Vicarious liability

The following Corporate Crime practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Vicarious liability
  • What is vicarious liability?
  • Vicarious liability for public nuisance
  • Vicarious liability expressed by statute
  • Vicarious liability implied by statute
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  • Vicarious liability and offences involving a mental element
  • What is effective delegation?
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Vicarious liability

What is vicarious liability?

The general principle in criminal law is liability is personal not vicarious. This means that one person cannot be held liable for the crimes of another (other than where a person has aided, abetted, counselled or procured the act of another). (R v Huggins )

See Encouraging and assisting criminality.

There are exceptions to this general principle and, in some circumstances, liability can be transferred vicariously to another.

Vicarious liability for public nuisance

At common law a person can be held vicariously liable for the offence of public nuisance. In R v Shorrock, the defendant had granted a licence over a field which was used for an event at which loud music was played which disturbed local residents. The defendant was not present at the event, but was found guilty of causing a public nuisance.

In R v Stephens the defendant, an owner of a quarry, was convicted of nuisance when his workmen (contrary to his instructions and without his knowledge) disposed of rubbish into a river, where it obstructed the navigation. On appeal the court held the defendant was liable and said the object of the case was not to punish but to prevent this nuisance from being continued.

At common law a person could be guilty of libel, for the acts of their employees in publishing a criminal libel but only if

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