At the end of November, the University of Sussex hosted the annual Intervarsity Mooting Finals. Our Sussex Junior Mooting Competition 2019 winners competed against two fellow Brighton students judged by an all-female panel – notably for the first time in the history of the Intervarsity Moot (HHJ Shani Barnes, HHJ Janet Waddicor, and barrister Kate Richmond).
The Moot room was at full capacity; filled with avid supporters of those competing – from students to professors. Thomas Rylatt and Ritu Singh (Sussex) were for the appellants, Natasha Charlesworth & Paige Macrae (Brighton) were the respondents in the hypothetical case of Simpson v Tortshire Fire and Rescue Service in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).
In the case, a fire broke out at a block of flats where sixteen-year old Miss Simpson was trapped in a top-floor flat. Due to an administrative error, the police officers at the scene were waiting for the fire brigade to arrive shortly – only to realise forty minutes later the fire engines were sent to the wrong address. By then it was too late to save the girl who had been overcome by smoke fumes. It is not in dispute that the girl’s life could have been saved if the fire engines had arrived within ten or fifteen minutes which it should have taken to reach the scene of the fire.
A tort claim for bereavement damages was brought against the fire service by the dead girl’s mother. At first instance, it was held that the fire service owed a duty of care to the deceased. Below are the arguments made by the competitors in regards to the grounds of appeal (formal citations dispensed):
|Lead Appellant – Ritu |
a) Capital & Counties plc v Hampshire County Council  QB, which denied any duty of care in respect of mere omissions, was of general application and not restricted to cases of property damage.
|Junior Appellant – Thomas |
b) Kent v Griffiths  QB 36 was based on the special healthcare responsibilities of the ambulance service and had no application to other emergency services.
|1) Justice Robusta erred in his reading of Capital & Counties v Hampshire CC |
2) On application of the general principles of negligence, there was no duty of care owed by Tortshire Fire and Rescue Service – using Robinson  and Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales Police  as the authorities.
3) Miss Simpson did not rely to her detriment on any assurance by the fire service and therefore no liability arose – Sherratt v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police 
|1) The principle enunciated in Griffiths was isolated to the ambulance service, as it pertains to a duty of care exclusive to the healthcare service Socrates – Alexandrou v Kenneth Gordon Oxford  |
2) The public policy consequences of finding a duty of care would impose an unduly onerous burden on the fire services – Hill Appellant v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Respondent  Stovin v Wise 
|Lead Respondent – Paige |
a) A duty of care is owed to Miss Simpson, and the clear risk of death or serious injury distinguishes the present case from Capital & Counties plc v Hampshire CC in which the matter was related to property damage.
|Junior Respondent – Natascha |
b) The facts between the present case and Kent v Griffiths are similar, the duty of care imposed on the ambulance service and its application to other public services.
|1) Duty of Care |
i) The present case takes the incremental approach to establish a duty of care – Robinson ii) There was representation and reliance on the information given by the Fire Services. Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales Police
iii) The Fire Services are liable for nonfeasance due to performing a positive act. Stovin v Wise
2) Property Damage
i) The instant case can be distinguished from the leading authority. Alexandrou v Oxford
ii) The disparity between physical harm and property damage in relation to liability was supported. Michael and others (FC) v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and another
|1) The Fire Service owed a responsibility a) The Fire Service had assumed responsibility for Miss Simpson’s welfare because of the 999 call handler’s assurances the Fire engines would arrive to incident. Sherratt v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police|
2) The public policy consequences of finding a duty of care would impose an unduly onerous burden on the fire services – Hill Appellant v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and Stovin v Wise
3) Proximity has been established
a) There was a sufficient degree of proximity between the Fire Service and the deceased which created the relationship upon which the duty could arise. Kent v Griffiths
b) Where proximity can be proved, damages may be awarded for negligence. Michael and others
Both teams presented their arguments incredibly well with organised bundles – Thomas’ and Ritu’s calm disposition were commended by the judges and their perseverance with their tough questions paid off as they came out as the winning side. Thomas was announced as the individual winner of the moots for his eloquence and I asked what advice could he give to those who are thinking about joining mooting next year:
“ Typically by the end of first year you’re left with two types of students; the ones who took part in mooting and the ones who wish they had. In my experience a law degree is heavy on theory and text, but when supplemented with mooting experience you gain a practical insight into how the information in your lectures and seminars is actually employed in a courtroom. After judging this past year’s Junior Moot, I have seen the progression of a slew of students arrive as timid beginners and finish first year as assured, eager and impressive legal minds. Mooting is the most worthwhile extra-curricular activity a law student can get stuck into, not only to begin cultivating the qualities of a good advocate, but to give you the experience, confidence and new friendships that enrich student life outside the lecture theatre!”
Hopefully this blog post inspires you to join mooting next year – I couldn’t agree more with Tom, applying what you have learned at lectures in a practical sense solidifies your knowledge – an essential skill for prospective lawyers.
Written by Rebecca Preen, year 2 LLB student