The Court of Appeal has now given judgment in JL v Archbishop Bowen and the Scout Association.
The Claimant’s case was that he had been sexually abused by FL, a Catholic Priest, from about 1984 and 1999 when the claimant was aged between 16¾ and 31. JL had come to know FL over the preceding 8 years through his membership of a Scout troop of which FL was the Chaplain. In 1999 FL was arrested after allegations of abuse were made by another boy and this prompted the Claimant to come forward and give a statement to the police. The following year FL pleaded guilty in the Crown Court to various charges (including five counts of indecent assault against the Claimant covering the whole period) and was sent to prison.
It was not until 2011 that the Claimant issued proceedings against the Archbishop and the Scout Association alleging that they were vicariously liable for the actions of FL and claiming damages, including a substantial loss of earnings. However, it transpired that several years earlier FL had told representatives of the Archbishop that his relationship with JL was in fact consensual and that he had only pleaded guilty to spare the Diocese from further embarrassment and to avoid the risk of a longer sentence, a position he still maintained. Then, in April 2014, a year before the matter came to trial, FL died. The primary issues at trial were consent, vicarious liability and limitation.
The trial judge disapplied the limitation period, but rejected JL’s claims that the relationship was abusive except for the first three years (until he went off to university) on the basis that any apparent consent in that initial period could not be called true or free consent. The judge also held that both Defendants were jointly vicariously liable, but rejected the claim that the abuse had caused him any financial losses and simply awarded him general damages of £20,000.
Both defendants appealed, partly with the permission of the trial judge and partly with the permission of the Court of Appeal. The issues on the appeal were consent, vicarious liability, limitation, the Claimant’s credibility and the trial judge’s approach to a letter that the Claimant had sent the Court after the trial but before judgment.
In the event, the Court of Appeal found it necessary to deal only with limitation. It allowed the appeal on the basis that the trial judge had underestimated the true length of the delay before issuing proceedings and had been wrong to find that JL had a good reason for that delay. The Court also accepted that both Defendants had been significantly prejudiced by the delay when it came to their ability to investigate the nature of the relationship before the alleged abuse began, the circumstances of that abuse and the issue of vicarious liability.
For those reasons (in summary) the appeal was allowed. See here for the full judgment. Nicholas Fewtrell, led by William Norris QC and instructed by Ian Carroll of Hill Dickinson, acted for Archbishop Bowen.