Scottish multi-party action being raised against Celtic Football Club

Multi-party, or group, litigation is being issued in Scotland against Celtic FC in respect of the non-recent abuse of children at Celtic Boys Club. This litigation is likely to bring into sharp focus the question of whether there was a sufficient institutional connection between the main football club and the boys club for liability for the actions of certain adults at the boys club to attach to the main club. In law and as expressed by Lady Hale in the United Kingdom Supreme Court case of Barclays Bank plc v Various Claimants, 1 April 2020, one of the key questions will be whether there was a relationship between main club and the abusers at the boys club “which makes it proper for the law to make one pay for the fault of the other.” Traditionally the law confined such relationships to those of employer and employee but the law has developed to also now allow liability to attach under the doctrine of vicarious liability where the relationship is one sufficiently akin to employment. Though decided in the English Court of Appeal, the recent judgment in Blackpool FC Ltd v DSN [2021] EWCA Civ 1352 is likely to be considered in the current Celtic litigation. In the Blackpool case, the Court of Appeal held that the relationship between the football club and a man who ran an unofficial feeder club was insufficient for vicarious liability, in part because the football club did not exert control over the man’s activities. The Blackpool case is more fully analysed is our blog here.  

Group litigation – sometimes known as collective redress, multi-party or class actions – has been enabled in Scotland from 31 July 2020. Scottish group proceedings are only competent at the Court of Session and may proceed only with the permission of a judge on an application by a “representative party”. Under the opt-in model used for Scottish group proceedings, the court’s decision in a particular collective case will extend only to those individuals who have subscribed to the group proceedings action. A positive outcome for a representative party in a group action will not be able to be relied upon by anyone who did not opt-in. Non-subscribers will not be bound to accept a settlement from the defender and could raise their own claim.

Those representing the claimants in these proceedings have indicated that more than 20 claimants are presently involved though a public notice is being issued which may increase this number.

David Milton, Partner and Fiona McEwan, Associate at BLM

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