X v Bedfordshire County Council (1995)

Lord
Browne-Wilkinson, giving judgment of House –
Breach
of statutory duty by itself not
sufficient to give rise to private law cause of action.
However,
was possible to make private law claim for breach of statutory duty if it could
be shown as matter of construction that statute imposed the duty for the
protection of a limited class of the public and Parliament intended to confer
on members of that class a private right of action for breach.
This
might be established by taking into account a number of indicators.
For
eg, if statutory right provides other means of enforcement, this might suggest
enforcement ought normally to be by those other means.
But
notwithstanding such statutory means of enforcement, might still be possible to
show that by true construction of statute Parliament intended to provide a
private law remedy.
House
of Lords gave guidance as to when public authorities can be held liable in
negligence regarding performance of a statutory function.
Mere
assertion of careless exercise of statutory power or duty not sufficient to
give rise to private law cause of action.
Plaintiff
only had action if he could show circumstances were such as to raise common law
duty of care.
To
raise common law duty of care, must show that:
a)
Decision was outside ambit of authority’s discretion.
Since
it was for the authority and not the courts to exercise a statutory discretion
conferred on it by Parliament, nothing the authority did within ambit of the
discretion could be actionable at common law.
However
if decision was so unreasonable that it fell outside ambit of the discretion
conferred (unreasonable in the Wednesbury
sense) then this could give rise to common law liability.
b)
Even if decision is outside ambit of authority’s discretion, will be no common
law duty of care relating to the taking of decisions involving policy matters, since these decisions
are non-justiciable.
[Often
termed the ‘policy vs operations’ distinction]
Once
these hurdles are passed, claimant must then satisfy three requirements in Caparo v Dickman namely,
a)
That defendant ought to have foreseen that plaintiff might suffer injury or
damage if defendant acted negligently,
b)
That there was sufficient relationship of proximity between plaintiff and
defendant, and
c)
That it would be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on the defendant.
Present
case involved local authority investigation of child abuse.
Claim
in negligence failed on third limb of Caparo
test.
Would
not be fair just and reasonable to impose duty of care on local authorities in
child abuse cases.
Gave
various policy reasons.