A recent judge ruling has highlighted the issues that Brexit may hold for those who have suffered abuse whilst in care. The judgement from Lord Justice Davis has angered abuse survivors and stressed a vulnerability post-Brexit.
Lead Abuse solicitor, Peter Garsden, explains the ruling and investigates the potential effects of Brexit on those who have suffered at the hands of another, whilst in care.
Holding Local Authorities Accountable
In November 2017, a landmark case in abuse law saw local authorities left open to liability after it was found that Nottinghamshire County Council were ruled, ‘vicariously liable’ for the abuse of Natasha Armes whilst in foster care.
However, this more recent case may suggest that the doors of compensation have been shut on those who were abused whilst in the care of a local authority.
Lord Justice Davis, Lord Justice Irwin and Lady Justice King ruled in favour of Poole County Council after they were accused of failing to protect a disabled boy from the antisocial behaviour of his neighbours. They said, “No duty of care can be owed by a local social services authority in the exercise of its child protection functions to investigate and take action to prevent significant harm to children, whatever its source.”
The conclusion to this particular case could mean that social workers are effectively not held responsible for cases of abuse, if the victim is taken into care or made wards of court. Previously, councils could be ordered to pay compensation if it was proved that staff failed to act on information which could help protect a child from abuse.
The case, however, concerns the anti-social behaviour of neighbours rather than abuse, and is not in-line with the situation in familial abuse cases. The wrong doer in this case was a neighbour rather than an abuser who was part of the family.
The mother, who took Poole County Council to court in this case, is now seeking to appeal the decision by the judges involved. An appeal to the UK Supreme Court is expected to take place over the next two years. But because of this potentially lengthy process the position with abuse cases will remain unclear until the Supreme Court clarifies the law.
Questions have arisen over the changes that Brexit could bring for those seeking compensation for damages caused by abuse.
If the Supreme Court appeal fails, the next step might be to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. However, with Brexit planned for 2019, appeals to the European Court of Human Rights may no longer be possible.
The current government intentions for Brexit include the rejection of the EU Human Rights Charter and therefore, once the UK leaves the EU in 2019, the charter will have no effect in UK law.
Since the adoption of Human Rights into English Law in 1998, we have seen a number of decisions in abuse cases which are based on Human Rights rather than strict adherence to precedent. The law which imposed liability upon Local Authorities for lack of care was based upon a European Law line of authority. The fear of lawyers is that after Brexit, English Judges will not feel so obliged to uphold Human Rights owing the removal of a further right of Appeal to the European Court.
The Future Of Abuse Compensation Claims
What this could mean is that claimants, who are unhappy with decisions made by judges in UK courts, may have nowhere else to turn to in order to appeal their case.
However, lead abuse solicitor Peter Garsden, remains determined:
“This particular case is somewhat different to the abuse cases we usually deal with as it involves allegations that the local authority failed to protect a disabled children from bullying (rather than sexual abuse) by local residents rather than from direct abuse by someone living in their own house.”
“We will be continuing to pursue cases against local authorities in negligence where the social worker failed in their duty of care to the family, and the family members were the abusers.”
“The recent Armes case suggests that local authorities do owe a duty of care to children in their care.”
“Brexit does pose many questions for those who have suffered abuse. Britain will no longer feel under pressure to pass judgments which follow European Human Rights law because our cases will no longer be open to challenge in the European Court.”
If you are a survivor of abuse that occurred whilst you were in case and are concerned about your legal rights to claim compensation against a council, call our abuse team free today.