Negligence – abuse – duty of care – failure to protect – European Convention on Human Rights – article 3 – article 13
The applicants, who were brother and sisters, complained to the European Court of Human Rights that the failure by the local authority to protect them from physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their mother’s partner (B) amounted to violations of article 3 of the Convention. There was evidence in medical notes that B’s physical and verbal abuse of one of the sisters had so distressed her that she had attempted to commit suicide. Another sister had tried to run away from home, accusing B of trying to rape her. He had later been arrested and charged with indecent assault, to which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two years probation on the condition that he no longer reside at the family home. Although employees at the local authority had reason to believe that the stepfather was in breach of that condition, no action was taken. After their mother’s death, the siblings issued proceedings against the local authority, claiming that they had been subjected to a history of abuse following the B’s conviction for indecent assault.
The ECtHR found that there was no doubt that the abuse complained of fell within the ambit of art 3 of the Convention. The question was whether the LA knew or ought to have known that the applicants were suffering or were at risk of abuse, and whether reasonable steps had been taken to prevent that abuse. On the evidence, the LA should have known that the B had a history of past sexual and physical abuse and that he was still having contact with the family despite his probation order.
The LA had been aware of the incidents of sexual abuse which had resulted in criminal offences. Even if the LA had not been aware that B was inflicting abuse after his conviction, it ought to have known that the applicants were potentially at risk. As such it was under an obligation to protect the family and to monitor the B’s conduct. No steps had been taken by the LA which would have enabled the discovery of the extent of the problem and, potentially, to prevent further abuse.
The lack of investigation, communication and co-operation by the relevant authorities therefore had a significant influence on the course of events. Had there been proper and effective management of their respective responsibilities, the abuse may have been avoided or at least the risk may have been minimised. Accordingly, there had been a violation of art 3 of the Convention. Given the Court’s finding of a violation under art 3, there was no need to examine the art 8 claim.
The Court went on to find a breach of the right to an effective remedy under art 13 of the Convention, given the decision in X v Bedfordshire County Council as it then stood, and that the HRA 1998 had not yet been implemented
A total of 144,000 Euros in costs and compensation (about £92,000) was awarded.
See also Z and Ors v United Kingdom