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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 21, 2016

Rethinking Alcock in the New Media Age

  • Bela Bonita Chatterjee EMAIL logo


Whilst the English law of tort is generally favourable towards the psychiatric damage claims of primary victims, claims from secondary victims are treated in a much more restrictive manner. The leading case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police (Alcock) arising from the Hillsborough disaster establishes that amongst other things, secondary victims must overcome a number of control mechanisms in order to found a duty of care in negligence: There must be a close proximity of relationship with the immediate victim; and proximity in time, space and perception in relation to the shocking event. In relation to the means by which the shock is caused, the House of Lords in Alcock emphasised that perception was generally expected to be with one’s own unaided senses and that the viewing of a television broadcast of events would not normally suffice. However, the decades since the judgment have witnessed an explosion of new media platforms and technologies which have arguably transformed the dissemination of imagery. In light of this transformation, this article seeks to consider the implications of such technologies for the legal framework arising from Alcock, suggesting that the current approach fails to recognise the realities of the modern age in a number of ways. Looking to Australian jurisprudence as a basis for change, this article proposes how the law might be reformed to better reflect the contemporary world.


I thank Paula Giliker, Catherine Easton, Agata Fijalkowski, Jane Wright, John Murphy and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this article, and Lorna Pimperton for librarian assistance. Ideas in this article were previously explored at the University of Westminster Law and the Senses Conference 2013; my thanks to the organisers and audience for their feedback. Unless otherwise stated all URLs were last accessed 29 April 2016.

Published Online: 2016-12-21
Published in Print: 2016-12-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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