Accessory Liability and Common Design

Accessory Liability and Common Design

Do you need expert, incisive legal advice on matters relating to accessory liability? Award-winning maritime and shipping law firm ParisWhittaker is ready to advise.

If you are involved in the maritime and shipping industry, you will know only too well the importance of securing expert legal advice when difficulties arise. And when it comes to getting fast, effective help, you need lawyers you know you can trust.

At top Bahamas law firm ParrisWhittaker, our expert maritime and shipping lawyers have many years’ experience working with clients on all kinds of legal matters, including establishing liability where a tort has arisen at sea.

Accessory Liability and ‘Common Design’

A recent ruling in the UK Supreme Court has helped to shed light on the complex issue of accessory liability and the principle of ‘common design’. The case of Sea Shepherd UK v Fish & Fish Limited 2015 UKSC began in 2010, when a fish farm operator was transporting live Bluefin tuna. They were intercepted by divers from a campaign known as Operation Blue Rage, which aims to release captive fish back into the sea. The divers - who had been on the vessel the STEVE IRWIN - cut the cages holding the tuna, which consequently escaped.

Fish & Fish Ltd moved to sue Sea Shepherd UK (SSUK), a UK-based charity, and the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), together with an individual, Paul Watson. Fish & Fish Limited argued that SSUK was liable because it was the legal owner of the STEVE IRWIN, and because Paul Watson was a director of SSUK. At that time SSUK had only one employee, whose activities were largely awareness-raising based.

The trial judge rejected Fish & Fish Ltd’s arguments, finding that Paul Watson had been acting on behalf of SSCS (not SSUK), and that SSCS had not required SSUK’s authority to use the vessel for activities related to Operation Blue Rage.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed this judgment and held that SSUK had been part of a ‘common design in tort’, by partaking in activities which had furthered the acts in question (releasing the Bluefin tuna). It was then for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not SSUK was liable on the basis of ‘common design’.

Principles Arising From the Case

The Supreme Court’s majority ruling was that SSUK was not liable. In so ruling, the Court outlined some very useful principles regarding the doctrine of ‘common design’ as follows:

A defendant will be jointly liable for the tortious acts of the principal if the defendant:

  • acts in a way which furthers the commission of the act to a degree that is any greater than ‘de minimis’, and 
  • does so in pursuit of a common design to do/secure the acts which constitute the tort

This test helps to establish the proportion of a defendant’s contribution towards an act – and therefore the proportion of their liability.

How Can We Help?

The law surrounding accessory liability and common design is complex – and even more so when it comes to the shipping and maritime industry. If you encounter any legal issues relating to liability or any other matter, it is essential to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. The award-winning maritime lawyers at ParrisWhittaker are ready to begin acting on your behalf.