Court of Appeal holds that State owes no legal duty to inform individuals of possible legal wrongs done to them

On 6th February 2013 the Court of Appeal (Laws, Sullivan and Black LJ) handed down an important judgment on whether the State owes a legal duty to provide information to individuals about possible legal wrongs done to them: R (Children’s Rights Alliance for England ) v Secretary of State for Justice [2013] EWCA Civ 34.  It held that no such duty existed at common law or under the Convention.

Foskett J had dismissed the appellant Charity’s application for judicial review seeking an order that the Secretary of State provide or facilitate the provision of information to stated categories of children as to the unlawful use of restraint techniques on them when they were detained in Secure Training Centres opeated by G4S and Serco.  Dismissing the Charity’s appeal against Foskett J’s decision, the Court of Appeal held that: “…the imposition of such a duty on a private litigant would be repugnant to the common law’s adversarial system of justice; and if it were expressed as a duty owed in private law, it would be alien to every other such duty: not vouched by agreement, nor by the neighbour principle, nor the avoidance of harm to person, property or reputation. It would be like a colour not known on the spectrum.”

The decision has significant implications for other public authorities, not least the police service, which often comes into possession of information that indicates that a legal wrong may have been done to a private individual (cf  the claim brought by Lord Prescott against the Metropolitan Police Service arguing that it was under a duty to provide him with information in its possession that suggested that his mobile telephone messages had been hacked).

See : Judgment [2013] EWCA Civ 34

Jason Beer QC was jointly instructed by G4S and Serco by Kieran Walshe, Partner (Commercial Insurance) at DWF LLP Solicitors, Manchester