Handed down yesterday was a much awaited decision of the Court of Appeal (England and Wales), in which the court held that no duty of care (under English law) can be owed by a local social services authority in the exercise of its statutory child protection functions to investigate and take action to prevent significant harm to children: CN v Poole Borough Council  EWCA Civ 2185.
At  –  per Irwin LJ:
“There are broadly two considerations here, reflecting the authority I have considered, which would militate against legal liability on these facts. The first is the concern, articulated in X v Bedfordshire in relation to social services and in Hill v West Yorkshire in relation to the police, that liability in negligence will complicate decision-making in a difficult and sensitive field, and potentially divert the social worker or police officer into defensive decision-making. The second is the principle that, in general, there is no liability for the wrongdoing of a third party, even where that wrongdoing is foreseeable. Both of these considerations, in my view, bite on the facts in this case.
In any event, insofar as the Defendant exercised powers and bore duties under the Children Act, it was not responsible for housing the Claimants in proximity to those who behaved in an anti-social fashion. This is not a case where the Defendant brought about the risk or had control over the individuals representing the risk: it does not fall into the Dorset Yacht exception to the general rule.”
The decision did not address the position where children have already been taken into the care of the authority.
A detailed summary of the decision is available on the 1 Chancery Lane chambers website.