The Court of Appeal dismissed the Claimant's case as the trial judge had incorrectly disapplied the limitation period.

The Facts

The Scout Association and the archbishop appealed against a decision that they were vicariously liable for the actions of a priest and scout chaplain, Father Laundy.

JL alleged he was groomed and sexually assaulted by Father Laundy from the age of 8, until Father Laundy's arrest when JL was aged 31.

Father Laundy pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual assault, five of which related to JL. He claimed he only pleaded guilty to avoid adverse publicity for the church.

JL issued a claim in November 2011. Father Laundy passed away in April 2014. The trial judge allowed the claim despite finding there had been a delay in bringing the claim of between 9 and 23 years from the first point of sexual contact to the most recent. JL continued to visit Father Laundy during his university studies and initiated a number of the visits.

Both Defendants defended the claim on the grounds (1) JL had consented to the sexual contact, (2) the claim had been brought outside of the relevant limitation period of three years allowed by Section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980 and (3) they were not vicariously liable for the actions of Father Laundy.

At first instance the trial judge found JL had consented to all sexual contact that had occurred after JL attended university; however he had not consented to any prior sexual contact.

The court held Father Laundy had sexually abused JL between 1984 and 1987 and the Defendants were vicariously liable for his actions and apportioned liability equally between them. JL was awarded £20,000 in general damages.

On Appeal

There were six grounds of appeal including that the judge had erred in (1) his approach to the credibility of JL, (2) finding that the Defendants were vicariously liable and (3) disapplying the limitation period.

The Court of Appeal had regard to the fact the last alleged non-consensual contact had been between 21 and 23 years prior to the claim, however consensual contact between Father Laundy and JL had occurred in the years leading up to JL issuing a claim.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and dismissed the Claimant's claim on the basis the judge was wrong to disapply the primary limitation period and did not find it appropriate to consider the other grounds of appeal.

What can we learn?

  • The case provides further guidance on section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 and shows the courts have wide discretion in permitting an extension of the limitation period and that the reasons for the delay will be central in the decision making process.
  • Even in abuse claims issued after limitation has expired, defendants should review the factual basis for the claim and the history of the claim.
  • The case demonstrates the difficulties faced by courts and defendants when claims are brought a number of years after the incident occurred. In this matter Father Laundy had passed away before proceedings and therefore the issue of consent is hard to determine when evidence cannot be heard from both parties.