Barrett v Enfield LBC [2001] 2 AC 550

Key point

  • This case first in a trilogy of decisions pre-Human Rights Act including W v Essex CC and Phelps v Hillingdon LBC where the Lords showed a sceptical attitude towards policy arguments against holding public authorities liable for omissions in negligence that prevailed in X v Bedfordshire


  • C was in the case of a local authority (D) between 10 months and 18 years of age and was moved nine times between different foster placements
  • C alleged that he had developed psychiatric illness as a result due to the negligence of D
  • The claim was struck out in the County Court
  • The Court of Appeal dismissed C’s appeal, citing policy considerations of fairness, justice and reasonableness and that the fact that it was a policy decision

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal allowed, the case should be heard
  • Public policy considerations did not exclude a duty of care

Lord Slynn

  • X v Bedfordshire does not apply: public policy considerations against liability did not have the same force in respect of decisions taken once the child was already in local authority care
  • The risk of defensive behaviour was small
  • There is a conflict between the need to allow social welfare services to execute their functions without undue fear of litigation and the desirability of providing redress


  • Although the facts of the case occurred prior to the effective date of the Human Rights Act, the courts became less willing to strike out claims without hearing on its merits as doing so could contravene the right to fair trial under Article 6 ECHR, which would be incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 into domestic law