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Local Authorities found to be vicariously liable for foster care abuse

Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council[2017]

First instance and Court of Appeal

The court of first instance and the Court of Appeal both found in favour of the defendant (Nottinghamshire County Council), ruling that a Council who had not been negligent, cannot be vicariously liable for the acts of the foster parents.

It was also considered that the Council did not owe a non-delegable duty to the Claimant.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court allowed the appeal with a majority of 4-1. They held that it is just, fair and reasonable to find the Council vicariously liable, extending the doctrine of vicarious liability to cover the deliberate acts of the foster parents.

In this instance the Court again rejected the argument that that the Council owes a non-delegable duty.


Applying the principles from the leading case of Cox v Ministry of Justice ([2016], the Council was found to be vicariously liable for the for the acts of foster carers for a number of reasons.

The Council carried out the recruitment, selection and training of foster parents. It exercised a significant degree of control, paying expenses, supervising the fostering as well as exercising powers of approval, inspection and removal.

Due to the level of involvement and control exercised by the Council it is clear that the foster parents are not carrying on an independent business of their own. The abuse committed by the foster parents was committed in the course of an activity carried out for the benefit of the Council.

The liability of the Council did not extend to a non-delegable duty however. It was held that the Council did not owe a non-delegable duty as this would impose upon the Council a responsibility which was deemed to be too demanding.

As a result of the ruling it is clear that the law in this area is still evolving. Although the Court was clear that the vicarious liability did not extend to acts committed by a parent or family member with whom the child had been placed, it is likely that litigation on this issue may follow.

The case was decided under the Child Care Act 1980 due to the dates in which the Claimant was in the foster homes. The Court found that they would not be able to yet determine whether the Council would be vicariously liable under the 1989 Child Care Act.

The Court also noted that there was no evidence at the time to suggest that the imposition of vicarious liability would prevent Local Authorities from placing children in foster care. The adverse impact of the ruling is yet to be seen but is likely to result in an increase in Claimants who were previously prevented from pursuing a course of action.