Two teenage brothers who have spent nearly all the lives in care could win damages after a High Court ruled that a local authority allowed them to be subjected to "degrading treatment and physical assault".
Lawyers who represented the boys - aged 16 and 14 - said on Monday that the case was one of the "most shocking" examples of care-system failure they had seen.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said Lancashire County Council "acted incompatibly" with the boys' human rights, and failed to adequately protect their physical and sexual safety and psychological health.
The judge, who raised concerns in a written ruling issued after a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court, said he had a responsibility to bring the "situation" to wider attention, the Press Association reported.
Solicitor Antonia Love, who works for law firm Farleys and advised the boys, said: "This is quite simply one of the most shocking cases that we have ever come across of children being failed by the care system."
She added: "We are extremely proud of these two boys for having the courage, after all they have already been through, to see this case through to this rightful judgment."
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said the boys, who were not identified in the ruling, had taken legal action under human rights legislation against the council.
He said their claim for damages would be listed before a judge in a different division of the High Court.
The judge said the boys were taken into the care of the council in 1998 - when one was two and the other six months - and their history was recorded in a "staggering 19,000 pages of social work records".
He said the council was responsible for the boys for the next 14 years but "unfortunately" did not succeed in finding them a new family.
The judge said both boys had been made the subject of freeing orders under adoption legislation in 2001.
He said freeing orders extinguished a child's membership of the birth family and entrusted sole parental responsibility to the local authority as adoption agency.
"After a time, the search for adopters was abandoned, but the freeing orders were never discharged and all links with the boys' family were cut," said the judge.
"They remained under the freeing orders for 11 years, moving from foster placement to foster placement and becoming increasingly unsettled and disturbed."
He added: "They have suffered irreparable harm ... Over the years, the local authority defaulted on its duties towards the children and its independent reviewing system did not call it to account."
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said in 2002 the boys were placed with "abusive" foster carers and removed when police became involved. In 2008, the boys were removed from another foster family after one brother was assaulted with a belt.
"The boys have had major placements, emergency placements, temporary placements, respite placements and respite for respite placements," said the judge.
"(The older brother) has moved backwards and forwards between placements of all kinds no less than 77 times in his 16 years of life. (The younger brother) has moved backwards and forwards between placements of all kinds no less than 96 times in his 14 years of life."
Mr Justice Peter Jackson said Lancashire County Council had "acted incompatibly" with the boys' human rights; failed to provide a permanent adoptive placement and a settled and secure home life; and permitted them to be "subjected to degrading treatment and physical assault and failed adequately to protect their physical and sexual safety and their psychological health".Suggest a correction