Liability of public authorities
Liability of public authorities

The following PI & Clinical Negligence practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Liability of public authorities
  • What is a public authority?
  • Determining whether an organisation is a public authority
  • What is the significance of the distinction?
  • Establishing liability on the part of a public authority can carry additional complications when it is carrying out a public function
  • The distinction between public and private acts by a public authority
  • Public authorities are subject to additional duties under HRA 1998

What is a public authority?

A public authority is some manifestation of the state that exercises a public function.

The distinction between a private body and a public authority has become increasingly important since the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) because HRA 1998 prohibits public authorities from acting incompatibly with any convention right under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The test for determining whether a body is a public authority may be wider under HRA 1998 than it is for the purposes of judicial review.

Bodies which are obviously public in nature are always likely to be public authorities. Examples include:

  1. central government

  2. police and emergency services

  3. local authorities

  4. local education authorities

  5. housing authorities

  6. the Ministry of Defence

  7. NHS bodies

There are also a number of other bodies that exercise some public functions that may qualify as public authorities. If such bodies are considered public authorities, this will generally only be in relation to their exercise of public functions.

Determining whether an organisation is a public authority

There is no single test for determining whether an organisation is a public authority.

A good starting point is to look at decided authority in respect of judicial review proceedings. A body that has been held to be amenable to judicial review will almost certainly be a public authority, and the converse is also the case (although there

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