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D v East Berkshire Community NHS Trust

[2003] 4 All ER 796

Case summary last updated at 18/01/2020 19:53 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case D v East Berkshire Community NHS Trust

 P1 were parents who suffered psychological harm after being falsely accused of child abuse by R. P2 was a child who suffered psychological injuries after his parent were falsely accused. HL held that there was no duty of care to the parents, but there was a duty of care to the child. 
 
CA judgment: Lord Phillips: Given the decision in Z v UK there was a need to provide an effective remedy to cases where the child had been mistreated and therefore it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the social services regarding the taking of a child into care. Furthermore it will ensure high standards of work. However, parents are not owed a duty of care by PAs because this could deter PAs from removing children from their parents when in fact they ought to, and it is key that the decision to act in a child’s best interests is not skewed by the threat of litigation from parents (i.e. the child’s, not the parents’, interests are given priority and therefore only the child is owed a duty of care). Also since the PA’s obligations are to the child, not the parent, there is not sufficient proximity between P1s and R to create a duty of care.
 
HL judgment: dismissing appeal: same reasoning as CA: PAs had to be able to act solely with the child’s interests in mind, especially in an emergency case.
 
Lord Bingham (dissenting): He says that parents are also entitled to have their rights considered and the rights to an effective remedy, demanded by ECHR article 13 (see Z v UK) applies not just to children but parents too. He also rejects the idea that such a duty would make social services overly hesitant in removing children from abusive homes. However he is probably wrong here, and given the importance of guaranteeing a child’s safety, his argument falls down.

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