from moon beam - Wednesday, January 30, 2008
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U.K. courts have held previously that a claim for compensation in an assault case must be made within six years of the attack. The House of Lords in London today disagreed, ruling unanimously that a High Court judge is entitled to decide whether the victim can make a claim out-of-time.
Lords issue landmark abuse ruling
Iorworth Hoare now lives in luxury in Northumberland
Background to case
Victims of sexual abuse may be able to sue their attackers after many years, following a ruling by the Law Lords.
They ruled a convicted rapist who later won £7m on the National Lottery could be sued by his victim - even though her claim was outside a six-year deadline.
Iorworth Hoare, 53, was jailed for life in May 1989 for the attempted rape of the 59-year-old woman, Mrs A, in Leeds.
The Lords backed four more appeals; it is thought their decision could allow a number of other cases to be brought.
A fair trial can be possible long after the event and sometimes the law has no choice
Implications of ruling
Until now sexual abuse victims have been prevented from bringing a claim more than six years after an attack or, in child abuse cases, more than six years after the victim reaches 18.
The Law Lords' unanimous ruling now means all five appeal cases - some involving children - will be sent back to the High Court, where judges will decide whether or not to hear the abuse compensation cases.
One of the judges, Baroness Hale, said it was important the legal system responded to the challenges posed by historical sexual abuse claims.
"A fair trial can be possible long after the event and sometimes the law has no choice," she said.
'Delighted and relieved'
Before being jailed for life for his attack on Mrs A, Hoare, known as the Lotto rapist, was imprisoned several times for a string of sex attacks, including rape, two attempted rapes and three indecent assaults, during the 1970s and 1980s.
THE FIVE CASES
Mrs A v Iorworth Hoare: Claimant was the victim of an attempted rape by Hoare in Leeds in 1988
C v Middlesbrough Council: Claimant was sexually abused between 1982 and 1988 between the ages of 10 to 16 at a council-managed school
H v Suffolk County Council: H claims he was sexually abused while resident at a school managed by the council
X and Y v Wandsworth: X and Y both allege they were sexually abused between 1984 and 1987 at a council-managed school
Young v Catholic Care and the Home Office: The claimant alleges sexual abuse at a school and detention centre
Abuse victim gets right to sue
He now lives in a £700,000 mansion in Ponteland, Northumberland, after winning a share a £21m Lotto Extra jackpot on 7 August 2004.
In 2005, a High Court judge ruled a compensation claim by Mrs A was outside the legal six-year limit and the Appeal Court later upheld that decision.
The Law Lords have now reversed that ruling, overturning 400 years of legal precedent, allowing her case and four others to be reheard at the High Court.
In a statement released through her solicitor, Mrs A said: "I'm both delighted and relieved that my appeal to the House of Lords has been successful and that I've succeeded in changing a law which will provide others in the future with a means of achieving justice.
"It was this rather than financial gain which motivated me to begin this process two years ago."
The four other appeal cases included a claimant who was sexually abused between 1982 and 1988 at a school managed by Middlesbrough Council when he was aged between 10 and 16.
The judge hearing the case at the time said the victim, known as C, would have been entitled to almost £100,000 in damages, but could not claim because it was outside the legal time period - as covered by the Limitation Act.
But Lord Hoffmann, another of the Law Lords' judges, said Section 33 of the act did give judges the right to extend the time limit when they believed it was right to do so.
It's very good news for her [Mrs A] but the wider significance is questionable because the vast majority of offenders don't have assets to chase
Lawyer Helen Hughes, one of the solicitors representing Kevin Young, who is another of the claimants whose cases will be heard at the High Court, told BBC Radio Five Live the ruling was "very positive for other individuals who may wish to make similar claims".
Leading child abuse lawyer Tracey Storey, of solicitors Irwin Mitchell, said the decision ended the "bizarre situation" which meant child abuse victims over the age of 24 could not sue their abusers.
The decision would have "huge ramifications for all victims of abuse and assault", she said.
David Greenwood of Jordans Solicitors, which also represents victims of child abuse, agreed that the ruling would "empower" people to come forward.
"Victims of sexual and physical abuse in care establishments can now be confident that even after many years they will be treated seriously and sympathetically by lawyers and the courts," he said.
But Victim Support said that while it welcomed the ruling, it believed it would help only a small number of people.
"It's very good news for her but the wider significance is questionable because the vast majority of offenders don't have assets to chase," said spokesman Paul Fawcett.