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The State is responsible for the behaviour of MPs

28/12/2012

 

Mr Orkopoulous was a member of the NSW Parliament.  One of his electoral staff complained that he had bullied, victimised and harassed her.  He was a Minister of the Crown at the time.  She alleged his behaviour had caused her psychiatric harm which totally incapacitated her.  Mr Orkopoulos did not defend the claim.  Although the Court gave judgement against her employer (the Office of the Speaker) for failing to provide her with a safe workplace, the State was held not to be vicariously liable for Mr Orkopoulos’ behaviours, 

The State argued that the Speaker, not Cabinet, managed staff and support for MPs.  In that case, the State pointed out that it had no control over the workplace in an electoral office.

The Court of Appeal substituted a verdict against the State.  Basten JA believed that MPs act “in the service of the Crown”within the meaning of the Law Reform (Vicarious Liability) Act 1983.  The State was vicariously liable for their actions to such an extent as to effectively amount to strict liability. He recognised that such an approach would also make the State vicariously liable for the acts of the judiciary.

Macfarlan JA held that the Executive had delegated control over minor parliamentary staff to the Speaker who, in turn, had allowed Mr Orkopoulos that exercise that control.  The Crown (as it subsisted in the executive branch of government) was therefore responsible for the way Mr Orkopoulos exercised that control.

Meagher JA (dissenting) accepted that the Executive was unable to control the way in which MPs conducted themselves and should not be vicariously liable for their civil wrongs.

See the full text of the Court of Appeals reasons in Sneddon v State of New South Wales & Ors [2012] NSWCA

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