A Comparative Analysis of Vicarious Liability and Criminal Liability in Nigeria Criminal Law.


Often, individuals have been held liable for offence(s) committed by their associates. In corporate bodies like a business organisation, employers are being held liable for offences committed by their employees.

Vicarious liability imposes responsibility on a person on the basis of a special relationship. Let’s briefly examine its scope in the Nigeria Legal system.

What is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious Liability occurs when one is held liable for the actions of someone else, and assigns liability to a person who did not directly cause the harm in question.

This is a type of tort, this and principle implies a scenario where a person without fault becomes liable for the tort of another because of some pre-existing relationship under vicarious liability, the defendant need not be involved directly in the act instead, the defendant simply needs to be involved with the primary actor in a legally defined relationship.

Vicarious Liability Vis-à-vis Criminal Liability in the Nigeria Criminal Justice System.

Generally, the import of vicarious liability refers to one’s legal responsibility for the actions of another. It is a judicial taboo to import the doctrine of vicarious liability in the criminal law. Suffice to say, criminal liability is personal.

Criminal liability is when one is solely held liable for an offence he committed. This principle is paramount and essential to our criminal law.

It is trite and well settled principle of law that criminal liability is personal and ought not to be transferred. A person must not be liable for an offence committed by another on the basis of affinity or relationship. See the case of ACB V Okonkwo; Akpan V State and Section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice System (2015).

Most times, the police engage in erroneous and indiscriminate arrest in lieu of various individuals under the umbrella of accomplice liability. Though there are theories of vicarious liability which include criminal conspiracy, accomplice liability.

The import of vicarious liability in our legal system has dehumanized individuals, as the police assume an undignified posture in arresting and detaining innocent citizens.


Criminal responsibility is personal. This paper beckons the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to reform and restructure the system and ensure that there is an adequate prosecution before conviction of a suspect, which would reasonably balance the principle of criminal liability.

About the Author 

Okeke Chukwuemeka, is law student of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam Campus. He is an Avid writer, Law enthusiast and a legal researcher.

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