Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Where does school or college responsibility for safety end?

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Schools and colleges have an automatic duty of care for their students, of course, but how liable are they for the welfare of other people who use their facilities?

A recent Court of Appeal case offers some reassurance. The appeals case dealt with a situation involving injury in an indoor climbing venue. The complainant, who had little or no experience of climbing, mounted a bouldering wall and attempted to imitate a more experienced friend in jumping from one side to another. He fell and incurred a crippling injury.

The Court of Appeal reversed an earlier judgement in his favour and stated that the accident was his own fault. The area was safe. There could have been no case under Occupier's Liability. The venue offered no assessment, nor training. It had simply offered premises. It was entirely up to the claimant how he used them.

The court quoted the words of the House of Lords in a previous case: "The balance between risk on the one hand and individual autonomy on the other is not a matter of expert opinion. It is a judgement which the courts must make and which in England reflects the individualistic values of the common law."

While this case does not reduce the duty of care to children in risky situations, it does mean that as long as schools and colleges do not assume a duty of care by offering checks and training, they cannot be responsible if those who use their premises do foolish things and are injured.

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