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Institute not liable for abuse of boys

1 November 2010

The Institute of Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De La Salle Institute, was not vicariously liable for the abuse of boys at a school in Yorkshire, appeal judges have ruled.

A group of 150 former pupils are sueing St William’s School in Market Weighton and its managers under a group litigation order for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The court heard that there were 35 potential defendants, including individuals and organisations responsible for the running of the school, particularly the Middlesbrough Diocesan Rescue Society from 1973 to 1982 and the Catholic Child Welfare Society from 1982 to 1992. The school closed in 1994.

Giving the leading judgment in Various Claimants v the Catholic Child Welfare Society and others [2010] EWCA Civ 1106, Lord Justice Hughes said the two organisations were “emanations of the Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough”.

He said the alleged abusers of the boys fell into at least six categories, including institute brothers on the teaching staff, non-institute teachers, social workers, domestic staff, volunteers and a chaplain at the school.

Hughes LJ said the trial judge ruled that the boards of managers and the two organisations, together known as the ‘Middlesbrough defendants’, were vicariously liable for the abuse, but not the institute.

“In my judgment, there can be no doubt that St William’s was managed by the board created by the statutory scheme,” he said. “While many members of the board of management would be sympathetic to the aims, purposes and practices of the institute, the members are separate from the institute and have personal and a corporate responsibility as a board for managing the school.

“Reflecting public policy, the law requires them to be vicariously liable for the activities of brothers at the school. They tolerated, and were entitled to tolerate, a system which permitted the institute to decide which brothers should teach at St William’s and even the teaching methods to be adopted.

“Their tolerance of that system, encouraged no doubt by a common Roman Catholic heritage, does not limit their responsibility for the way the school is run and for the activities of members of staff. Nor does it create in the institute a vicarious liability for the brothers’ conduct.”

Hughes LJ said it was true that the brother-teachers were readily identifiable by their names, whether or not they wore habits.

“That does not mean, however, that they were, when teaching, in any sense acting on behalf of the other members of the institute, any more than any member of a professional organisation who accepts employment with that status is acting on behalf of the organisation when he does his job.

“For the same reason the discipline exercised by the institute is not sufficient either alone or in conjunction with the other matters relied upon to render it liable. It was a general discipline, iron in form maybe, but it did not confer control over the particular work done at the school.”

Hughes LJ said that none of the evidence undermined the trial judge’s conclusions that the “institute did not run the school and that it did not exercise control over a brother-teacher’s doing of the job”.

He dismissed the appeals of both the Middlesbrough defendants and the claimants against the High Court’s ruling that the institute was not vicariously liable.

Lord Justice Tomlinson agreed, as did Lord Justice Pill, for different reasons.

Patricia Leonard, barrister at 7 Bedford Row, acted for the claimants. She said that, once they knew whether the Middlesbrough defendants were appealing, they could proceed with the main litigation.

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