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Historic Civil Claims – A Folly Converted to Madness

Statue of John Baptist De La Salle

A test case in the High Court has opened the floodgates to long-delayed civil damages claims for alleged sexual abuse that could echo cases in the United States.

Former City solicitor Patrick Raggett brought a £5million legal action against a Jesuit-run school in Preston. He said he had been sexually abused by a priest at the school in the 1970’s and that this had caused psychological damage ruining his career and personal relationships.

Until last year, when a historic ruling in the House of Lords changed the interpretation of the law, he would have been statute-barred from bringing the claim under English law.

But in reversing a decision that the victim of the so-called ‘Lotto rapist’, Iorworth Hoare, could not sue out of time when the perpetrator had come into a chance fortune, the Law Lords lifted the bar to delayed actions across the board. In future the right to sue out of time would be decided subject to the discretion of the court in applying s.33(3) of the Limitation Act 1980.

Mr Raggett’s right to sue out of time was decided by a High Court judge who ruled that some of the abuse claimed had taken place and that he had not been fully aware of the fact until an emotional apocalypse in 2005 ‘resulted in an awakening of the memories of certain incidents of abuse that had occurred and, more particularly, of the emotions associated with the abuse’.

In what might be termed a ‘split-level’ recovered memory decision the judge has opened the way for historic civil compensation claims for alleged sexual abuse based on retrospective inference.

By allowing the claim to go ahead despite finding that the claimant would have had the requisite knowledge to sue within time the judge was accepting that the re-evaluation of the claimant’s life following the alleged realisation and therapy was sufficient both to prove the fact of the abuse and justify the delayed claim.

Whatever the truth of the matter, we make no apology for deploring this decision. For the reasoning accepted by the judge is akin to fevered ideological and religious conversion fuelling paranoia and igniting witch hunts.

Just what might have occurred at the school is unlikely to be unravelled with any certainty. The accused is deceased as are many of the staff and the school closed in 1978.

Notably the judge rejected the reliability of some ‘recovered memory’ alleged – that produced by the quasi-hypnotic eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and also that the claimant may have suffered from ‘dissociative amnesia’ – the theory that sexual abuse memory is stored in separate personas or personalities.

However the underlying principles for justifying the delayed claim were those associated with recovered memory but where a division is artificially drawn between reliable and unreliable recovered memory recall.

Any attempt to distinguish reliable from unreliable aspects of recall following ‘recovered memory’ therapy is a moot point; such claimants can and do recast recently discovered ‘memories’ as always remembered when re-writing the past to fit into a narrative sufficient to cause the effects comprising the basis of the financial claim.

Although these types of claims may now be brought on an individual basis against parents and carers, the most likely targets will be institutions and the public and charitable purse.

Given that the focus is on the alleged effects over a lifetime rather than conscientious concern for establishing the truth of the allegations with the lower than criminal standard of civil proof applicable, who knows how far back claims may go.

In the United States and Ireland there have been claims as far back as the 1940’s and there seems no reason to suppose that a similar gold rush might not prosper here.

It is wrong to compromise the principles of justice on the basis of what can only be viewed as muddle-headed psychological theories and the culture of complaint.

And while such speculative claims might have been affordable in boom time Britain, at a time of unprecedented financial crisis where the public funds available for basic services diminishes as the burden on tax payers rises, they now look like a financial folly of the first order.

There is an urgent need to employ the principles of justice and good science in approaching these claims – while proposed statutory reform to rubber stamp the law lords’ decision should be put into reverse.

In the interests of justice and a robust and confident society, a cap needs to be placed on historic claims of alleged abuse, and if the courts will not act, then a political solution must be sought.

Chris Saltrese Solicitors is able to provide advice to individuals and institutions faced with historic civil claims for alleged sexual abuse.

Chris Saltrese Solicitors is a specialist firm providing a nationwide premium quality service in one of the most complex, misunderstood and anxiety-provoking areas of criminal law – contested sexual offence allegations.

Chris Saltrese Solicitors first came to national prominence representing clients accused during historic care home investigations. Through a method that has become known as police 'trawling', many teachers and care workers of exemplary character were falsely accused of serious sexual crimes allegedly committed decades ago.

We were the lead firm representing many former staff accused through the long-running North Wales Tribunal of Inquiry (Waterhouse).

Since then we have represented clients facing diverse criminal allegations nationwide and have specialist expertise in historic and multiple allegations both domestic and institutional. This includes allegations concerning

* children and teenagers
* adult relationship and date rape claims
* claims against professionals
* internet pornography related allegations

We can assist at any stage in the criminal process

* Pre- and at Trial
* On Appeal - conviction and sentence
* Criminal Cases Review Commission
* Judicial review

We also handle evidentially complex cases of serious crime including murder and arson.

We also offer a service in relation to the contested inclusion of allegations in Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates.

Chris Saltrese gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on allegations of abuse in children's homes. This landmark report highlighted care home cases as contributing to a new genre of miscarriage of justice.

This is a concern that extends beyond the institutional cases, and is a major reason for Chris Saltrese Solicitors' specialisation in the field of contested sexual offence allegations.

Our specialist consultants include:

Margaret Jervis, who has researched and analysed contested sexual allegations for over twenty years in a legal and social framework.

Oliver Cyriax, a leading family law reformer and adviser, who is the author of our Operation Ore appeal template.

Chris Saltrese Solicitors hold a Legal Services Commission General Criminal Contract.

PLEASE NOTE that due to severe legal aid restrictions, now means-tested, on trial representation, it may only be possible to provide an adequate service through private funding. If successful, clients are entitled to costs recovery.

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