Sunday 2nd March, 2008

Anand Ramlogan
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Justice at last!

Panday’s former defence lawyer, Mr Alan Newman, QC, recently created legal history in the famous “lotto rapist trial.”

In a case that attracted widespread publicity and keen public interest, the House of Lords, in an unanimous ruling, held that Newman’s client, a retired teacher, could sue the person who raped her, even though the six-year limitation period had long passed.

The rape victim who was identified as “Mrs A,” expressed delight in the result. Her life was destroyed when she was viciously and brutally raped by a man named Lorworth Hoare, who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in May, 1989.

He had previously been imprisoned for a number of other sex crimes, including rape, two attempted rapes and three indecent assaults during the 1970s and 80s.

On August 7, 2004, Hoare purchased a winning lottery ticket on his way out from jail, and won a whopping £7m (over TT$70m).

He immediately purchased a luxurious mansion and lived the life of the rich and famous, whilst his ruined rape victim looked on in shock and horror.

No legal action was ever taken by Mrs A, because Hoare was a man of straw and there was no point in suing him for monetary compensation.

The lotto jackpot, however, changed all of that. She attempted to sue him, but in 2005 the High Court ruled her compensation claim was doomed to fail, because it was filed outside the six-year legal limit.

This decision was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The House of Lords reversed both courts, and effectively overturned 400 years of legal precedent by holding that Mrs A could be allowed to sue outside the time limit.

The court said judges had the discretion to extend the time limit in special circumstances.

This case was heard together with four other appeals where the same issue was raised in the context of sex abuse cases.

Victims of sexual abuse have long complained that by the time they are mentally prepared to take legal action, the limitation period has expired.

In many cases, children who were abused while growing up were barred from suing when they became adults. That the law permitted such grave injustice has always been a stain on the conscience on the legal system.

Baroness Hale said it was important the legal system respond to the challenges posed by historical sexual abuse claims.

“A fair trial can be possible long after the event, and sometimes the law has no choice,” she said.

The decision gave hope to one of the victims who was sexually-abused between 1982 and 1988 at a school when he was aged between ten and 16.

Baroness Hale said victims of child abuse were often reluctant to report it at the time.

She said: “Until the 1970s, people were reluctant to believe that child sexual abuse took place at all. Now we know only too well that it does. But it remains hard to protect children from it.

“This is because the perpetrators have many ways, some subtle and some not so subtle, of making their victims keep quiet about what they have suffered.

“The abuse itself is the reason why so many victims do not come forward until years after the event. This presents a challenge to the legal system, which resists stale claims.

“Six years, let alone three, from reaching the age of majority is not long enough, especially since the age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18.”

This landmark ruling may have implications for the development of the law with respect to limitation periods in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

The House of Lords deserves full marks for its willingness to meet this difficult challenge posed by exceptional cases of this nature.

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