What are my remedies if a public body doesn’t do its job properly?
What happens if you suffer harm because a professional involved in your family life hasn’t done his or her job properly? This can be a very thorny issue because such professionals often have very significant powers to interfer in your private and family life. If they fail to do their job properly – either by failing to act when they should have done, or acting carelessly or irresponsibly – this can result in a lot of emotional distress or harm.
This is clearly relevant in the child protection system – the statutes and accompanying guidance and regulations give individuals who work in the system significant powers and duties to act in certain ways that would be unlawful if attempted by a private individual; for example getting information about your child or removing your child from home.
These laws which give professionals such power, have been passed for the benefit of society as a whole and therefore it is not considered in the public good to curtail or limit their operations in individual cases unless really necessary. People are expected to carry out their statutory duties ‘in good faith’, i.e not doing anything deliberately malicious or harmful.
However, even if you are not the victim of deliberate malice, the consequences of carelessness from public officials can be very serious. For example, take a botched investigation into abuse of a child; if an innocent parent is wrongly labelled an abuser this can cause enormous harm both emotionally and through loss of reputation or even the ability to look after your child whilst investigations are carried out or the matter comes to court. Equally, if guilty abusive parents aren’t detected, their children remain unprotected and at continuing risk.
If professionals cause harm to parents or children because of the way they have carried out or failed to carry out their statutory responsibilities, what are the legal remedies?
We will look at what are the current options to bring public bodies to account for their actions in the child protection system which have caused harm to parents or children.
Making a formal complaint.
You can complain about the activities of public bodies. For example, see section 26(3) of the Children Act and our post about making a complaint about a professional.
This may be an appropriate remedy if you want acknowledgement that mistakes have been made which could be put right, or at least procedures could change so the same mistakes are less likely to occur in the future. However, you are highly unlikely to be entitled to claim for any compensation under a statutory complaints scheme.
If you are not satisfied with the response under the formal complaints procedure or you need a more urgent remedy and/or compensation for loss you have suffered you will need to consider other remedies. We will consider these remedies in more detail in other posts.
The remedies are:
- Public law remedy – judicial review
- Private law remedies – negligence and misfeasance
- Claims under the Human Rights Act 1998
For information on how to obtain information from public bodies, either generally or about yourself, please see our post on data protection and freedom of information requests.