English multi-national not liable for conduct of Sierra Leone police.

 

Kalma & Ors v African Minerals Ltd & Ors is a case reported in this blog last March https://iistl.blog/2019/03/06/a-fair-cop-transnational-torts-and-trouble-at-the-mine/.

The claims arose out of violent police suppression of protests in 2010 and 2012 by a local community in Sierra Leone against a mine created and operated by the defendant, African Minerals Ltd (“AML”), a UK company, and its two Sierra Leonean subsidiaries. The protests prompted a significant overreaction from some members of the Sierra Leone Police (“SLP”) whose response to disruptive protests and threats against the personnel, property and business of AML soon degenerated into violent chaos during the course of which many villagers were variously beaten, shot, gassed, robbed, sexually assaulted, squalidly incarcerated and, in one case, killed. After an extensive review of the law of tort on vicarious liability, joint tortfeasors, direct liability for breach of a non-delegable duty Turner J found that AML were not liable in tort.

The Court of Appeal have now upheld the decision of Turner J, [2020] EWCA Civ 144. Coulson LJ, who gave the principal judgment, found as follows.

 

  1. The judge found that there was no relevant intention on the part of the respondents. The common design case therefore failed on both its required ingredients: assistance and intention.

 

  1. A new case was raised based on ‘inferred intention’. The appellants argued that could foresee that the SLP might use excessive force and that, by providing them with money, vehicles, and accommodation, they intended that the protests should be quashed, if need be by the use of unlawful force. In this way, he sought to infer the necessary intent, presumably as a way round the judge’s express findings that there was no actual intent on the part of the respondents. In addition, the appellants also suggested that the judge’s findings confused intent with desire: they argued that, although the respondents may not have wanted violence to be used, their intent could still be conditional (“to quash protest if need be by violent means”). The new case was held to be unsustainable. It took what were, on the judge’s findings, neutral acts of assistance to the SLP – the provision of money, vehicles and accommodation – and uses the foreseeability that (regardless of that assistance) the SLP might over-react to the unrest, in order to disregard the judge’s findings as to actual intent and found an entire case based on inferred, conditional intent. The new case was also based on foreseeability but on its own this was never enough to create a legal liability. To establish tortious liability for common design, there needs to be something more than the foreseeability that, in certain circumstances, a tort might be committed by a third party.

 

  1. As regards the creation of a duty of care by AML, this was a case where the underlying complaint was an omission: that the respondents had failed to protect the claimants from the harm caused by the SLP. Here the conclusion must be that the respondents were not carrying out any relevant activity, and the damage was not caused by anything which the respondents did. The case did not fall within the creation of danger exception. The respondents could not be said to have created the danger or assumed any liability simply because they had called in the SLP. The provision of money, vehicles and accommodation to the SLP did not create a danger, and, without them, the situation might have been even worse.

 

  1. There was no freestanding duty of care owed by AML. Applying the three stage criteria set out in Caparo there was no proximity. this was a case in which a large commercial concern called in the police of the host country to restore law and order in degenerating circumstances of lawlessness and unrest. The police overreacted but sadly that is not uncommon in cases of this sort. There are no unique factors here which would justify a finding of proximity. The relationship with the police was not a close one, but one based on necessity. Nor would it be fair, just or reasonable to impose a duty of care. The judge had expressly found that the respondents’ employees were not involved in the unlawful acts and did not encourage or incite those unlawful acts. The assistance they provided was reasonable and proportionate in all the circumstances and did not cause the alleged or any loss.

 

  1. The position was not changed by reference to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights produced by the United Nations which were general in nature and primarily concerned with the need for liaison with the local community and the like. Coulson LJ concluded [151]:

“More significantly, there is nothing in the Voluntary Principles which make companies operating abroad generally liable for the unlawful acts of the police forces of the host countries in which they are operating: on the contrary, the Voluntary Principles are drafted on the basis that, whilst companies operating abroad may properly help to facilitate the law and order expected to be provided by host countries, it is the governments of those countries (and not the companies) who have “the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights.”

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