Outsourcing not an excuse

Posted: 14th April 2015

PrisonIn a ground-breaking decision, the High Court has ruled that the Government cannot escape liability to those injured whilst in custody merely because it has outsourced the management of many prisons and immigration detention centres (IDCs) to the private sector.

Whilst detained at an IDC, a Nigerian woman had been prescribed an anti-malarial drug which was alleged to have triggered a severe psychotic reaction. The IDC was run by a private company under a contract with the Home Office, which also did not employ the prescribing doctor.

The woman launched a substantial damages claim against the Home Office but faced arguments that it could not be held responsible for her injuries. However, in permitting her claim to proceed to a full hearing, the Court found that the Home Office owed her a duty of care which could not be delegated to others.

Noting the woman’s special vulnerability as a compulsory detainee, the Court found that she was dependent on the Home Office for protection from the risk of injury. She was obliged to accept the drug prescribed to her and the provision of medical treatment at the IDC was an integral part of the positive duty owed to her.

The Court concluded, “The Home Office decided to detain her and consequently had clear responsibilities for her treatment as a detainee...it would not be just, fair or reasonable to conclude that those responsibilities disappeared simply because of an outsourcing decision."