JGE v. The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust
Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
JGE v. The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust, Case No. B3/2011/3210,  EWCA Civ 938
12 July 2012
The claimant alleged that in 1970 when she was 6 ½ years old she was sexually abused and raped on multiple occasions by a Roman Catholic priest while residing in a children’s home run by an order of nuns. The present case was brought by the claimant who was now an adult against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth (the “Church”) for the acts of the priest. The defendant Church argued that it could not be held liable for the acts of the priest as he was not an employee of the Church, rather he was merely an office holder following his vocation and calling as a priest and thus not subject to the level of control required to demonstrate an employment relationship giving rise to vicarious liability.
Issue and resolution:
Vicarious liability for sexual abuse of children. The Court held that, even though the priest was not an employee of the Church, his relationship with the Church was sufficiently akin to one of employment that it was fair and just to hold the Church vicariously liable for damages as a result of his conduct.
The Court conducted an extensive analysis of the law of vicarious liability and the policy considerations that inform the doctrine to conclude that vicarious liability should apply in the absence of formal employment when that relationship is sufficiently akin to one of employment and it is fair and just to impose vicarious liability. The court held that this test was met in the case of the priest performing his duties within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. The court based its holding on an analysis of several factors, including the level of control and supervision exercised by the Church and the role of the priest within the organisational structure of the Church.
Partly relying on the decision in the present case, the UK Supreme Court upheld a similar claim against the Brothers of Christian Schools in The Catholic Welfare Society v. the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools  UKSC 56.
For more information on the issue of child sexual abuse and religious institutions, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s campaign ‘End sexual violence in religious institutions‘.
Link to Full Judgment:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.