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Case details

HXA (Respondent) v Surrey County Council (Appellant)

Case ID: 2022/0149

Case summary


The central issue in this case is whether the local authority had assumed responsibility to protect a child from harm through its conduct, and therefore owed them a duty of care at common-law?


A summary of the facts in HXA's case, as alleged by HXA, is set out at CA [5]-[12] (Bundle p. 35-38). Not all of these facts are admitted by Surrey County Council ("SCC"). As this concerns an application to strike out by SCC, the court is required to assume that the facts alleged by HXA are capable of proof (CA [4], Bundle p. 35).

HXA was born in 1988. She has three younger sisters. One of her sisters, SXA, is the second claimant. Her claim is stayed pending resolution of HXA's claim (CA [5], Bundle p. 35).

From September 1993, SCC's social services team were made aware of the deficient and abusive care received by HXA and SXA. There had been various referrals to SCC relating to inappropriate physical chastisement, verbal abuse and lack of supervision of HXA and SXA. A number of allegations were investigated. HXA and SXA were placed on the child protection register. In November 1994, SCC took legal advice and decided to undertake a full assessment with the aim of starting care proceedings. However, no assessment was actually carried out. SCC continued to monitor the situation. On at least some occasions no decisions or actions were taken by SCC despite reports of concern (CA [6], Bundle p. 35-36).

HXA's mother then separated from the children's father and in July 1996, she formed a relationship with Mr A. Four years before this, Mr A had been convicted of assault on his own infant son. Several sources raised concerns with SCC about Mr A's behaviour towards HXA and her siblings (CA [7], Bundle p. 36).

In 1999, HXA made a disclosure to school staff that she and her sister were subject to sexual abuse by Mr A and Mr A's father. In January 2000, HXA alleged that Mr A had touched her breast. SCC decided not to investigate the matter due to fear of how Mr A would react and because it was wrongly thought that there had been no previous similar concerns. No action was taken other than carrying out "keeping safe" work with HXA and SXA. In 2004, aged 16, HXA moved out of the family home (CA [7], Bundle p. 36).

In 2007, SXA made allegations of sexual abuse against Mr A. An emergency protection order was obtained in respect of SXA and she was removed from the care of her mother. An investigation was carried out and HXA was interviewed. In 2009, Mr A was convicted of seven counts of rape of HXA and sent to prison for fourteen years. HXA's mother was convicted of indecently assaulting her and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment (CA [8], Bundle p. 36).

In September 2014, HXA and SXA filed a claim against SCC. HXA's claim is that SCC had assumed responsibility for her when SCC social services responded to various reports (from police, other agencies and family members) which had been made to them about her and her sibling's situation and when it was decided to undertake child protection work in relation to HXA and her siblings. Various time extensions were granted in the case. One extension was to await the Supreme Court's judgment in N v Poole Borough Council (AIRE Centre and others intervening) (CA [9]-[10], Bundle p. 36-37).

In January 2020, SCC applied to strike out the claim. No application to strike out was made in relation to the part of HXA's claim that related to the education department. In the High Court, both the Deputy Master (at first instance) and Stacey J (on appeal) decided that SCC did not assume responsibility and it was not arguable that SCC owed HXA a common law duty of care. Accordingly, the Deputy Master struck out HXA's claim, and Stacey J dismissed HXA's appeal (CA [11]-[12], Bundle p. 37-38). The CA disagreed (CA [107], Bundle p. 75). The CA held that it was arguable that a duty of care might arise in this situation and that the case should go to trial. SCC now seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Judgment appealed

[2022] EWCA Civ 1196



Surrey County Council





Lord Reed, Lord Briggs, Lord Sales, Lord Burrows, Lord Stephens

Hearing start date

24 October 2023

Hearing finish date

25 October 2023