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Hope for Abuse Victims Following Supreme Court Ruling

Rachel Thain of our specialist abuse compensation team takes a look at a recent Supreme Court decision that offers hope to victims of institutional abuse who have previously been denied the right to pursue a claim for compensation.

Children placed in residential care homes by their local authority have been denied compensation for abuse suffered by them because the school where the abuse took place was uninsured and had no assets to meet a compensation award. 

Other abuse victims have been prevented from pursuing a compensation claim following a decision by the Court of Appeal in 2006 which meant that where abuse was carried out by the owner or senior staff of a privately owned school, any insurance policy in place is not valid because abusers cannot insure themselves against deliberately sexually assaulting children. As a result, a number of victims of historic sexual abuse have been prevented from pursuing claims for compensation due to lack of insurance cover.

Supreme Court Ruling

However, a recent landmark decision of the Supreme Court has significant implications for those victims who would have previously been denied compensation.

The case in question involved a child who suffered a serious brain injury following an accident during a swimming lesson organised by her school. Although the specific facts are unrelated to abuse cases, the legal principles are nonetheless very relevant to cases where a child has been abused after being placed by a local authority in the setting where the abuse took place.

The key question the Supreme Court considered was whether a local authority can delegate its duty of care for the safety of a child by placing them in the hands of a third party, essentially washing their hands of the responsibility for the child thereafter. The answer given by the Supreme Court was, ‘no’.  Even though a child has been placed in the care of a privately owned school, the local authority still has a duty of care for the safety of that child. They cannot absolve themselves of that duty by simply placing them with a recognised care provider.

Barrier Removed

The effect of this decision is that a significant barrier preventing access to justice for many victims of abuse has been removed. If a child has been placed in a private boarding school, residential facility or community home by the local authority, that local authority still owes a duty of care for the safety of that child and can be held accountable for the abuse suffered by the child during their time there.  This is important where the private institution does not have insurance cover or other means to meet a compensation award.

Whilst these principles are yet to be tested in Court in a case of sexual abuse, their relevance and applicability in these cases is clear.

If you have suffered sexual abuse, or have previously been denied compensation on the basis that that there was no valid insurance to meet your claim, call us on Freephone 0800 955 1038 for free, confidential legal advice.