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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

30 DEC 2014

NA v Nottinghamshire County Council [2014] EWHC 4005 (QB)

NA v Nottinghamshire County Council [2014] EWHC 4005 (QB)
Historic child abuse – Limitation – Expert evidence – Foster parents – Vicarious liability – Non-delegable duty of care

High Court, Queen's bench Division: Males J

2 December 2014

The claimant’s claim was brought against the defendant local authority in respect of alleged abuse during the 1970s and 1980s by her birth family and two sets of foster parents. At trial the court had to deliver judgment on a number of procedural, factual and legal issues.

The court first considered whether it was ‘fair and just in all the circumstances’ to disapply the limitation period, which had expired around 12 years ago. It was held that the defendant was somewhat prejudiced by this significant delay, but that this prejudice was not so grave as to prevent a fair trial. Expert psychiatric evidence concluded that during the limitation period the claimant had put the abuse out of her mind 'as a defensive strategy' and that as she was a heroin addict at this time she was not in a fit condition to commence an action. The limitation period was disapplied on the basis that the claimant’s claims were well-founded and of a nature that it would be wrong to reject her claim on limitation grounds where a fair trial was possible: B v Nugent Care Society [2009] EWCA Civ 827, [2010] 1 WLR 516 followed.

 Findings of fact were made that the claimant had, on the balance of probabilities, suffered abuse at the hands of her birth family and both sets of foster parents. However, all three of the claimant’s claims failed.

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The court concluded that the allegations that the defendant was negligent in failing to take sufficient steps to protect the claimant from her birth family were extremely vague and did not sufficiently set out what the social workers ought to have done in the circumstances. This claim was also not supported by expert evidence, which concluded that the defendant’s approach to the claimant and her family was not negligent as it was, at a time when resources were extremely scarce, standard practice. The claimant’s claim that the defendant was vicariously liable for the abuse perpetrated by the foster parents also failed on the basis that an essential part of foster parents’ roles is independence from the defendant, and so the foster parents were not, to any material degree, under the defendant’s control. Finally, the court held that it would not be fair, just or reasonable to impose a non-delegable duty of care on the defendant, as to do so would impose a heavy financial burden on an organisation providing a critical public service and would also result in onerous and unnecessary checks on prospective foster parents. Fostering releases children from the control of the local authorities and this is risky, but with this risk comes the new benefit of family life: Woodland v Swimming Teachers Association [2013] UKSC 66, [2014] AC 537 considered.


This is a difficult case where the claimant had clearly been wronged but, sadly, could not establish fault in law. The court was quite clearly concerned that if it had made a judgment similar to the case of Woodland and held the defendant had a non-delegable duty towards the claimant, it could have enormous consequences. Local authorities would become more risk averse and vulnerable children in need of urgent foster care would have suffered tremendously.

Sana Bibi and Ellen Lucas, Anthony Gold