Over the past few years a number of children have brought damages claims against their local authorities for failing to take them into care, when it was plain they had been at risk within their own families.
Such cases are usually referred to as ‘failure to intervene’ or ‘failure to remove’ children known to be at risk.
Children already in care are also currently able to sue local authorities, and in one case, a child put through 40 different foster placements received compensation from the local authority.
However, what duty of care do local authorities owe children in their area to protect them from harm by third parties, and in situations where it is not parental neglect or harm at home which is the cause of suffering?
This is an area of law which set to come consideration in July of this year at the UK Supreme Court, when the claimants in the case of CN & GN v Poole Borough Council appeal a decision of the Court of Appeal.
It is a hearing which could have far-reaching consequences with regards to justice for children who are let down and exposed to harm by others.
Children were abused by another family having been rehomed by council
The Claimants in the case were two children (one of whom was severely disabled). They alleged that the defendant local authority had negligently failed to take appropriate and necessary steps to safeguard them.
They children were the target of prolonged abuse perpetrated by members of another family who lived on the estate on which they were housed by the defendant authority, between May 2006 and December 2011.
The local authority apologised for what happened to them, and so the two children brought a claim directly against the local authority.
However, as the law stands courts are very reluctant to say that a local authority owes a duty of care to people in this kind of position, and the claims were struck out.
Supreme Court decision must bring clarity over local authorities’ duty of care
The claims have risen through the courts right to where we now stand.
They were initially reinstated on appeal, but then the local authority went direct to the Court of Appeal which ruled this was a case where the local authority had no duty of care towards these unfortunate children.
The Claimants’ lawyers had tried to argue that under the Children Act 1989, the local authority should have done more for them, and they are now heading to the UK Supreme Court to fight it out.
The Supreme Court ruling, which should follow soon after the hearing, could have a big impact on claims in the future. It must bring clarity over the full extent of a local authority’s duty of care.
Given our work in acting for children in the care system at Hudgell Solicitors, it is a matter we will be watching closely, and a ruling we hope ensures the legal process of pursuing justice for children is not compromised in any way.