This is good news for victims of Catholic sexual abuse, and not so good news really for the club of pedophilia enablers and obfuscators that is the Roman Catholic Church.
I haven’t seen or read much coverage of this recent refusal of the UK’s Supreme Court to even allow hearing the church’s challenge that clerics are not “akin to employees”, thereby slamming shut the door on a potential way for the Church to avoid compensation claims against the organisation itself rather that single offenders:
Lawyers for the trustees of Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust had appealed against a decision in the court of appeal that they had a duty to compensate a young girl for alleged beatings inflicted by a nun and sexual abuse perpetrated by a priest as long ago as the 1970s – if the facts of the abuse were established.
But in a statement issued this week, the supreme court said it had refused permission to appeal “because the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance”. It believes the issue has now been settled.
Lawyers for the diocese have conceded they cannot take the case to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg and consequently the court of appeal’s ruling becomes definitive.
The term of contention here is “vicarious liability“:
Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently. It is also referred to as imputed Negligence. Legal relationships that can lead to imputed negligence include the relationship between parent and child, Husband and Wife, owner of a vehicle and driver, and employer and employee. Ordinarily the independent negligence of one person is not imputable to another person.
Essentially, the Church really wants to claim that its sex offenders are not its employees, but some kind of sole trader with no connection to the organisation that paid their salaries and supplied them with the robes they wore while getting sucked off by underage teenagers. It is good to know that this legal avenue is now closed to them, at least in Europe.
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.”
Quoted for truth.