Law reports: Court of Appeal determines connection to Church

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Maga v Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church (Court of Appeal — 16 March 2010)

The claimant alleged that a Father Clonan sexually abused him during a period of approximately six months in 1975 and 1976. The High Court ruled that the abuse had occurred as alleged but found that the Archdiocese was not vicariously liable for Father Clonan's acts.

The claimant was not a member of the church. Father Clonan befriended the claimant near the church and invited him to attend a church disco.

The claimant gradually began to do small jobs for Father Clonan, such as wash his car. The abuse first occurred in Father Clonan's room in the presbytery and subsequently occurred at Father Clonan's house and in his car.

The test for vicarious liability established in the 2002 case of Lister v Hesley Hall is whether there was a sufficiently close connection between the nature of his employee's employment and his wrongdoing. The High Court found that vicarious liability did not attach as Father Clonan's contact with the claimant involved activities unrelated to the church.

The Court of Appeal, however, determined that there was a sufficiently close connection between Father Clonan's employment as a priest and the abuse itself due to a number of factors. This included the fact it was Father Clonan's role within the church for youth work that allowed him to effectively groom the claimant and ultimately afforded him the opportunity to abuse his power. He used church premises to develop his relationship with the claimant and ultimately abused him for the first time in the presbytery.

COMMENT
It is understood that the defendant may appeal to the Supreme Court. This ruling effectively fixes the defendant with vicarious liability even when the acts themselves are not perpetrated on an institutions' premises and on "work time" in a conventional sense. This development makes it clear that the courts will look at a workplace — in the broadest sense — giving rise to the opportunity to groom a claimant for abuse.
Nicholas Leigh, BLM Manchester

This law report has been contributed by national law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer.

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