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Lawrence v Pembrokeshire County Council, High Court, 11 May 2006

5 June 2006
The issues

Summary Judgment – Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8. Claimant’s children allegedly placed incorrectly on Child Protection Register – consequent psychiatric injury suffered by Claimant – whether cause of action.

The facts

The Claimant brought an action of negligence and under the Human Rights Act 1998 for breach of Article 8 in respect of the way social workers, employed by Pembrokeshire dealt with her and her four children. She alleged that her children’s names should never have been placed on the Child Protection Register and that because of the way she and her children were treated she suffered psychiatric injury. The Defendant applied for summary Judgment.

Pembrokeshire Social Services became involved with the Claimant and her family after a Clinical Psychologist carried out an assessment on one of the children who was having toileting difficulties. Subsequently, after a number of issues were raised and although it was generally accepted that there was no concern as to physical harm to the children, the children’s names were placed on the child protection register under the category of “emotional harm”. At first review, three months after the decision to place the children on the register, it was decided that the children’s names should be kept on the register but that a core assessment should be carried out. Notwithstanding that there had been no contact between social workers and the children since the initial child protection conference other than one short visit by a key worker. Moreover the Claimant had only been shown the social worker’s report moments before the CPC started and she and the father were excluded from part of the meetings. The second review was held almost four months later in October 2002. Again there had been no monthly meetings with the key worker and there had been no core assessments and no visits by social workers and no provision to the Claimant of the relevant sections of the Child Protection Procedures. In the Claimant and the father were shown the reports of the conference just 5 minutes before the meeting started. The team manager recommended that the children’s names be removed from the register and the Claimant objected to further involvement by the Defendant in her family’s life. A complaint that she had made earlier about the failure of the Defendant following procedures leading up to the first CPC had been substantially upheld at stage 3 level. It was decided nonetheless at this review that the children’s names should remain on the at risk register. The third review in June 2003 chaired by an out of County chairman it was decided that the children’s names should be removed. In the meanwhile the Claimant made a second complaint and stage 3 review panel upheld it, finding that no support or information had been given before the reviews and that the chair of the CPC had failed to ensure that the Claimant and the father had been given access to the reports. There was a subsequent complaint to the Ombudsman in March 2003 who found that the Defendant’s failure to raise or take into account the initial strategy meeting amounted to mal-administration. He found that the fault leading to and occurring of the first CPC had not occurred but on a balance of probabilities the Defendant would not have taken the decision to put the children’s names on the at risk register and that the decision to keep them on the register was flawed and unreasonable. He recommended a payment to the Claimant of £5,000.00 from the Defendant which was subsequently paid.

The decision

The Court was bound to follow the decision of the House of Lords in D v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust. In that case their Lordships had decided for policy reasons that a duty of care was not owed by investigating professionals to parents suspected of child abuse in order to avoid a conflict of duties that could prejudice the interests of the child. That decision was not rendered invalid or inapplicable by the fact that in a case based on acts and omissions occurring after the 2nd October 2000 such a parent might have a claim for breach of Article 8. There was no good reason why the Law as propounded by the majority in D should be modified because a claim by a parent, honestly but mistakenly, thought to be guilty of abusing his child might be available under the Human Rights Act. The claim in negligence was bad in Law and bound to fail.

The claim was struck out.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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