The House of Lord has given a landmark decision on negligence claims against local authorities and their insurers.

The court said that parents wrongly accused of abusing their children cannot sue local health authorities or social services in negligence.

The Lords ruled, by a majority of four to one, that no common law duty of care is owed to parents in claims commenced prior to the Human Rights Act. This means parents cannot establish claims in negligence.

In finding that no common law duty of care should be owed to the parents, the Lords considered the balance of two competing interests of high social importance - the need to safeguard children, and a parent's right to unnecessary interference in their own and family life.

Andrew Evans, an associate at law firm Hill Dickinson, said: "The law's shift towards greater professional accountability in various disciplines in recent years has caused some uncertainty in this area, which their Lordships have now, to an extent, helped to clarify."

Jason Spencer, head of Hill Dickinson's social care and education team, said: "While the case will help clarify the law before the Human Rights Act, it would still seem that claims where convention rights are in issue are bound to face further interpretation by the courts, and ultimately the House of Lords."