Page last updated at 18:08 GMT, Thursday, 30 June 2005 19:08 UK

Pay-out spur to sex abuse claims


By Jon Silverman
Legal affairs analyst

Gavel
Awards in sex abuse cases have traditionally been modest in the UK

Victims of sex abuse will undoubtedly be spurred by the unprecedented size of the award made to claimant A at the High Court in Manchester.

That man, who was sexually abused as a child by a Roman Catholic priest, has been awarded damages of more than 600,000 at the High Court.

Traditionally, awards in sex abuse cases have been modest in the UK where they are decided by a judge.

By contrast, in the US, the compensation is settled by a jury.

As a result, some Catholic dioceses in the US have faced bankruptcy from multi-million dollar pay-outs.

The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers expects more claimants to come forward following this award.

Richard Scorer, from the Manchester firm, Pannone, is handling about 30 claims against Catholic dioceses.

It is absolutely right that the courts should start saying to the Church that you must provide a realistic compensation package for survivors
Margaret Kennedy

"The publicity surrounding this will have a big impact. I think an award this size is far closer to public expectations than the amounts traditionally decided by judges.

"But I admit that I'm surprised by the size of it."

Most claims against the churches have been settled out of court, often with confidentiality clauses attached.

Margaret Kennedy, who works with victims of abuse by priests, said fear of going to court inhibited many people from pursuing a claim all the way.

"I am pleased by this award. It is absolutely right that the courts should start saying to the Church that you must provide a realistic compensation package for survivors."

Donald Findlater, of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a child protection agency, said the Catholic Church had tended to dismiss sex abuse allegations in the past on the grounds that they were being made solely to obtain compensation.

Saying sorry

"You find that behind the bishop is a lawyer saying, 'Don't admit to anything and don't say sorry because you will have to pay for it.' Sometimes, saying sorry would have as much impact as the compensation."

Following the recommendations of the Nolan Commission, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults was set up.

Each year, it publishes a report detailing the number of sex abuse allegations it has received.

The law is grossly unfair on victims and if we can persuade the government to change it, you will see many more claims
Richard Scorer

Last year, it was about 100.

The Church says they are historic cases.

Donald Findlater said: "At least, now we're getting some hard information about the scale of the problem, though some people in the institution are still uncomfortable with being accountable and open."

Though the size of the Manchester award is clearly significant, the issue of restrictive time limits on the bringing of such cases is of more long-term concern to lawyers.

Where the abuse claim is against an institution rather than an individual, a claim must normally be brought within three years.

Richard Scorer said: "The law is grossly unfair on victims and if we can persuade the government to change it, you will see many more claims."



SEE ALSO
Priest abuse victim wins pay-out
30 Jun 05 |  West Midlands
Man suing church over sex abuse
15 Mar 05 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Compensation for former altar boy
12 Jan 04 |  West Midlands
Police satisfied priest is dead
08 May 04 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
New claims over 'sex abuse' priest
27 Nov 03 |  West Midlands
Church tackles child abuse
19 Jun 02 |  England

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