JD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust – Case Summary

JD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust

RK v Oldham NHS Trust

House of Lords

Citations: [2005] UKHL 23; [2005] 2 AC 373; [2005] 2 WLR 993; [2005] 2 All ER 443; [2005] 2 FLR 284; [2005] 2 FCR 81.

Facts

The claimants were parents of children had been wrongly suspected of abusing their children. As a result of this, the parents suffered psychiatric and financial harm. The defendant was the employer of the social workers and doctors involved. The claimants sued the defendant in negligence.

Issue(s)
  1. Do health professionals or social workers owe parents a duty to exercise due care and skill when investigating suspected abuse?
Decision

The House of Lords held in favour of the defendants.

This Case is Authority For…

Health professionals and social workers do not owe a duty of care to parents they are investigating for suspected abuse.

The Lords commented that law should avoid imposing duties which create conflicts of interest. In this case, the child and parents’ interests conflict, so professionals cannot owe both a duty. In terms of the Caparo test, public policy was a significant factor. Lord Rodger also argued that there was insufficient proximity between the professionals and the parents to warrant a duty.

Doctors and social workers do, however, owe a duty of care to the children: X (Minors) v Bedfordshire County Council [1995] 3 All ER 353 is no longer good law in this respect.

Other

Lord Nicholls stressed that social workers and health professionals must investigate in ‘good faith’. If the professional acts maliciously, then an action might lie in other torts (such as malicious falsehood).

Lord Bingham dissented. He rejected the possibility of a conflict of interest, since there a wrongful diagnosis of abuse is against the child’s interests. In any case, elsewhere the law assumes that a child’s interests and those of their parents are in harmony. In such circumstances, Lord Bingham argued that there was no reason to exclude a claim by the parent if one was possible for the child. He did not believe that a duty would encourage defensive practice.

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