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A v Hoare and related appeals: House of Lords reverse decision in Stubbings v Webb

The long-awaited opinions of the House of Lords have been delivered in the appeal of A v Hoare and other related appeals including Young v Catholic Care in which Edward Faulks QC acted for Catholic Care.  All of the appeals, save Young, depended upon whether or not the Lords were prepared to reverse their own decision in Stubbings v Webb.  They decided that they were which now means that claimants can bring cases for compensation as a result of sexual and physical abuse many years after the events provided that a court considers that a fair trial is still possible.

The Young decision concerned the date of knowledge provisions.  The House of Lords concluded that a construction of the legislation which had been reached by the Court of Appeal in Bryn Alyn that allowed a generous interpretation was wrong.  So that Mr Young was held to have had knowledge of the abuse at the time that it occurred.  However, a knock-on effect of the decision in the other cases is that it will now be possible for Mr Young to rely upon the discretion given to the court under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 in order to persuade the court to disapply the provisions of the Limitation Act.  The question for the judge now will be whether it is possible to have a fair trial of the question as to whether the abuse took place rather than whether or not there was systemic negligence.  The latter question is more difficult to try many years after the event.  The former should be easier to try particularly if there has been a relevant conviction.  However, there is still a considerable degree of uncertainty as to how the courts will treat cases brought many years after the event where there is no relevant conviction and where defendants have real difficulties in mounting a defence because of the passage of time.  There will be much reference by the judges to what Lord Brown said at paragraph 86 of his speech, a passage which was specifically endorsed by all the other judges with the exception of Baroness Hale.

The decision of the House of Lords has removed one apparent anomaly which resulted from the Stubbings v Webb decision but has by no means provided an answer to all historic cases of sexual abuse.  Edward Faulks QC was counsel for Catholic Care in the Young case, for the defendants in the Bryn Alyn case and for the defendants in the Adams case in the House of Lords which was referred to by Lord Hoffmann in his leading speech in this current case.

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