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Pierce v Doncaster MBC: Human rights team welcomes child abuse judgment

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that Doncaster MBC failed in its duty of care to a child who, as a young baby, was returned to an abusive family home, from foster care.

Posted on 15 December 2008

A judgment in the High Court (Jake Pierce v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council) was handed down by the Court of Appeal on 12th December. The judgment is welcomed by all lawyers working in the field of child protection where a duty of care is owed by local authorities to vulnerable people, particularly children.


The claimant was born in 1976 and from birth suffered abuse at the hands of his family. As a baby he was placed temporarily by the local authority, with foster parents, under a voluntary agreement with his mother. After returning to his natural mother he was taken to hospital by her showing signs of neglect. He was once again placed with foster parents who looked after him until he was eight months old when he was returned to his natural family without a fresh assessment of his needs, or consideration as to whether it was the correct course of action. The claimant stayed with his family until he was 14 years old when, feeling he had suffered enough, he left home to live on the streets and fend for himself.

Social services failed to monitor the claimant while he lived at home during which time he developed a number of challenging behavioural problems.

Abuse at home

In the High Court, the Judge had accepted that whilst living with his parents the claimant suffered ‘indifference, neglect and periodic violence’. He was awarded £25,000 compensation for the neglect and abuse during his time at home. The judge also ruled that it was negligent of Doncaster MBC to return the claimant to his home in November 1977. This was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in last week’s judgment.

Duty of care by local authorities

The human rights team at Leigh Day & Co, headed by partner Frances Swaine, has represented a number of vulnerable clients who have been failed by their local authorities, most notably in X & Y where the local authority did not manage to protect two adults with learning disabilities who had been known to social workers for over 10 years as having daily needs to maintain their safety, from a physical and sexual attack by local youths.

Leigh Day and the solicitors acting for Mr Pierce applied to have Pierce v Doncaster MBC and X & Y heard together in the Court of Appeal as two important cases examining the common law of negligence and the duty of care owed by local authorities. Both Defendant authorities objected to this course, so the cases were heard separately.

Frances Swaine welcomes the Pierce judgment that further clarifies the duty of care owed by local authorities towards children, and the importance of regular and thorough assessment by social services to determine when a child should be returned from a satisfactory foster arrangement to a potentially abusive family. The X and Y case was heard in the Court of Appeal last week and judgment is awaited in the New Year.

If you would like to speak to one of our lawyers about a similar case please contact Frances Swaine on 020 7650 1200.

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