The Supreme Court has today given their Judgment in the case of Armes (NA) v Nottinghamshire County Council and has found that local authorities can be held to be vicariously liable for the actions of foster parents.

Miss Armes during her childhood was in the care of Nottinghamshire County Council and was placed with foster parents Mr and Mrs Allison between March 1985 and March 1986 and Mr and Mrs Blakely between October 1987 and February 1988. During her placements Miss Armes was physically abused by Mrs Allison and sexually abused by Mr Blakely.

The case was first heard in November 2014 at the High Court before Mr Justice Males. The case presented by Miss Armes was that she suffered abuse through the negligence of Nottinghamshire County Council or in the alternative under the legal principles of vicarious liability or non delegable duty.

The Judge found that Miss Armes has been abused by her foster parents, but held that the Council were not liable for the abuse she suffered. They had not acted negligently in their selection or supervision of her foster parents. He stated that foster arrangements were to reflect family life and as such he could not make a finding of liability.

Miss Armes appealed the decision on the basis that Nottinghamshire County Council was liable under the principles of vicarious liability or non delegable duty.

The Court of Appeal heard the case in 2015 and upheld the Judgment of Mr Justice Males. The Court of Appeal stated that it was wrong for the local authority to have to manage the day to day control of the foster parents as this would result in micro-management. Miss Armes appealed the decision of the High Court.

The case was referred to the Supreme Court and was heard on the 8th and 9th February 2017.

The Supreme Court has today given their Judgment. They have found in favour of Miss Armes and have found that the local authorities are vicariously liable for the actions of their foster parents. The Justices disagreed with Mr Justice Males and said that whilst the local authority does not exercise day to day control of foster parents, it does have powers and duties of approval, supervision and removal which are not parallel in an ordinary family life.

The Justices considered five factors and found that:

1 The foster parents could not be regarded as carrying on an independent business of their own;

2 The abuse committed against a child by a foster parent was committed in the course of an activity carried out for the local authority;

3 Placing a child in foster care creates a relationship of authority and trust between the child and the foster parent. As the local authority chooses the placement for the child it is fair that the local authority should compensate the child should the child suffer abuse as a result of that placement;

4 The powers that a local authority has over the actions of a foster parent; approval, inspection, supervision and removal gives the local authority a significant degree of control over the actions of the foster parent to such an extent that the real control of the foster placement remains with the local authority;

5 The local authority has the financial funds to make an award of compensation.

The Supreme Court has decided that a local authority can not be found to be liable for the actions of foster parents under a non delegable duty. The Justices found that if a non delegable duty was to be imposed it would mean that the local authority would be liable for abuse suffered by a child’s parents or relatives if a Care Order was in place. This duty was too high to be placed on the local authority.

This Judgment has provide clarity for Claimants who have suffered abuse by foster parents and will now allow a large number of claims for abuse in foster placements to be brought, which prior to this decision would not have been successful.

Anyone who has made a claim for abuse suffered whilst they were in foster care, which has previously been rejected are urged to contact a Solicitor for advice in light of this Judgment. Specialist Solicitors in our abuse team at Jordans would be happy to provide advice.

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