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We are pleased to announce the winners of the Tort Law Awards 2023 by 12KBW and Thomson Reuters, as selected by the final competition judge, The Honourable Mr Justice Cotter.

The title for this year’s competition was: “Is the distinction between acts and omissions in the law of negligence a useful one?”

Mr Justice Cotter said:

“The distinction between acts and omissions is enshrined in the common law both of England and Wales and of Scotland as a central principle as explained in numerous authorities such as Dorset Yacht , Smith v Littlewoods, Stovin v Wise, Mitchell v. Glasgow and N v Poole Borough Council. Liability in negligence is not imposed for what is sometimes described as a “mere” omission. Lord Reed’s re-phrasing of the distinction as one between causing harm (making things worse) and failing to confer a benefit (not making things better) to better convey the underlying rationale (which may be cast as political, moral or economic) has been recently adopted by Lord Leggat and Lady Rose in Paul v Royal Wolverhampton. It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will depart anytime soon from the approach that the law should not require a person who is doing nothing in particular to take steps to prevent another from suffering harm from the acts of third parties. However a persistent difficulty in applying the rule is that the conditions necessary to bring about an event very often consist of a combination of acts and omissions and it can be difficult to draw the distinction in borderline cases.

I have been privileged to judge between the essays of the three finalists. It has been a very hard task. Each produced an excellent, thought-provoking analysis of the utility of the distinction which argued for reform or modification or clarification. Each would have been a very worthy winner.”


See last year’s winners.