Supreme Court rules that catholic diocese liable for priest's sex abuse

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A ground breaking case in the Supreme Court has recently opened the way for finding the Roman Catholic Church legally responsible for sexual abuse by their priests.

In the case of JGE, a young woman claimed she was sexually abused by a priest whilst living in a children’s home. The Church denied liability on the technical grounds they did not ‘employ’ their priests and so could not be found vicariously liable ie responsible for their acts.

The High Court disagreed with them in November 2011 and found they could be held vicariously liable. The Church Appealed to the Court of Appeal who ruled against them and on 27th February the Supreme Court refused any further leave to appeal.

The ruling stated that although a priest may not be directly employed by a diocese, "he is in a relationship with his bishop, which is close enough, and so akin to employer/employee as to make it just and fair to impose vicarious liability [on the church for the priest's acts]".

Commenting on the decision, Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, said: "It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this case: it will almost certainly become an international precedent, opening the door to financial liability against the church for tens of thousands of victims of abuse, worldwide.

"Evidence abounds of the shameless lengths to which the church has stooped for decades to evade financial responsibility for widespread abuse of children in its care. To have fought to evade liability for admitted abuse is both morally repugnant and a continuing blatant breach of the church's obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child."

Child Abuse lawyers hope that this case may have even wider implications and could lead to a finding of vicarious liability in other situations where a formal contract of employment does not exist. This might apply where an abuser is working in a voluntary capacity within an organisation such as, for example, Scouts or Guides.


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