This appeal is concerned with the liability of a local authority for what is alleged to have been a negligent failure to exercise its social services functions so as to protect children from harm caused by third parties. The principal question of law which it raises is whether a local authority or its employees may owe a common law duty of care to children affected by the manner in which it exercises or fails to exercise those functions, and if so, in what circumstances.
Held: ‘ I would therefore conclude, like the Court of Appeal but for different reasons, that the particulars of claim do not set out an arguable claim that the council owed the claimants a duty of care. Although X (Minors) v Bedfordshire cannot now be understood as laying down a rule that local authorities do not under any circumstances owe a duty of care to children in relation to the performance of their social services functions, as the Court of Appeal rightly held in D v East Berkshire, the particulars of claim in this case do not lay a foundation for establishing circumstances in which such a duty might exist.’
‘the decision in X (Minors) v Bedfordshire can no longer be regarded as good law in so far as it ruled out on grounds of public policy the possibility that a duty of care might be owed by local authorities or their staff towards children with whom they came into contact in the performance of their functions under the 1989 Act, or in so far as liability for inflicting harm on a child was considered, in the Newham case, to depend upon an assumption of responsibility. ‘
Lady Hale, President, Lord Reed, Deputy President, Lord Wilson, Lord Hodge, Lady Black
 UKSC 25, (2019) 22 CCL Rep 111,  4 All ER 581,  2 WLR 1478,  WLR(D) 348,  AC 780,  HLR 39,  PIQR P20, UKSC 2018/0012
England and Wales
Limited – 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 . .
At First Instance – CN and Another v Poole Borough Council QBD 16-Mar-2016
Appeal against striking out of claim for damages in negligence.
Held: Allowed. The claim should proceed.
The principal issue was whether the decision of the Court of Appeal in D v East Berkshire Community NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 1151; . .
Appeal from (CA) – CN and Another v Poole Borough Council CA 21-Dec-2017
The court considered the existence of a tortious duty of care to children, on the part of a local authority, to protect them from harassment and abuse by third parties. The Council appealed against an order re-instating the claims after they had . .
Cited – 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 – Entick v Carrington KBD 1765
The Property of Every Man is Sacred
The King’s Messengers entered the plaintiff’s house and seized his papers under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State, a government minister.
Held: The common law does not recognise interests of state as a justification for allowing what . .
Cited – Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police SC 8-Feb-2018
Limits to Police Exemption from Liability
The claimant, an elderly lady was bowled over and injured when police were chasing a suspect through the streets. As they arrested him they fell over on top of her. She appealed against refusal of her claim in negligence.
Held: Her appeal . .
Cited – Re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) SC 12-Jun-2013
B had been removed into care at birth. The parents now appealed against a care order made with a view to B’s adoption. The Court was asked as to the situation where the risks were necessarily only anticipated, and as to appeals against a finding of . .
Cited – Gorris v Scott 22-Apr-1874
In the case of a statutory duty, the scope of the duty is answered by deducing the purpose of the duty from the language and context of the statute. . .
Cited – Geddis v Proprietors of Bann Reservoir HL 18-Feb-1878
The owner of land injured by operations authorised by statute ‘suffers a private loss for the public benefit’, and in the absence of clear statutory authority is unable to claim: ‘It is now thoroughly well established that no action will lie for . .
Cited – Regina v London Borough of Barnet ex parte G; Regina v London Borough of Lambeth ex parte W; Regina v London Borough of Lambeth ex parte A HL 23-Oct-2003
The applicants sought to oblige the local authority, in compliance with its duties under the 1989 Act, to provide a home for children, and where necessary an accompanying adult.
Held: There were four hurdles for the applicants to cross. They . .
Cited – Sheppard v Glossop Corporation CA 1921
A street was vested in an urban authority under the Public Health Act 1875. It declined sharply and was bounded on one side by a retaining wall about five feet high separating it from land at a higher level. The land and the wall were the property . .
Cited – Dorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office HL 6-May-1970
A yacht was damaged by boys who had escaped from the supervision of prison officers in a nearby Borstal institution. The boat owners sued the Home Office alleging negligence by the prison officers.
Held: Any duty of a borstal officer to use . .
Cited – Stovin v Wise, Norfolk County Council (Third Party) HL 24-Jul-1996
Statutory Duty Does Not Create Common Law Duty
The mere existence of statutory power to remedy a defect cannot of itself create a duty of care to do so. A highway authority need not have a duty of care to highway users because of its duty to maintain the highway. The two stage test ‘involves . .
Cited – Murphy v Brentwood District Council HL 26-Jul-1990
Anns v Merton Overruled
The claimant appellant was a house owner. He had bought the house from its builders. Those builders had employed civil engineers to design the foundations. That design was negligent. They had submitted the plans to the defendant Council for approval . .
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 . .
Cited – Anns and Others v Merton London Borough Council HL 12-May-1977
The plaintiff bought her apartment, but discovered later that the foundations were defective. The local authority had supervised the compliance with Building Regulations whilst it was being built, but had failed to spot the fault. The authority . .
Cited – Yuen Kun-Yeu v Attorney-General of Hong Kong PC 1987
(Hong Kong) The claimant deposited money with a licensed deposit taker, regulated by the Commissioner. He lost his money when the deposit taker went into insolvent liquidation. He said the regulator was responsible when it should have known of the . .
Cited – Hertfordshire Police v Van Colle; Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police HL 30-Jul-2008
Police Obligations to Witnesses is Limited
A prosecution witness was murdered by the accused shortly before his trial. The parents of the deceased alleged that the failure of the police to protect their son was a breach of article 2.
Held: The House was asked ‘If the police are alerted . .
Cited – Gorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .
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 – 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 – Regina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague, Weldon v Home Office HL 24-Jul-1991
The prisoner challenged the decision to place him in segregation under Prison Rule 43. Under rule 43(1) the initial power to segregate was given to ‘the governor’. The case arose from the fact that the governor of one prison had purported to . .
Cited – Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd HL 25-Jul-1994
Lloyds Agents Owe Care Duty to Member; no Contract
Managing agents conducted the financial affairs of the Lloyds Names belonging to the syndicates under their charge. It was alleged that they managed these affairs with a lack of due careleading to enormous losses.
Held: The assumption of . .
Cited – Nocton v Lord Ashburton HL 19-Jun-1914
The defendant solicitor had persuaded his client to release a charge, thus advancing the solicitor’s own subsequent charge on the same property. The action was started in the Chancery Division of the High Court. The statement of claim alleged fraud . .
Cited – Donoghue (or M’Alister) v Stevenson HL 26-May-1932
Decomposed Snail in Ginger Beer Bottle – Liability
The appellant drank from a bottle of ginger beer manufactured by the defendant. She suffered injury when she found a half decomposed snail in the liquid. The glass was opaque and the snail could not be seen. The drink had been bought for her by a . .
Cited – Hedley Byrne and Co Ltd v Heller and Partners Ltd HL 28-May-1963
Banker’s Liability for Negligent Reference
The appellants were advertising agents. They were liable themselves for advertising space taken for a client, and had sought a financial reference from the defendant bankers to the client. The reference was negligent, but the bankers denied any . .
Cited – X and Another v London Borough of Hounslow CA 2-Apr-2009
The authority appealed against an order finding it responsible for failing to prevent a serious assault on the claimants by local youths. Both claimants were known to the appellants to have had very low IQs.
Held: a local authority’s social . .
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 . .
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 – 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 – O’Rourke v Mayor etc of the London Borough of Camden HL 12-Jun-1997
The claimant had been released from prison and sought to be housed as a homeless person. He said that his imprisonment brought him within the category of having special need. He also claimed damages for the breach.
Held: The Act was intended . .
Cited – HM Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc HL 21-Jun-2006
The claimant had served an asset freezing order on the bank in respect of one of its customers. The bank paid out on a cheque inadvertently as to the order. The Commissioners claimed against the bank in negligence. The bank denied any duty of care. . .
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 – JD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
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 . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Negligence, Local Government
Updated: 11 February 2022; Ref: scu.638153