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Civil Remedy Finally Available To Children Who Have Been Abused By A Foster Carer
The Supreme Court have handed down a landmark decision in the case of Armes (Appellant) v Nottinghamshire County Council (Respondent)  UKSC 60
This case was brought by a woman who suffered abuse by foster parents. She was subjected to severe physical abuse by one foster carer and was sexually assaulted by another in a different setting.
The highest Court in the UK delivered their landmark decision on 18 October 2017 which finally provided clarity on the legal point of whether a local authority can be held vicariously liable for the actions of a foster carer. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal that a local authority could be held vicariously liable for the intentional actions of a foster carer and the claim was successful.
This decision will enable many children, who have suffered abuse at the hands of a foster carer, to seek a civil remedy which was not available prior to this decision. The only remedy available to them was to pursue a foster carer direct. It is often the case that a foster carer would not have the financial means to meet any judgment for damages and was unlikely to have insurance in place that would cover their own illegal conduct. Therefore a Claimant would find themselves in an unsatisfactory position. Local authorities are an insured public body and therefore the availability for a Claimant to pursue them rather than their abusers direct seems to be the correct decision.
In his Judgment, Lord Reed addressed the Defendant’s arguments that the imposition of vicarious liability would have major financial, amongst other, consequences. Quoting from his Judgment, Lord Reed states
‘If, there has been such a widespread problem of child abuse by foster parents that the imposition of vicarious liability would have major financial and other consequences – then there is every reason why the law should expose how this has occurred. It may be – although this again is empirically untested – that such exposure, and the risk of liability, might encourage more adequate vetting and supervision. It is all very well to point to the cost of such precautions, and to the cost of compensating the victims, and to complain that this will divert the resources of local authorities from other channels. That is a point which might be made in relation to many claims against public bodies, including claims against local authorities arising from the abuse of children in residential homes.’
Funds used to compensate victims of abuse are paid by the local authority’s insurer and not direct from their budgets. Therefore it is surely misleading to state that resources are being diverted from other channels. The clarification from Lord Reed was very much welcomed.
You can read the full Judgment here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0004-judgment.pdf
Susan Turner, Associate and Chartered Legal Executive specialises in abuse claims. She has significant experience in obtaining compensation for the victims of abuse. Acting for clients both in the South West and nationally.
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