Reffel v Surrey County Council [1964] 1 All ER 743

Personal injury and the duty to ensure the safety of the occupants of a school.


A 12-year-old female student at a grammar school was injured while, walking down a corridor towards the cloakroom, the cloakroom’s glass doors swung towards her. The girl had extended her hand towards the swinging door, causing her hand to go through and break the glass, and thus sustain injury. No previous injury had occurred at the site of that door. However, the local education authority’s area had previously had (11) reported incidents involving students injured by broken glass.


The issue arose as to whether the local education authority was liable for (1) breach of a statutory duty to secure the safety of the school under Section 10 of the Education Act 1944, particularly as to whether this duty was an absolute duty; as well as, (2) tortious liability for negligence at common law.


Firstly, the Court held that the duty to secure the safety of the school premises under Section 10 of the Education Act is an absolute duty and to which an objective test applies. It was held that the the thickness of the glass of the cloakroom door, at its height, was not safe in lieu of relevant regulations, and, thus, safety was not objectively assured by the local authority. Secondly, as to the liability of the local authority at common law, it was held that the authorities owed the occupants of the premises a “duty of care” under Section 2(2) of the Occupiers Liability Act, and that injury due to the thickness of the glass was a real and foreseeable risk of which the authority was negligent. Accordingly, the local education authorities were held liable for the injury to the claimant under both statutory duty and common law.

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