Court of Appeal judicial

Although there have been judicial hints of its distaste of the principles laid down in Alcock, there has not been any concrete attempt of clarifying the principles in a more coherent and morally defensible manner. Instead, it could be argued that there have been judicial attempts on further consolidating its judicial discretion in order to limit floodgates and to gain flexibility according to the individual facts of each case.

Examples of this can be found in Galli-Atkinson v Seghal28. This is the case in which the claimant went to the mortuary after being told at the scene of the accident that her daughter was killed. This Court of Appeal had held that this constituted an uninterrupted sequence of events that the interpretation of the accident's immediate aftermath would extend to the moment at which the claimant had left the mortuary.

It is interesting to compare this interpretation to that of Alcock where the relatives had travelled to Sheffield to search for their loved ones and subsequently visiting the temporary mortuary established was not entitled to invoke the aftermath doctrine. Hence, it could be argued that the courts have purposely left the principles governing psychiatric injuries open in order to deal with individual cases after considering the number of possible claimants that may arise from each incident.

It should briefly be noted that there have been other attempts for reforming the principles governing psychiatric harm. The most notable legislative attempt was the Law Commission's 'Liability for Psychiatric Illness' Report in 1998. They recommended that the proximity requirements to the scene of the accident and the manner by which he/she learns of it should not be used as criteria to restrict their claim so long as it was reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff might suffer psychiatric illness from the defendant's negligence.

It also recommended the abandonment of the requirement that the psychiatric illness be shock-induced. Despite the limited extension of psychiatric liability proposed, they were rejected in 2007 by the Department of Constitutional Affairs Consultation paper and the 2009 Ministry of Justice report where they had preferred to allow courts to continue to develop the law. Conclusion

This essay has first outlined the principles governing psychiatric injuries as laid down in Alcock before examining the criticisms and problems that have been caused by the primary/secondary victim classification. Judicial attempts at reforming these principles were then examined, highlighting that many have been reluctant or perhaps incapable of clarifying the principles governing liability for psychiatric illness in a more coherent and morally defensible manner.

The fear of floodgates and the desirability of leaving a flexible framework seemed attractive in order to grant courts control over psychiatric claims. However, as increasing concerns with the rigid legal principles of psychiatric injuries leading to arbitrary decisions29, coupled with increased medical knowledge of other causes of psychiatric illness (such as stress from employment and other non-accidental cases), both the judiciary and the legislature must ensure that cases are being treated fairly and attempt to ensure legal certainty.

As several judges have hinted, 'court-led reform is a remote prospect and ill-suited to producing a coherent, comprehensive framework'30 and the legislature should, therefore, re-consider implementing statutory reform. In conclusion, there were no judicial attempts to actively clarify the psychiatric principles. However, it could be argued that the case law have definitely clarified their stance in that they cannot reverse the Alcock principles and will consider the facts of individual cases before coming to a conclusion on whether the claimant is entitled to damages.

Word Count (excluding header and footnotes) = 1,975 1 Lord Hoffmann in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1998] 3 WLR 1509; [1999] 2 AC 455 2 Harvey Teff, Chapter 'No more 'Shock, Horror'? The Declining Significance of 'Sudden Shock' and the 'Horrifying Event' in Psychiatric Injury Claims' in Sheila McLean, 'First do no Harm' 2006 3 Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 AC 310 4 Lord Steyn in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1998] 3 WLR 1509; [1999] 2 AC 455 5 [1992] 1 AC 310