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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Accountability and Reparations Investigation Report

C.4: Legal basis for claims against institutions

21. Child abuse claims are governed by an area of civil law known as the law of tort. A civil claim of assault and battery (also known as trespass to the person) can be brought directly against an abuser. This covers acts which, in criminal proceedings, would be sexual assault or rape. However, an individual abuser typically does not have sufficient funds to be able to pay damages. As a result, claims are usually brought against the institution in which the abuse took place or against those responsible for that institution, for example a local authority or private body.

22. Historically, the law did not permit claimants in sexual abuse claims to bring cases on the basis of vicarious liability, the legal principle which may make institutions liable for their employees, even where the institution itself is not at fault. This was because the courts considered that sexual abuse was always outside the scope of the abuser’s employment.[1] Instead, the law required victims and survivors to prove that their abuse resulted from the negligence of a particular institution, for example, in failing to stop the abuse. These cases were known as systemic negligence cases because they involved examining the whole system operating at an institution. Alistair Gillespie, a defendant lawyer who acted for Royal & Sun Alliance (RSA) in the North Wales litigation, explained that having to bring claims based on systemic negligence was very challenging for claimants. They had to prove that there was a breach of duty according to the standards at the time, and they had to obtain sufficient evidence of what systems and operations were in place at the time.[2]

23. It is now easier for claimants to bring claims of non-recent abuse based on vicarious liability.[3] This is due to two major judgments by the House of Lords. First, a decision in 2001 that employers could be vicariously liable for sexual assault.[4] Second, a decision in 2008 that the extendable three-year limitation period should apply to all sexual abuse claims[5] (see below).

24. However, Peter Garsden told the Inquiry that this shift meant that there was now more focus on whether or not the abuse took place and an examination of the credibility of the claimants.[6]


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