Supreme Court to Rule on Child Abuse Claims against a Local Authority

Author:
Liam Goggin
Abuse Claims Solicitor
Date:
18/02/2019

If you were a victim of sexual, psychological or sexual abuse as a child, you may believe social workers were or should have been aware, and that more should have been done to remove you from this situation.

Our Child Abuse Solicitors have dealt with many cases of this nature, which are known as “failure to remove cases”. However, there’s recently been an extremely important case heard by the UK Supreme Court which will affect the ability of child abuse victims to bring abuse claims against a Local Authority.

For free legal advice get in touch with our Child Abuse Solicitors and we will help you. Ask about Legal Aid or if we can deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis.

Call us on 08002605010 or request a callback and we will help you.

What’s Happened?

The case revolves around two children; CN (who suffered from severe physical and learning difficulties) and GN. They allege, by way of their legal representatives, that the Local Authority failed to protect them from harm as children within the Council’s area.

The children were placed into local housing by Poole Council, and alleged that before the placement, the Council was aware there was a family who lived in nearby accommodation who engaged in persistently anti-social behaviour. This family repeatedly subjected the children and their mother to significant and serious harassment and abuse, causing one of the children to attempt suicide.

They brought claims against Poole Council for failing to remove them from the property. No viable action could be mounted against the Housing Authority, the Public Housing Project, or the police, despite their knowledge of the issues, due to the law on duty of care and breach of statutory duty.

The parties agreed there was no general duty on a Local Authority to protect people from antisocial behaviour. In addition, a Local Authority doesn’t owe a duty to protect a person from the actions of a third party, unless the Authority had assumed such a duty.

What the Court Said

When this case was heard initially by the High Court, it concluded that the case should be permitted to proceed in favour of the children. This was on the basis of a previous decision (D v East Berkshire) in which it was concluded that where a child was concerned, there may be factual circumstances in which it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty on a Local Authority.

However, the Council appealed this decision. The Court of Appeal then considered the issue of whether the case of D v East Berkshire Community NHS Trust [2004] QB 558 is correct and should continue to govern the position of Local Authorities and their duties to children living in their areas. They decided that it shouldn’t and made a decision in favour of the Council, stating that such a duty of care wasn’t reasonable in the circumstances.

The Court advised they were concerned of encouraging defensive decision-making within public services and that it would be unjust for a potential liability to exist on the part of the local social services authority when the housing department of the same Local Authority, the landlord and the police couldn’t be held liable, based on the current law.

What Does this Mean for Other Potential Abuse Claims?

Following this decision, it’s been argued by defendants that all ‘failure to remove’ cases can no longer proceed and should all fail, following the decision the Court of Appeal reached. However, the facts in CN aren’t those of a conventional ‘failure to remove case’. In CN, of course, the threat came not from within the household, but from outside it.

This case seems to be about the Council’s failure to acknowledge the behaviour of anti-social neighbours and the impact this behaviour was having on the children concerned. In addition, the Court considered whether the Council actually had a duty to act and move the children in these specific circumstances.

The duty of care owed by the Council to a housing tenant is not as obvious as the duty of care owed by the Local Authority to a child in their care. The Court were clearly sympathetic for the position the Local Authority found themselves in based on the claimant’s inability to be able to pursue a number of other public bodies.

Some legal practitioners believe this case and therefore the judgement is limited to the facts and circumstances of this case, which shouldn’t mean that all failure to remove abuse cases should fail.

This would be a complete injustice for children who suffer continued abuse due to the negligence of the Local Authority and their failure to remove those children.

An appeal has been allowed and since heard by the Supreme Court. A decision is expected imminently and we will report again on the judgement, outcome and what this means for the future of failure to remove cases against a Local Authority.

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