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A v Iorworth Hoare; H v Suffolk County Council & Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; X & Y v Wandsworth London Borough Council, Court of Appeal, 12 April 2006

20 April 2006
The issues

Sexual abuse; sexual assault; vicarious liability; limitation; date of knowledge; Limitation Act 1980; European Convention of Human Rights.

The facts

The appellants had claims for damages for psychiatric harm which they had suffered as a consequence of sexual abuse. The abuse had occurred during their time in school. One appealed against the decision that a claim for damages for attempted rape against the Respondent offender was statute barred. The four cases were subject to the decision in Stubbings -v- Webb, the decision of the House of Lords which held that a claim for damages for deliberate assault or trespass to the person was not an action for damages for negligence, nuisance or breach of duty within the meaning of the Limitation Act 1980 and consequently the limitation period was six years rather than three years and was one where there was no discretion under Section 33 for the Court to extend the period. The Claimants appealed on the basis that the decision on Stubbings was wrong and should no longer be followed, the Law Commission having recommended that it should be left to the discretion of the Court to decide whether it would be just to extend the limitation period in a particular case; or that Stubbings should no longer be followed because Section 11 of the Limitation Act should now be construed in the light of the Human Rights Act 1998 Section 3; or that Stubbings did not apply against a Public Authority; and that if necessary the Court should grant a declaration of incompatibility between the 1980 Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Claimants argued that Stubbings could be distinguished on the fact that those cases were where the Claimant was also able to rely on a breach of a duty of care that did not arise solely in connection with a deliberate act.

The decision

1. Stubbings was binding on the Court of Appeal. It was not open to the Court to depart from the decision. It was a matter for the House of Lords to decide whether it wished to look again at the issue.

2. The Local Authorities and Hoare had a right to plead the six year non-extendable limitation period provided for in Section 2 of the 1980 Act.

3. None of the Appellants were entitled to rely on the 1998 Act so as to allow the Court to construe Section 11 of the 1980 Act differently. In fact there was no logical basis for holding that an action against a teacher in respect of sexual abuse was not an action for damages for negligence, nuisance or breach of duty, or where an action against a Local Authority on the basis of its vicarious liability for the teacher’s act did come within the language of Section 11.

4. The consequence of the decision in Stubbings was that both claims were outside Section 11 and subject to the six year limitation period provided for under Section 2. The Court of Appeal in KR -v- Bryn Alyn Community Holdings Ltd had expressly stated that the approach in Lister -v- Hesley Hall Ltd as to the none availability of an alternative claim based on the breach of duty was the correct approach.

5. The Court was bound by the decision in Stubbings to hold that all the claims were statute barred.

Appeals dismissed.

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