The decision will lead to hundreds of claims from people who were placed into care during their childhood, according to lawyers, and is the first time anyone has been able to sue their "state parent".
Keith Barrett, a 26-year-old fork-lift truck driver from Colchester, alleges that the way he was treated and the council's failure to have him adopted led to his subsequent psychiatric illness and alcohol problems.
Mr Barrett had previously been refused leave to take the London Borough of Enfield to court by a county court judge, whose decision was later upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, ruled in May 1997 that it would not be "just and reasonable to impose a duty of care on a local authority for the careless exercise" of its statutory duties for children in care.
Lord Hutton, overruling that decision yesterday, said it would be "wholly inappropriate" for a child to be allowed to sue his parents for the decisions they made on his upbringing. "But I do not agree that because the law should not permit a child to sue his parents, the law should not permit a child to sue a local authority which is under a duty by statute to take him into care and to make arrangements for his future," he said.
Mr Barrett told The Independent yesterday that he believed the council had failed to safeguard his welfare by moving him six times to different residential homes from 1976-88 and failing to make arrangements for his adoption.
"I went into care with a brother and a sister at nine months old. When I was two, my foster mother locked me in a cupboard and refused to give me anything to drink. I ended up in hospital with pneumonia and severely underweight," said Mr Barrett.
"Just before I was about to be adopted at 14, social services organised a farewell meeting with my birth mother, who I had never met.
"It was deeply unsettling for me. I had a nervous breakdown, the adoption fell through and I ended up in a secure unit for assessment," he said.
Mr Barrett, who is divorced, said he had been in and out of mental institutions since he left local authority care and had a desire to harm himself.
"I have over 400 stitches on my left arm and chest where I have self- inflicted injuries," he said.
"I feel that they were negligent all the way through."
Mr Barrett's solicitor, Julian Wilson, of Thompson Smith & Puxon, said that the case will now go to the High Court. "We will pursue the case unless the Borough of Enfield decides to settle," Mr Wilson said.Reuse content