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Constitutional Roundtable: Alistair Price

November 29 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Asper Centre Constitutional Roundtable


Associate Professor in Law, University of Cape Town

“The Relationship between Constitutional and Tort Damages for State Failures to Protect in Canada, England, and South Africa”

 Moderated by:
Assistant Professor Richard Stacey
University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
12:30 – 2:00
Solarium (Room FA2), Falconer Hall
84 Queen’s Park

Canada, England, and South Africa face a similar challenge arising from their shared Diceyan heritage in public law. On the one hand, public bodies and officials in these jurisdictions are bound by the ordinary law of the land applied by ordinary courts, including the private law of tort. On the other hand, the state also owes positive obligations to provide a range of services and protections to members of the public that individuals do not bear, arising from constitutional and administrative law. Where the state breaches its distinctive responsibilities by failing to protect an individual, who as a result is harmed and seeks recompense, a question arises as to the proper law to apply. What then is the relationship between the state’s duties and liabilities in tort and constitutional law? The three legal systems under consideration have answered this question in subtly different ways. The English courts have been unwilling to adjust private law to take account of the state’s special duties. In tort law, public defendants are held to the same standards as private individuals, who are liable for omissions only exceptionally. State liability for breach of positive duties to protect human rights arises instead under the Human Rights Act 1998, where courts have a discretion to award compensation alongside declarations and other public-law remedies. South Africa, by contrast, has to a large extent fused private law and constitutional law in this context. Novel private law duties and liabilities may be grounded on the need to hold the state accountable for breaching positive constitutional duties. As a result, the standalone remedy of constitutional damages is comparatively underdeveloped. Canada, it appears to me, has avoided both extremes: the courts have developed a narrow range of uniquely public duties of care in tort while also recognising that constitutional damages may be just and appropriate to compensate loss, vindicate rights, or deter Charter violations where tort (and other) remedies are insufficient. These varying responses to a shared challenge bring the following issue into sharp focus: to what extent can and should tort law be instrumentalised to serve the social goals of constitutional law?


A light lunch will be provided.

For more information, please contact Nadia Gulezko at n.gulezko@utoronto.ca.



November 29
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm


Falconer Hall Solarium (room FA2)
84 Queen’s Park