Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co. Ltd [1970]

  • Created by: channyx
  • Created on: 21-03-20 20:49


A party of young offenders, known as Borstal trainees, were working on an island in Poole Harbour as part of their rehabilitation. They were under the supervision of Borstal officers employed by the Home Office. In breach of their instructions, these officers went to bed and left the trainees to their own devices. During the night, seven of them escaped on a boat. They all had criminal records and five of them had a record of escaping from previous Borstal institutions. In the course of their escape the Borstal trainees collided with a yacht owned by the Dorset Yacht Company. They then vandalized the yacht, damaging it further. A claim was brought in negligence by the Dorset Yacht Company for the damage to their property and the House of Lords had to determine the preliminary issue of whether the Home Office owed a duty of care in these circumstances.


The Home Office lost their case in the House of Lords. The majority (Viscount Dilhorne dissenting) held that the Borstal officers owed the claimants a duty to take reasonable care to prevent the Borstal trainees under their care from causing damage to the claimant’s property.

Although the general rule is that a defendant will not owe a duty of care to prevent a third party from causing damage to a claimant, this case fell, according to Lord Pearson, ‘under the exception and not the rule’. The reason for this was that there was a special relationship between the defendants and the Borstal trainees as the


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