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Judgement in J, K and P

Posted on: August 22, 2008

J K and P – and – The Archbishop of Birmingham (1) The Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church (2)

Hearing Date: 29th April 2008 before Master Fontaine. Judgement Date: 25th July 2008.

Child Sexual Abuse; Limitation by way of preliminary issue; Limitation Act 1980

The claims of the Claimants relate to proceedings brought for damages against the Defendants in respect of alleged sexual abuse during their childhood years, between 1979 and 1991. The alleged abuse was committed by Father Clonan, the then assisted parish priest at the Church of Christ the King in Coundon, Coventry.

This hearing before Master Fontaine related to the Defendants application for the issue of limitation to be tried by way of a preliminary issue. The application was strongly resisted by the Claimants. Master Fontaine acknowledged in her judgement that the question of whether an issue should be listed for trial as a preliminary issue is a matter for the Court’s discretion in the exercise of its case management powers and that the decision will vary with the facts of each particular case.

Following submissions from both parties, and in consideration of the relevant legal authorities, Master Fontaine ordered that it would not be appropriate to order the trial of preliminary issues in respect of limitation in these claims. Master Fontaine considered that the most determinative factor in coming to this decision was the large degree of overlap between the evidence that would have to be given at the preliminary trial and at the full trial; in this respect, it would be difficult to ‘hive off’ the limitation issue and this would not result in any significant saving of costs.

Master Fontaine, in reaching her decision, also considered that it would be more stressful for the Claimant to give evidence on two occasions, if the Claimant was successful at the preliminary trial. The possibility of having to give such evidence on these distressing events twice outweighed the possibility that the Claimant would never have to give direct evidence of the abuse if unsuccessful at preliminary trial or if the Claimant was successful at preliminary trial and settlement was agreed.

Furthermore, Master Fontaine also considered that it would be difficult for a judge to exercise his or her discretion under s.33 Limitation Act 1980 without considering the merits of the claim and if the Claimant was successful at the preliminary trial there would be an increase in costs where two trials are prepared for.

Uppal Taylor Solicitors are specialist child abuse compensation solicitors.

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