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Duty of Care: A review of the Dennis v Norwegian Refugee Council ruling and its implications

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21 September 2016

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Duty of Care: A review of the Dennis v Norwegian Refugee Council ruling and its implications

On 29 June 2012, Steve Dennis, an employee of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), was injured and kidnapped, along with three other colleagues, following an attack during a VIP visit to the IFO II refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Four days later the hostages were set free during an armed rescue operation carried out by Kenyan authorities and local militia. Three years later, Dennis submitted a claim at the Oslo District Court against his former employer, the NRC, for compensation for economic and non-economic loss following the kidnapping. The Court concluded that the NRC acted with gross negligence in relation to this incident and found the NRC to be liable for compensation towards Dennis.

The purpose of this paper (2016) is to reflect on the court case and what lessons can be drawn from the Court’s ruling for the international aid sector. In order to achieve this, the paper reviews the Court’s legal reasoning and highlights the interrelation between the ruling, the concept of legal duty of care and security risk management. The paper concludes by providing an overview of some of the wider implications this case has for the international aid sector.

About the authors:

Edward Kemp is a barrister practising from Littleton Chambers, a leading employment and commercial set of Chambers in London. Edward is recognised as a leading practitioner in employment law in the independent legal directories, the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. Edward specialises in employment cases with an international dimension. He studied for an LLB in English Law and French Law at King’s College London, a Maîtrise en Droit at Université de Paris I (La Sorbonne) and an LLM at University College London.

Maarten Merkelbach has more than 25 years experience in the humanitarian sector, i.e. with ICRC, the UN, research and training institutions. His areas of expertise include security risk management and duty of care (legal liability). He is regularly asked for advisory services and speaking engagements by government, non-profit organisations and at higher education programmes. He has degrees from the University of Illinois, the London School of Economics and the University of Amsterdam.

Previously, Ed and Maarten collaborated on ‘Can you get sued? Legal liability of international humanitarian aid organisations towards their staff‘, published in 2011.


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