Supreme Court rules councils can be sued for failing to protect young people

6 Jun 19

A landmark ruling has left local authorities open to legal action for failure to protect vulnerable children against abuse or neglect.

A Supreme Court ruling announced today means a council is liable to be sued regardless of whether a vulnerable child is in the authority’s care or not.

This overruled a previous Court of Appeal decision that found Poole Borough Council was not at fault in the case of a mother and her two children - one of which is severely disabled – being subject to abuse from their neighbours.

The family had said they suffered physical and psychological harm and wanted the council to rehoused them away from their neighbours. They claimed the local authority had a “duty of care” under the Children Act 1989. The claim was initially rejected by a court ruling in 2015.

The family also sought to claim damages from the council as compensation, but this was rejected by the court as judges agreed it could not be said “that the claimants and their mother had entrusted their safety to the council, or that the council had accepted that responsibility”.

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights campaign group Article 39, who intervened in the case, said: “We are incredibly relieved that Supreme Court has reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm.”

David Graham, national director of the Care Leavers’ Association, which also intervened, said: “A court ruling that a local authority had a duty of care and acted negligently can give care leavers a real sense of justice and vindication, as well as financial compensation for harm that should never have happened.

“We hope the courts will now quickly deal with the backlog of cases from adults who were filed as children.”  

Analysis of the judgment by law firm Doughty Street Chambers said the ruling will provide “protection for victims and clarity for local authorities”.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is welcome news that the Supreme Court has reinstated the right of children to bring negligence claims when they have been failed by services that are meant to protect them.

“It is absolutely right that vulnerable children are able to seek redress and compensation if they have been badly let down.”

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association said: “Looking after and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important challenges that councils tackle every day, making sure they have the care, support and stability they deserve.

“We will consider today’s ruling carefully to assess any implications for local authorities.”

Graham Farrant, chief executive at Poole Borough Council, said: “We are satisfied with the outcome of the hearing and the judgement handed down.”

The ruling comes as a review uncovered failure of children’s services in Northamptonshire in the run up to the death of two toddlers.

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