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X (Minors) v Bedforshire County Council [1995] 2 AC 633

The existence of a duty of care where a statutory duty exists and may have been breached

Facts

The House of Lords dealt with various appeals in respect of alleged breaches of statutory duty by local authorities in relation to the care of children. Some of the appeals related to child welfare issues under the provisions of the Children Act 1989, where others related education duties imposed on local education authorities by the Education Acts 1944 and 1981. The facts of the various appeals were not connected, save as in relation to the connection between a private law remedy in negligence and breaches of statutory duty.

Issue

The issues related to the circumstances where a common law duty of care would be imposed on a local authority for a breach of its statutory duty.

Held

(1) A breach of statutory duty does not automatically give rise to a private law cause of action. It will only do so if the statutory duty protects a limited class and if Parliament intended a private law right to arise. (2) If a cause of action can be found, a claimant must show that a duty of care is owed under the ordinary common law principles. (3) If the actions complained of fall within statutory discretion, they are not actionable at common law unless the decision is so unreasonable as to fall outside the proper exercise of the discretion. (4) The duties imposed by Children Act 1989, s 17 are such that it cannot give rise to a common law claim, even if the actions of the local authority are subsequently found to be in breach of statutory duty. (5) The duties under the Children Act 1989 are not amenable to common law claims. (6) Social workers and psychiatrists do not owe a duty of care to individuals, but rather to the local authority. The local authority cannot be vicariously liable for their actions. (7) A duty of care is not imposed on local education authorities with regards to their discretion in addressing special needs. (8) Where a local authority offers psychological advice to the public, it must do so with reasonable care. (9) A headmaster, psychologist or adviser to a local education authority is under a duty of care to parents and children.  


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