It is entirely understandable that victims of sexual abuse may seek to bury memories of their suffering. However, as a Court of Appeal decision illustrated, those who delay contacting specialist lawyers may ultimately jeopardise their chances of obtaining compensation.
The case concerned a middle-aged man who had been taken into care at a young age and sent to a Catholic school for troubled children. He claimed to have been raped by a teacher during a school trip when he was aged just 12. After he launched proceedings, a judge upheld his claim and awarded him £14,000 in compensation against the religious order and diocesan authorities that ran the school.
Despite the very long delay in lodging his claim – he did not make an explicit rape complaint against the teacher until 24 years after the alleged event – the judge waived the time limit that normally applies to personal injury cases. He noted that, in common with many others who have suffered abuse, the victim had been too embarrassed and ashamed to reveal the truth earlier.
In overturning that decision, however, the Court found that the time limit should not have been extended. The rape allegation – which had been tersely expressed in a single sentence – was thoroughly stale. The claim came out of the blue, was uncorroborated and was at variance with contemporaneous documents and his previous statements. Due to the delay of so many years, potentially important witnesses were untraceable, thus exposing the defendants to a real risk of prejudice.