Abuse Survivors Blog

Supreme Court refuses Catholic Diocese appeal in 'JGE' case

Written by Tracey Emmott on 27 Feb 2013

In a binding ruling for all future cases in the UK and which may well influence those across the world, the Catholic church has failed to reverse a legal judgment which holds it responsible for sex abuse committed by its priests.

It arises from part of a civil action brought by Miss JGE (name withheld). She claims that she was sexually abused by a Catholic priest whilst resident in a children's home in Waterlooville, Hampshire, run by the church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth had claimed that, on a technicality of employment law, it could not be held vicariously responsible because there is no formal employment relationship with their priests. They are effectively self-employed.

But in November 2011 the High Court found that the church is responsible for the sexual misbehaviour of its clergy. Mr Justice Macduff decided that the professional relationship between a priest and his bishop is sufficiently close so as to impose responsibility.

Then in May 2012 the church challenged this decision to the Court of Appeal, but lost again. The court refused permission to take the case further to the Supreme Court, but the church applied to them anyway.

Now, the Supreme Court has refused the church right to appeal, on the grounds that 'the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance'.

The decision was hailed by child abuse lawyer Tracey Emmott, who represents Miss JGE.

'This is an historic decision, putting an end to vexatious litigation by the catholic church claiming they are not legally liable for abuse by priests,'  -Tracey Emmott explains.

'These appeals have had the effect of not only delaying this case but others whose claims have been put on hold pending this outcome.'

'The catholic church has been given a clear message from the highest court in the land that a bishop can be held legally responsible for child abuse by priests.'

'The behaviour of the church in this case has only further tarnished its reputation. They have relied on legal loopholes to argue that they are not legally liable for abuse by their priests.'

'The timing of this decision could hardly be more significant for the church, coming as it does immediately in the wake of the O Brien developments and rumours of sex scandals in the Vatican.'

'I have no idea whether the Catholic church worldwide will now accept the dreadful actions of some of its clergy. But in the UK at least they have no choice now but to accept their responsibility and properly and efficiently deal with claims by victims of clerical abuse, in a transparent and honourable manner.'

'JGE has seen herself as a flag bearer for all victims of clerical abuse, so she is naturally delighted. She has been through nearly 5 years of torment since first notifying the Portsmouth Diocese of her abuse.'

'But at last we have a resounding victory for JGE and a resounding defeat for the Church.'

The case involved the late Father Baldwin, a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth.

At the time of the alleged abuse he was 'vocations director' of the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth and regularly visited The Firs children's home, in Waterlooville. JGE was admitted to the home in May 1970, aged seven.

The home was run by an order of nuns, the English Province of Our Lady of Charity.

Father Baldwin was encouraged to have contact with the children and was granted generous and unsupervised access to them.

JGE alleged that during these visits Father Baldwin sexually abused her both within the home, in a private sitting room set aside for visitors, and in the vestry of the adjoining church of St Michael and All Angels.

The allegations arose in May 2006 after police came 'cold calling' on her and others who they suspected may have been abused, whilst investigating Father Baldwin's activities after receiving complaints.

Father Baldwin died in 2006. But the issue of vicarious responsibility was only one aspect of law which had to be settled to allow the claim itself to proceed through the courts. It will now come to trial, probably in several months' time.

Topics: News

Tracey Emmott

Written by Tracey Emmott

Tracey Emmott is a solicitor with over 25 years’ experience in personal injury law. Previously she was a partner of a regional firm in the Home Counties.