Council ‘vicariously guilty’ for abuse

Family Law|October 20th 2017

Nottinghamshire County Council is vicariously liable for the abuse inflicted by foster carers the Supreme Court has ruled.

In Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council, a now adult woman had been taken into care in the mid-1980s. The Council placed her with two foster families, referred to in legal documents as ‘Mr and Mrs A’ and ‘Mr and Mrs B’. The mother in the first family physically and emotionally abused the girl, while the husband in the second family sexually abused her.

Years later the woman launched legal action, arguing that the council were liable for the abuse. Her case failed at both the High Court and Court of Appeal but the Supreme Court has now reversed those decisions by a majority of 4-1, saying Nottinghamshire County Council was ‘vicariously liable’ under law.

Delivering the lead judgement, Lord Reed declared the Council was liable for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse because they had recruited and supervised the foster families who had committed it. He explained:

“…it can properly be said that the torts [legal wrongs] committed against the claimant were committed by the foster parents in the course of an activity carried on for the benefit of the local authority.”

He added:

“Most foster parents have insufficient means to be able to meet a substantial award of damages, and are unlikely to have (or to be able to obtain) insurance against their own propensity to criminal behaviour. The local authorities which engage them can more easily compensate the victims of injuries which are often serious and long-lasting.”

The Supreme Court rejected an additional legal argument that the Council was also liable on the grounds that it had had a “non-delegable duty” to protect the safety and welfare of children in foster care. This was too broad a concept, the Justices believed, and would place too great a burden on local authorities.

Lord Hughes gave a dissenting judgement, saying he believed vicarious liability could affect placements of children with friends and extended family.

You can read the full ruling here.

Photo by amslerPIX via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence 

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comment(1)

  1. anon says:

    Hopefully this will result in preventative work with familes and more careful placements of children. I agree with the dissenting Lord Hughes, but not for his reasons. I do hope that children erroneously placed with abusive relatives in public law proceedings should be able to sue as well.

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