Laura Goman (C1) & Bonnie Harding (C2) v Secretary of State for Justice (D1) & Stockport MBC (D2)

The law relating to private law duties owed by public bodies has undergone profound and rapid change over the past 40 years. The court reviewed the present state of the law to apply it to the novel circumstances of this case involving two statutory organisations.

The case was heard before HHJ Sephton QC in Manchester Civil Justice Centre between 29 January and 2 February 2018.

BLM was instructed to act on behalf of Stockport MBC (D2).

The judgment includes a review of the law from Anns v LB Merton to Robinson v CC West Yorkshire Police as well as the defendants statutory powers.

The facts

C1 had entered into a relationship with a violent offender, David Renshaw (DR) in July 2011. DR was under the management of the probation service (D1).

C1 and her daughter C2 allegedly suffered personal injuries on 30 October 2011 and 13 November 2011 at the hands of (DR). The incidents alleged involved threats, intimidation, physical assaults and rape.

Allegations

It was alleged that both defendants owed a common law duty of care and were negligent in their failure to adequately warn C1 of the risks posed by DR and that D2 failed to carry out an initial assessment in a timely fashion.

The claimants also brought a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 for alleged breaches of Articles 3 (degrading or inhumane treatment) and 8 (right to a family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Held

HHJ Sephton found that both claimants failed against both defendants.

The defendants were not liable for failing to warn the claimants about the danger posed by DR so as to prevent injury or otherwise intervene for the following reasons:

Common law

  • The injuries were inflicted by DR. The defendants cannot be liable for an omission to warn C1. A defendant is not generally liable for damage inflicted by a third party
  • The case does not fall into any exception to that rule. Neither defendant had control or responsibility over DR
  • Neither defendant assumed a responsibility to either claimant in the manner required before liability attaches
  • The claimant failed to establish that any potential breach of duty was causative of the loss complained of – there was doubt as to when the incidents occurred and C1 may not have heeded an earlier warning in any event
  • The defendants, on the facts of the case, owed the claimants no common law duty of care

Human Rights Act

  • The claimants failed to establish that the defendants were aware of a ‘real and immediate risk of harm’ in order to bring a claim under Article 3
  • The HRA claim is statute barred in any event – having been brought outside of the one year period. Discretion would not be granted

What this means for you

This is a welcome decision for defendant local authorities on the existence of a duty of care.

The court followed the decision in CN & GN v Poole [2017] EWCA which found that D v East Berkshire [2003] EWCA must be deemed to be overruled and restored the law to the position established by X v Bedfordshire [1995] 2 AC 633.

X v Bedfordshire rejected the notion that a local authority owed a private law duty of care. The law does not recognise a general duty of care to prevent others from suffering loss or damage caused by the deliberate wrongdoing of third parties – no liability for pure omissions.

The court rejected the claimant’s argument that CN had been overruled by the recent Supreme Court decision in Robinson v CC West Yorkshire Police [2018] UKSC.

The court is bound by authority to conclude that statutory provisions exclude the existence of a duty of care following CN v Poole.

Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.