Henderson v Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 3275 (QB)
Ex turpi causa "On 25th August 2010 Ms Henderson ('the Claimant') stabbed her mother to death. She was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time, and her condition had recently worsened. It is common ground between the parties that this tragic event would not have happened but for the Defendant's breaches of duty in failing to respond in an appropriate way to the Claimant's mental collapse. The Claimant has now brought proceedings in the tort of negligence claiming general damages under various heads, special damages and future losses, and liability has been admitted. The Defendant's position is that all of the claims should be defeated on illegality or public policy grounds, and that binding authority of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords compels that outcome. ... In my view, there are three main questions for me to consider within the agenda circumscribed by the preliminary issue: (1) the correct interpretation of the sentencing remarks of Foskett J [in the Claimant's case], and the extent to which it is permissible, if at all, to go behind them; (2) whether there is binding authority of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords precluding some or all of these claims; and (3) if not, whether the law as accurately enunciated (there remains a dispute between the parties as to what it is) permits, or obviates, the maintenance of some or all of these claims. I frame the questions in this manner because it is the Defendant's submission that I am bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Clunis v Camden and Islington HA Administration of Justice Act 1969. I also refuse permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal for the reason indicated under paragraphs 99 and 104 above."
The ICLR have kindly agreed for their WLR (D) case report to be reproduced below.
Henderson v Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation TrustB
Negligence — Duty of care to whom? — Community care provider — Claimant mental health patient discharged from hospital and placed in community care — Claimant experiencing relapse of psychiatric condition and care provider failing to respond appropriately — Claimant killing person and pleading guilty to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility — Whether claimant’s action against care provider for breach of duty to respond appropriately barred on grounds of illegality — Relevance of degree of claimant’s personal responsibility
The claimant, who had a history of paranoid schizophrenia, was discharged from hospital where she had been detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. She was placed on a community treatment order and lived in supported accommodation under the care of a community mental health team managed and operated by the defendant. She began to experience a relapse of her psychiatric condition and failed to attend scheduled appointments. Several days later she killed her mother by stabbing her. The claimant pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was ordered to be detained in a secure hospital. It was agreed that the stabbing would not have happened but for the defendant’s breaches of duty in failing to respond in an appropriate way to the claimant’s mental collapse. She brought an action against the defendant claiming general damages under various heads, special damages and future losses, and the defendant admitted liability. The preliminary issue arose whether some or all of the heads of claim were irrecoverable on the ground of illegality. The defendant argued that binding authority of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords compelled that outcome.
On the preliminary issue—
Held, claim dismissed. The claimant’s conviction was conclusive evidence that she was suffering from such abnormality of mental functioning that her mental responsibility was to be regarded as “substantially impaired” for the purposes of section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957. The correct interpretation of the sentencing judge’s remarks was that the claimant’s personal responsibility was less than significant. The reasoning of previous binding authority did not differentiate between cases of significant and less than significant personal responsibility. Gradations of personal responsibility were irrelevant. Previous authorities did not seek to quantify the claimant’s substantial impairment or to place him at any particular location along the notional spectrum. Rather, they followed a unitary or monist approach to the substantial impairment issue, not as one capable of differential factual evaluation. In any event, no express criticism had been made of previous binding authority. Therefore the court was bound by authority of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords and accordingly the claim was precluded on the ground of illegality (paras 14, 22, 28, 46, 63, 68, 89, 97).
Clunis v Camden and Islington Health AuthorityB, CA applied.
Gray v Thames Trains LtdB, HL(E) explained.
Nicholas Bowen QC and Katie Scott (instructed by Russell-Cooke LLP) for the claimant, by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.
Angus Moon QC, Judith Ayling and Cecily White (instructed by DAC Beachcroft LLP) for the defendant.
Reported by: Fraser Peh, Barrister