). Extensive analysis of Turner J’s judgment at the High Court found no reason to reach a different conclusion than his.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

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