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A private law cause of action only arose if it could be shown, as a matter of construction of the statute, that the statutory duty was imposed for the protection of a limited class of the public and that Parliament intended to confer on members of that class a private right of action for breach of the duty.
The child and the mother brought an action against the local authority, the psychiatrist and the health authority which employed her, claiming damages for breach of statutory duty and negligence and alleging that the defendants had failed to investigate the facts with proper care and thoroughness or to discuss them with the mother and were thereby in breach of their duty under the Child Care Act 1980 to safeguard the welfare of children.
The child and the mother claimed that, as a result of their enforced separation and the lack of information given to them, they had suffered anxiety neurosis.
Whether the statute provided other remedies for its breach and whether on the true construction of the statute it was shown that the protected class was intended by Parliament to have a private remedy were indicia of whether a private law cause of action lay for breach of a statutory duty; Cutler v Wandsworth Stadium Ltd  1 All ER 544 and Lonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2)  2 All ER 456 applied.
(3) The mere assertion of the careless exercise of a statutory power or duty was not sufficient in itself to give rise to a private law cause of action.
Since it was for the authority, not for the courts, to exercise a statutory discretion conferred on it by Parliament, nothing the authority did within the ambit of the discretion could be actionable at common law, but if the decision was so unreasonable that it fell outside the ambit of the discretion conferred on the authority that could give rise to common law liability.
The statement of claim was struck out by the master as disclosing no reasonable cause of action and on appeal the master’s order was upheld by the judge and the Court of Appeal.
Held – (1) Private law claims against public authorities for damages could be classified into four different categories: (i) actions for breach of statutory duty simpliciter (i e irrespective of carelessness); (ii) actions based solely on the careless performance of a statutory duty in the absence of any other common law right of action; (iii) actions based on a common law duty of care arising either from the imposition of the statutory duty or from the performance of it; (iv) misfeasance in public office, ie the failure to exercise, or the exercise of, statutory powers either with the intention to injure the plaintiff or in the knowledge that the conduct was unlawful.Local authority – Statutory duty – Breach of statutory duty – Careless performance of statutory duty – Exercise of statutory discretion – Justiciability of decisions involving policy matters – Application of principles of negligence – Whether fair, just and reasonable to impose duty of care.Negligence – Duty to take care – Existence of duty – Children – Local authority – Education authority – Duty owed in relation to welfare of children or children with special education needs – Whether local authority owing direct duty of care – Whether local authority vicariously liable for negligence of professional advice given by or on behalf of authority.On appeal the Court of Appeal held that the claims alleging breach of statutory duty had been rightly struck out but that the claims in negligence were not unarguable or incontestably bad and should be allowed to proceed.The plaintiffs in the abuse cases and the education authorities in the education cases appealed to the House of Lords.(2) In actions for breach of statutory duty simpliciter a breach of statutory duty was not by itself sufficient to give rise to any private law cause of action.