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The Church and litigation CHRISTOPHER LAMB AND SAM ADAMS


Putting a price on damaged lives


For 10 years there has been a steady stream of court cases in England and Wales relating to sex abuse by Catholic priests. Now an American lawyer, a specialist in such cases in the United States, has arrived in London to take on the Church in Britain


initiative was launched a few weeks ago. Dressed in a sharp suit and with a gleaming smile, Jeff Anderson, the American attorney currently suing the Holy See over clerical sex abuse, announced he was setting up a legal practice in the United Kingdom. The plan, Mr Anderson explained, was to use “this fine legal system” to bring redress for victims of abuse by clergy in England and Wales. Over the years Mr Anderson has directed more than 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church in the United States and he believes there is similar work for his new partnership, Jeff Anderson–Ann Olivarius Law to do in Britain. Dr Olivarius pointed out that recent changes in the statute of limitations mean that courts have the discretion to hear the claims of people who say they were abused many years ago. But how effective have lawyers in this coun-


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try been in their claims against the Church and what can Mr Anderson expect to find? The most significant difference is that payouts in the UK have been significantly less than in the US. According to lawyers who have represented victims, compensation in Britain, on the whole, tends to be between £20,000


Jeff Anderson–Ann Olivarius Law Established: Newly formed by American Jeff Anderson and English partner Ann Olivarius Where based: Hammersmith, west London Expertise: Thousands of cases pursued by Anderson against the Church in the United States


Clifton Ingram Established: Lengthy experience in personal injury; now run their own website, www.sexabuselaw. co.uk, where they give advice to those considering making a claim.


4 | THE TABLET | 29 January 2011


t Lincoln’s Inn Fields, central London, the very English home of some of Britain’s most eminent lawyers, a distinctly American legal


and £40,000, which is minimal compared with the hundreds of thousands dollars paid to individual victims in the United States – payouts of such size that have forced some dioceses into bankruptcy. There are a few British exceptions, however, such as one victim of deceased former priest Christopher Clonan who received a little more than £700,000 from the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Another difference between the US and the UK is that British lawyers, who have tended to work on a “no win, no fee” basis in sex-abuse cases, do not get a cut of any settlement to victims, simply receiving their costs. However, according to Carl Rae, senior associate litigator at Clifton Ingram, a Reading-based firm that has represented numerous clerical-abuse vic- tims, the costs for lawyers winning a £30,000 payout for their client will be roughly £300,000. On top of these costs, the Church has to pay its own legal fees, leaving it with a bill of well over £500,000 for just one case (the Church is insured to cover these claims). Mr Rae estimates that his firm, over the years, has won between £1.5 and £2 million in pay- outs from the Church and was paid a similar figure in legal costs. The way that dioceses initially fought cases,


however, increased the bill for the Church. Richard Scorer of solicitors Pannone, who was involved in the case of jailed paedophile


priest Michael Hill (the handling of which by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor when he was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton led to some critics to call for his resignation), said the Church should have settled cases earlier. “The Catholic Church tends to prevaricate over legal points when more often than not it will have to pay out compensation anyway,” said Mr Scorer. Hill Dickinson, the firm that represents a


majority of dioceses in sex-abuse cases, could not be reached to respond to this claim. It’s now more than 10 years since the Catholic Church in England and Wales first faced increasingly public allegations that it had knowingly covered up cases of sexual abuse of children by priests and had moved the offending priests from parish to parish. In 2001 Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then Archbishop of Westminster, appointed Lord Nolan to conduct a review of child pro- tection, which led to child safeguarding policies that were later updated, following a second review led by Baroness Cumberlege. Senior churchmen have expressed contrition about the cases, but compensation for assaults has been left to the courts to sort out. Mr Anderson and his team will find that bringing these claims to court are not straight- forward. Mr Rae explained that given the specialised nature of the law relating to abuse


Sex-abuse cases: specialist law firms


Where based: Reading and Wokingham, Berkshire. Expertise: Securing compensation payments in the UK, including one for £700,000 against the Archdiocese of Birmingham, totalling between £1.5 and £2 million for victims of clerical abuse


Pannone Solicitors Established: Working in wide range of fields from clinical negligence to personal injury,


employing 350 lawyers. Where based: Central Manchester, with offices in London, Alderley Edge and Hale, Cheshire Expertise: Has represented dozens of victims of clerical abuse, bringing cases against nearly every Catholic diocese in England and Wales. Currently involved in 25 clerical abuse cases involving several different Catholic dioceses and the Dominican order


Jordans Solicitors Established: Wide-ranging generalist firm Where based: West Yorkshire, with offices in Dewsbury, Wakefield and Castleford Expertise: Has developed strong specialism in child-abuse compensation, representing numerous victims against Catholic dioceses in England and Wales, including 158 people compensation from the Diocese of Middlesbrough. Has also brought cases against Leeds, Hexham and Newcastle and Southwark.


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