ZW v the United Kingdom (European Court of Human Rights) (application no. 34962/97)

Abuse – negligence – duty of care – human rights


ZW, a British national, was born in 1972 and had been detained in a secure psychiatric institution since 1993. In, 1973 she and her three siblings were admitted to foster care by the local authority following reports that their mother was unable to care for them and of squalid living conditions.


In 1976, ZW and her sister were placed with foster parents. The local authority noted various concerns about the placement, but ZW was not removed from the foster home until 1989. In 1995, she brought proceedings in negligence against the local authority. A psychiatric report was prepared setting out her account of the horrific abuse she had endured during her placement with her foster parents. Her claim was struck out in 1996 on the basis that, under English law at the time, there was no duty of care owed by a local authority to children in its care.


ZW complained, under article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), that the local authority had failed to protect her welfare while she was in foster care and, under article 13 (right to an effective remedy), that she had had no remedy for her complaints.


The case was struck out following a friendly settlement in which £77,000 is to be paid in full and final settlement of the case and for costs and expenses.

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