Kay Stewart reviews DFX v Coventry City Council [2021] EWHC 1382 (QB)

A recent High Court judgment set a significant precedent in child abuse claims. The case was brought by victims of child abuse against their local authority for failing to remove them from their family home whilst they were being abused by their parents. The four claimants, now adults, took their grievances to the High Court to secure a judgment against Coventry City Council on the basis of their negligence over a fifteen-year period. To protect the identity of the Claimants, an anonymity order was made prior to proceedings.

The Claimants, who all resided in the family home between 1995 and 2010 together with their five siblings, were on the child protection register from 2002. It was not until April 2009 that Coventry City Council issued care proceedings to remove the Claimants under an emergency protection order. Although Coventry City Council was not successful in these proceedings, they were granted an interim order in March 2010 to place all but one of the children in foster care.

The Claimants detailed the abuse they received at the hands of their parents, both physical and sexual with aspects of neglect. The Claimants’ case was built upon the notion that their parents were unfit to take care of the children. The father of the family had a history of convictions of indecency towards young girls and the mother admittedly was unable to prevent the father from abusing the children resulting in the abuse of the children.

The claim was based upon the accusation that Coventry City Council was negligent in a number of ways. Firstly, the Claimants pleaded that the Defendant was vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of their employees who were involved in child protection and child welfare who had undertaken work in respect of the Claimants. The Claimants averred had the social workers dealing with their welfare exercised a reasonable standard of care towards the Claimants in and around 2002 by instigating care proceedings then the Claimants would have been substantially alleviated of the abuse they suffered.

With a number of issues already having been agreed upon between the parties, including liability, the court’s attention was drawn to whether the Defendant had a of care in private law duty to discharge their public law functions. The circumstances fail to fit the existing categories of when a duty of care arises, therefore, a new category would have to be created. The courts, in this instance, declined to expand the current classifications and stated that the Defendant owed no such duty of care to the Claimants.

If you would like further information about the legal aspects of family matters please feel to Kay Stewart of Audley Chaucer on 01372 303444 or email admin@audleychaucer.com.

Larissa Bourgi

Related News