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Stress at Work

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[Thanks to Louise Jones of Temple Garden Chambers for providing this case summary]

The Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in Connor v Surrey County Council, an unusual 'stress at work' claim where the Court considered the edge between the Council's private law duties and its public law functions.

The Court of Appeal upheld the finding that the Council had been negligent towards a former headteacher in failing to establish an interim executive board of school governors (pursuant to the School Standards and Frameworks Act 1998 ss 14 and 16A). The Council had contended that this failure lay wholly in the field of their public law functions, and as such was not justiciable as particulars of negligence in a private law action for damages.

The Court held that the law will, in an appropriate case, require the duty-ower to fulfil his pre-existing private law duty by the exercise of a public law discretion, but only if that may be done consistently with the duty-ower's full performance of his public law obligations. The Council's appeal failed, but the Court sounded a note of caution; the facts of this particular case had made it more than the tip of the iceberg, and nothing in this case remotely resembles a precedent for others in the future to build private law claims out of what may be sensitive and difficult decisions of public authorities.