Goats and sewerage

The Negligence Liability of Public Authorities. First Edition
May 26, 2006

This is a blockbuster book, approaching 1,000 pages, that tackles a vibrant field in the tort of negligence. The authors have ranged widely across jurisdictions, deploying contributions from their colleagues and a team of four research assistants to delve into every aspect of liability involving public authorities.

Public authorities have the advantage of well-funded legal advice, so the cases that are fought are fought hard. In a foreword, Lord Bingham, the senior Law Lord, describes the battleground of this "fiercely contested litigation" as the "Flanders of the law of tort".

The attempt to be comprehensive makes some passages hard going. The attention of some will no doubt flag at detailed passages on the duties of "sewerage undertakers" or the quarantining of goats, but all of human life is involved in central and local government. But there are many passages that are gripping about the "life and death" issues that confront so many in the public service and inevitably raise controversy: the agonising balance of whether to take children into care, the minefield of educational special-needs assessment and support; what are "reasonable steps" to take to prevent suicide; and in so many areas the setting of priorities for expenditure, balanced against limited resources and competing needs. This excellent analysis will be invaluable for the courts, for litigators and for others who contemplate the kaleidoscopic intricacies.

Perhaps inevitably some of the attendant publicity has attempted to portray this book, with its high-profile lead author, as a "way of helping claimants to milk public bodies for compensation". Such critics should dip into the book first, as it is clearly intended for both sides of any legal dispute. Indeed, as so many public bodies are developing excellent complaints procedures to avert some of the catastrophes of the past, the knowledge gained from such a book as this is likely to speed the mediation and settlement process, producing justice and cost-effectiveness. This book will be an indispensable tool for all involved in fighting or staving off negligence litigation involving public bodies. Vitally, it adds many thought-provoking possibilities on how we might better arrange matters in the public service.

Julian Fulbrook is dean of graduate studies, London School of Economics.

The Negligence Liability of Public Authorities. First Edition

Author - Cherie Booth and Dan Squires
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 944
Price - £145.00
ISBN - 0 19 926541 0

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