The Catholic diocese of Middlesborough is appealing to the Supreme Court to minimise its liability for compensating victims of child abuse at St William's, one of its children's homes.
The case before the Supreme Court is being closely watched, as it is expected to more clearly define the legal concept of vicarious liability, specifically in relation to religious organisations. The Catholic Church has repeatedly sought to deny or minimise its responsibility for the clerical abuse of children.
The current case involves, according to the Guardian's report, more then 170 victims and 20 alleged perpetrators. The abuse at the children's home in Yorkshire stretches back to 1958. James Carragher, former Principal, has twice been convicted of a series of sexual assaults on the boys who were in the home. He was sentenced to seven years in 1993 and a further fourteen years In 2004.
The issue before the Supreme Court is the matter of who is responsible for paying compensation to the victims. The Catholic diocese of Middlesborough claims that the main liability lies with the order of Christian Brothers, who had the day to day running of the home. The Church's lawyers' claim that the case has been brought to the Supreme Court as this is an important legal issue, requiring clarification.
However, the victims in the case see the actions of the Church as simply another attempt to avoid or at least delay payment of compensation. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have already found the Catholic diocese of Middlesborough responsible. David Greenwood, of Jordans solicitors, acting for the victims, said:
The Catholic church has for years tried to escape liability for its priests and members, and I hope this case will decide the issues once and for all.
In a recent case before the Court of Appeal, which, according to the Lawyer, has been on-going since 1996, the Catholic Church argued that it was not liable for the abuse committed by a priest on the ground that it did not "directly employ" him. The Church lost its appeal and was, according to BBC News, denied leave to appeal the decision, pending the outcome of the current case before the Supreme Court.
The significance of the Supreme Court's ruling in this case is clearly understood by all parties. As the National Secular Society reports, Mr Greenwood, summed it up:
The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. The St William's case represents an opportunity to make churches responsible for the past wrongs of abusers within their organisations. I also hope that the court will send a signal to all organisations that care for children that they must rigorously enforce safeguarding responsibilities.