There was a very interesting judgement yesterday in the Supreme Court that coaxed the law on Vicarious Liability along its merry way. This law one of the learned judges said “was on the move” and has been tested on a few occasions recently and on one most important occasion during the life of this appeal. Vicarious liability being the responsibility an employer has for his employees or a master has for his servants.
The case centres around St Williams School in Market Weighton in Yorkshire. I wrote about this case on 28th October 2010 under the title Vicarious Liability and Co-Principal Liability . The School was owned and managed by the Diocese of Middlesborough but its head and some of the staff were members of the De La Salle Order of Teaching Brothers. In this case the head, Brother James Carragher was the chief abuser and 140 plus pupils were awarded £8,000,000 damages, the largest single award against the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
The Diocese appealed the decision and when I wrote the above piece the Court of Appeal had said the Diocese of Middlesborough were solely responsible under vicarious liability as they had contracts of employment with the individual brothers of the Order. Middlesborough appealed to the Supreme Court and yesterday the five law lords, after over two year, allowed the appeal and said there was joint responsibility under vicarious liability between the Brothers and the Diocese and that this was not a borderline case. So that ruling will certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons in a number of cases that are lining up against the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
So now at long last Mr David Greenwood of Jordans Solicitors will get his £8,000,000 plus costs after one more visit to the Courts, so that individual assessments can be collated. He thinks it is nearer £5 million than the reported eight. Mr Greenwood considers that the Church has played every trick in the book over the last six or seven years to avoid their responsibility. As he said yesterday “this could all have been cleared up years ago except for the vacillations of the Church”. The appellants, all mainly poorly educated, middle aged men, living in reduced circumstances can surely do with an injection of funds to ease their shattered lives. However if you do the mathematics, the award amounts on average to about £50,000 per man.
I ask is £50,000 enough. Is it apt consideration for in many cases 30 or 40 years of mental torture, 30 to 40 years of ruined lives and the polite answer would be, “no not really”.
These men would never have been allowed to bring this case unless certain solicitors were confident of working on a no win/no fee basis. After the cost reforms, which will come into effect next April, which stop lawyers recovering all their fees from the losing side, claimants are going to have to pay some of their awards to their lawyers too. And these lawyers deserve their cut of the damages for putting up their money and reputations in bringing the case. But with this in mind surely larger awards should be in the judges minds in future cases. However I think that this has now become such a complex area I will leave the full explanation for a different time and place to be explained by a far more able person than I, a lawyer for example.
I am involved in a similar case in Manchester, where the victims have undergone abuse of this nature and have lived very fractured lives, some living a lifetime dependent on prescription drugs necessary for their depression, some held together for 40 or 50 years by an unbelievably strong family support system. They deserve better than £50,000. They deserve a lot better.
Jonathan West, a fellow blogger and a champion of victims affected by the abuse of Benedictine monks at St Benedict’s School in Ealing in London sums it all up very well in his recent posting on his Confessions of a Skeptic blog of the 15th November 2012 entitled “£185,000“, where the BBC have paid this amount of money to Alistair McAlpine after never even mentioning his name in relation to sex abuse of children, “so a retired politician’s hurt feelings are valued by this society as being about twenty times as valuable as a life wrecked by childhood sex abuse” Jonathan said.
I have seen it at first hand in my dealings with the men on our case, the men who were abused at St Bede’s College in Manchester in the 1950s and 60s under the tutelage of Monsignor Thomas Duggan. I have seen the despair under which they live because of what happened to them all those years ago, I have seen their helplessness. They deserve better, far, far better and I hope our lawyers Anderson Olivarius Advocates can plead for better.