Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if the suffering of psychiatric injury by the parent was a foreseeable result of making it and such injury has in fact been suffered by the parent.
Held: The appeals were dismissed. The doctors had a duty to question whether abuse had occurred, and having honestly formed a suspicion, to act in accordance with the guidance given. The complaint was in substance as to the length of time taken to clear the parent of the false accusation.
health care and childcare professionals investigating allegations of child abuse did not owe a duty of care to the parents of the children concerned.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill (dissenting) said: ‘It could not now be plausibly argued that a common law duty of care may not be owed by a publicly-employed healthcare professional to a child with whom the professional is dealing. The fundamental complaint in each case was the absolute terms of the diagnosis made and ‘a negligent failure to investigate, test, explore, check and verify.”
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead said: ‘identifying the parameters of an expanding law of negligence is proving difficult, especially in fields involving the discharge of statutory functions by public authorities.’ and ‘Abandonment of the concept of a duty of care in English law, unless replaced by a control mechanism which recognises this limitation, is unlikely to clarify the law. That control mechanism has yet to be identified. And introducing this protracted period of uncertainty is unnecessary, because claims may now be brought directly against public authorities in respect of breaches of Convention rights.’
Lord Nicholls explained that conflict of interest was a persuasive factor here. When considering whether a child has been abused, a doctor should be able to act single-mindedly in the interests of the child and he ought not to have at the back of his mind an awareness that if his doubts about intentional injury or sexual abuse were to prove unfounded he might be exposed to claims by a distressed parent: ‘At that time [when a doctor is carrying out his investigation] the doctor does not know whether there has been abuse by the parent. But he knows that when he is considering this possibility the interests of parent and child are diametrically opposed. The interests of the child are that the doctor should report any suspicions he may have and that he should carry out further investigation in consultation with other child care professionals. The interests of the parent do not favour either of these steps. This difference of interest in the outcome is an unsatisfactory basis for imposing a duty of care on a doctor in favour of a parent.’
Orse D v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Steyn, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
 UKHL 23,  2 AC 373, Times 22-Apr-2005,  2 WLR 993
Bailii, House of Lords
European Convention on Human Rights
England and Wales
Cited – Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman and others HL 8-Feb-1990
Limitation of Loss from Negligent Mis-statement
The plaintiffs sought damages from accountants for negligence. They had acquired shares in a target company and, relying upon the published and audited accounts which overstated the company’s earnings, they purchased further shares.
Held: The . .
Appeal from – JD, MAK and RK, RK and Another v East Berkshire Community Health, Dewsbury Health Care NHS Trust and Kirklees Metropolitan Council, Oldham NHS Trust and Dr Blumenthal CA 31-Jul-2003
Damages were sought by parents for psychological harm against health authorities for the wrongful diagnosis of differing forms of child abuse. They appealed dismissal of their awards on the grounds that it was not ‘fair just and reasonable’ to . .
Cited – X (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council; M (A Minor) and Another v Newham London Borough Council; Etc HL 29-Jun-1995
Liability in Damages on Statute Breach to be Clear
Damages were to be awarded against a Local Authority for breach of statutory duty in a care case only if the statute was clear that damages were capable of being awarded. in the ordinary case a breach of statutory duty does not, by itself, give rise . .
Cited – Z And Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 10-May-2001
Four children complained that, for years before they were taken into care by the local authority, its social services department was well aware that they were living in filthy conditions and suffering ‘appalling’ neglect in the home of their . .
Cited – Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire HL 28-Apr-1987
No General ty of Care Owed by Police
The mother of a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper claimed in negligence against the police alleging that they had failed to satisfy their duty to exercise all reasonable care and skill to apprehend the perpetrator of the murders and to protect members . .
Cited – TP And KM v The United Kingdom ECHR 10-May-2001
The Grand Chamber found a violation of Articles 8 and 13 and awarded each applicant GBP 10,000 in respect of a separation which lasted a year. Article 8 imposes positive obligations of disclosure on a local authority involved in care proceedings: . .
Cited – Osman v The United Kingdom ECHR 28-Oct-1998
Police’s Complete Immunity was Too Wide
(Grand Chamber) A male teacher developed an obsession with a male pupil. He changed his name by deed poll to the pupil’s surname. He was required to teach at another school. The pupil’s family’s property was subjected to numerous acts of vandalism, . .
Cited – DS RL v Gloucestershire County Council and London Borough of Tower Hamlets and London Borough of Havering CA 14-Mar-2000
The court considered and restated the criteria for liability set out in X (Minors). . .
Cited – Barrett v London Borough of Enfield HL 17-Jun-1999
The claimant had spent his childhood in foster care, and now claimed damages against a local authority for decisions made and not made during that period. The judge’s decision to strike out the claim had been upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Cited – Waters v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis HL 27-Jul-2000
A policewoman, having made a complaint of serious sexual assault against a fellow officer complained again that the Commissioner had failed to protect her against retaliatory assaults. Her claim was struck out, but restored on appeal.
Held: . .
Cited – A and Another v Essex County Council CA 17-Dec-2003
The claimant sought damages. The respondent had acted as an adoption agency but had failed to disclose all relevant information about the child.
Held: Any such duty extended only during the period where the child was with the prospective . .
Cited – A, B v Essex County Council QBD 18-Dec-2002
The applicants sought damages after they had had placed with them for adoption a child who proved to be destructively hyperactive.
Held: The authority might be liable where they failed to disclose to adoptive parents known characteristics of a . .
Cited – Phelps v Hillingdon London Borough Council; Anderton v Clwyd County Council; Gower v Bromley London Borough Council; Jarvis v Hampshire County Council HL 28-Jul-2000
The plaintiffs each complained of negligent decisions in his or her education made by the defendant local authorities. In three of them the Court of Appeal had struck out the plaintiff’s claim and in only one had it been allowed to proceed.
Cited – Spring v Guardian Assurance Plc and Others HL 7-Jul-1994
The plaintiff, who worked in financial services, complained of the terms of the reference given by his former employer. Having spoken of his behaviour towards members of the team, it went on: ‘his former superior has further stated he is a man of . .
Cited – E and Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 26-Nov-2002
The four applicants had been abused by their stepfather, and sought investigation of the local authority for failing to protect them. They had been compensated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in part, but now sought a remedy from the . .
Cited – L (Minor), P (Father) v Reading Borough Council Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police CA 12-Mar-2001
A social worker and police officer interviewed a child and father on allegations of sexual abuse made by the mother. No criminal proceedings followed, but the father alleged that the misrepresentation of the interviews by the officer and social . .
Cited – Sutherland Shire Council v Heyman 4-Jul-1985
(High Court of Australia) The court considered a possible extension of the law of negligence.
Brennan J said: ‘the law should develop novel categories of negligence incrementally and by analogy with established categories. ‘
Dean J said: . .
Cited – CLT v Connon and Others 8-May-2000
Austlii (Supreme Court of South Australia) The father, the appellant, was accused of sexually abusing his three children. He sued for damages alleging negligence on the part of the medical practitioners who . .
Cited – B v United Kingdom ECHR 1987
A local authority considering taking action in respect of a child must consider also the views and opinions of the parents. . .
Cited – Venema v The Netherlands ECHR 17-Dec-2002
A young child aged 11 months was separated from her mother because of fears that the mother was suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and would injure her. The child was returned five months later, following medical reports which found that . .
Cited – P, C And S v The United Kingdom ECHR 16-Jul-2002
The applicants challenged the way in which their newborn children had been removed by the state after birth. S had not had the opportunity of legal representation, after her lawyers had withdrawn. The removal of S’s child was challenged as . .
Cited – Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) FD 2002
The court emphasised the need, in the interests not merely of the parent but also of the child, of a transparently fair and open procedure at all stages of the care process, including the making of documents openly available to parents.
Munby . .
Cited – W v United Kingdom ECHR 1987
A local authority must, in reaching decisions on children in care, take account of the views and interests of the natural parents, which called for a degree of protection. In the context of care proceedings, public authorities may not be required to . .
Cited – Elsholz v Germany ECHR 13-Jul-2000
A violation of article 8 was found when access to his child was denied to an innocent father. . .
Cited – McMichael v United Kingdom ECHR 2-Mar-1995
In the course of care proceedings, medical and social services’ reports were disclosed to the courts, but not to the parents involved.
Held: The courts’ failure to show reports to the parents in care proceedings was a breach of the Convention. . .
Cited – Everett v Griffiths HL 1921
The plaintiff had been committed to a mental hospital. The question was whether the doctor (Anklesaria) who signed the certificate to support his committal was liable to him in negligence.
Held: The House affirmed the judgment of the Court of . .
Cited – Everett v Griffiths CA 1920
The plaintiff, who had been detained as a lunatic as the result of the decision of Griffiths, a Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the Board of Guardians in reliance on a medical certificate signed by Anklesaria, a Doctor, sued them both in . .
Cited – Kapfunde v Abbey National Plc and Dr Daniel and Another CA 25-Mar-1998
A Doctor employed by a potential employer to report on the health of applicants for employment, owed no duty of care to those applicants. . .
Cited – Smith v Eric S Bush, a firm etc HL 20-Apr-1989
In Smith, the lender instructed a valuer who knew that the buyer and mortgagee were likely to rely on his valuation alone. The valuer said his terms excluded responsibility. The mortgagor had paid an inspection fee to the building society and . .
Cited – Ross v Caunters (a firm) ChD 1979
The court upheld a finding of negligence against a firm of solicitors for failing to ensure the correct attestation of a will, and also the award of damages in favour of a disappointed beneficiary.
A solicitor owes a duty of care to the party . .
Cited – Sidaway v Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital HL 21-Feb-1985
The plaintiff alleged negligence in the failure by a surgeon to disclose or explain to her the risks inherent in the operation which he had advised.
Held: The appeal failed. A mentally competent patient has an absolute right to refuse to . .
Cited – Gartside v Sheffield Young and Ellis 1983
(New Zealand) The court discussed the potential liability of a solicitor having failed to prepare an effective will: ‘To deny an effective remedy in a plain case would seem to imply a refusal to acknowledge the solicitor’s professional role in the . .
Cited – Re N CA 20-May-1999
The claimant was a victim of a rape. She alleged that the police had mishandled the prosecution, resulting in the dismissal of the charges against the defendant, which in turn, she said exacerbated her own post traumatic stress disorder.
Held: . .
Cited – Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority and Department of Health and Social Security HL 17-Oct-1985
Lawfulness of Contraceptive advice for Girls
The claimant had young daughters. She challenged advice given to doctors by the second respondent allowing them to give contraceptive advice to girls under 16, and the right of the first defendant to act upon that advice. She objected that the . .
Cited – B and others v Attorney General and others PC 16-Jul-2003
(New Zealand) Children were removed from their home. The father was interviewed for suspected child abuse, but no charges were laid. He sought damages in negligence for the way the matter had been handled. Children whose allegations against adopted . .
Cited – Sullivan v Moody 11-Oct-2001
(High Court of Australia) A medical practitioner who examines and reports on the condition of an individual may owe a duty to more than one person: ‘The duty for which the [appellant fathers] contend cannot be reconciled satisfactorily, either with . .
Cited – In Re A (Minors) (Conjoined Twins: Medical Treatment); aka In re A (Children) (Conjoined Twins: Surgical Separation) CA 22-Sep-2000
Twins were conjoined (Siamese). Medically, both could not survive, and one was dependent upon the vital organs of the other. Doctors applied for permission to separate the twins which would be followed by the inevitable death of one of them. The . .
Cited – Attorney-General v Prince and Gardner 1998
(New Zealand Court of Appeal) Claims in negligence were made by the natural mother of a child who had been adopted, and also by the child, now an adult, complaining of the process followed in the adoption and also of failure to investigate a . .
Cited – James Mcgregor Fairlie v Perth and Kinross Healthcare NHS Trust IHCS 8-Jul-2004
A claim for damages might perhaps have been pleaded under article 8 of the European Convention, but since the pursuer’s claim was in effect for loss of reputation, the claim in negligence was bound to fail even if the judge had not held, as he did . .
Cited – Best v Samuel Fox and Co Ltd 1952
The court considered liability for injury to secondary victims. Lord Morton of Henryton: ‘it has never been the law of England that an invitor, who has negligently but unintentionally injured an invitee, is liable to compensate other persons who . .
Cited – Marc Rich and Co Ag and Others v Bishop Rock Marine Co Ltd and Others HL 6-Jul-1995
A surveyor acting on behalf of the classification society had recommended that after repairs specified by him had been carried out a vessel, the Nicholas H, should be allowed to proceed. It was lost at sea.
Held: The marine classification . .
Cited – Dick v Burgh of Falkirk HL 1976
Their lordships were prepared to contemplate the idea of a defender owing a common law duty of care to the victim’s relatives. . .
Cited – Robertson v Turnbull HL 1982
Cited – White and Another v Jones and Another HL 16-Feb-1995
Will Drafter liable in Negligence to Beneficiary
A solicitor drawing a will may be liable in negligence to a potential beneficiary, having unduly delayed in the drawing of the will. The Hedley Byrne principle was ‘founded upon an assumption of responsibility.’ Obligations may occasionally arise . .
Cited – North Glamorgan NHS Trust v Walters CA 6-Dec-2002
A new mother woke in hospital to see her baby (E) fitting. E suffered a major epileptic seizure leading to coma and irreparable brain damage. E was transferred to a London hospital and the following day the claimant was told by a consultant that E’s . .
Cited – Tredget and Tredget v Bexley Health Authority 1994
(Central London County Court) As a result of the defendant hospital’s negligent management of Mrs Tredget’s labour, her baby was born in a severely asphyxiated state and died two days later. The actual birth of the child with its ‘chaos’ or . .
Cited – McLoughlin v O’Brian HL 6-May-1982
The plaintiff was the mother of a child who died in an horrific accident, in which her husband and two other children were also injured. She was at home at the time of the accident, but went to the hospital immediately when she had heard what had . .
Cited – Alcock and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police HL 28-Nov-1991
The plaintiffs sought damages for nervous shock. They had watched on television, as their relatives and friends, 96 in all, died at a football match, for the safety of which the defendants were responsible. The defendant police service had not . .
Cited – Brooks v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and others HL 21-Apr-2005
The claimant was with Stephen Lawrence when they were both attacked and Mr Lawrence killed. He claimed damages for the negligent way the police had dealt with his case, and particularly said that they had failed to assess him as a victim of crime, . .
Cited – AD and OH (A Child) v Bury Metropolitan Borough Council CA 17-Jan-2006
The claimants, mother and son, sought damages from the respondent after they had commenced care proceedings resulting in the son being taken into temporary care. The authority had wrongly suspected abuse. The boy was later found to suffer brittle . .
Cited – Watkins v Home Office and others HL 29-Mar-2006
The claimant complained of misfeasance in public office by the prisons for having opened and read protected correspondence whilst he was in prison. The respondent argued that he had suffered no loss. The judge had found that bad faith was . .
Cited – Lawrence v Pembrokeshire County Council CA 15-May-2007
The claimant complained of the negligence of the defendant council’s social worker’s in putting her four children into care. The Ombudsman had found the council guilty of maladministration and had awarded her andpound;5,000 for distress.
Held: . .
Cited – Rowley and others v Secretary of State for Department of Work and Pensions CA 19-Jun-2007
The claimants sought damages for alleged negligence of the defendant in the administration of the Child Support system.
Held: The defendant in administering the statutory system owed no direct duty of care to those affected: ‘a common law duty . .
Cited – Pierce v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council QBD 13-Dec-2007
The claimant sought damages, saying that the local authority had failed to protect him when he was a child against abuse by his parents.
Held: The claimant had been known to the authority since he was a young child, and they owed him a duty of . .
Cited – Mitchell and Another v Glasgow City Council HL 18-Feb-2009
(Scotland) The pursuers were the widow and daughter of a tenant of the respondent who had been violently killed by his neighbour. They said that the respondent, knowing of the neighbour’s violent behaviours had a duty of care to the deceased and . .
Appeal from – MAK and RK v The United Kingdom ECHR 23-Mar-2010
When RK, a nine year old girl was taken to hospital, with bruises, the paediatrician wrongly suspecting sexual abuse, took blood samples and intimate photographs in the absence of the parents and without their consent.
Held: The doctor had . .
Cited – James-Bowen and Others v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis SC 25-Jul-2018
The Court was asked whether the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (‘the Commissioner’) owes a duty to her officers, in the conduct of proceedings against her based on their alleged misconduct, to take reasonable care to protect them from . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Human Rights, Health Professions, Negligence
Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.224322