Local authorities fight added liability

A case which is to go to the House of Lords could see more local authorities called to account for negligence, reports Roger Pearson

A case with major implications in respect of social service and local authority accountability has been given leave by the Court of Appeal to go to the House of Lords.

The decision was made after Essex County Council failed to block damages claims brought against it by the children of a family with whom it placed a known teenage sex abuser as a foster child. The family, who were give no indication of the teenager's background, was left in tatters after the 15-year-old abused the children.

The signpost ruling paves the way for more social services being made to answer for their actions in court when they are accused negligence.

Essex County Council claimed that as a matter of public policy it should not be sued, but the Court of Appeal rejected the claims. In dismissing the council's moves, Lord Justice Judge said that, despite public policy considerations, the fact that assurances had been given that a sex abuser would not be placed with the family paved the way for the council to be sued.

Lord Justice Mantell said that, on the facts of the case, it was arguably just and reasonable to impose a common law duty of care on the council.

The council challenged a High Court ruling by Mr Justice Hooper last July that the children, aged seven to 12, were entitled to seek damages from it for negligence.

At the same time, the parents of the children, whose marriage broke down as a result of what had happened, challenged the judge's refusal to allow them to seek damages as well as their children.

Although the children had been given the right to seek damages for negligence, they also sought to widen the scope on which to mount their claims.

The appeal judges upheld the ruling of the High Court, dismissed the council's appeal and ruled that the children were entitled to carry on with their negligence claim.

However, they refused to extend the scope of the children's claim and refused to pave the way for their parents to sue.

The case is already estimated to have run up legal bills of more than £300,000.