Scouting Ireland using ‘technicality’ to dispute claims from abuse survivors

Solicitors for alleged victims criticise organisation for fighting cases ‘tooth and nail’

Scouting Ireland has been accused of trying to rely on a “legal technicality” to avoid paying compensation to survivors of historical child sexual abuse in its legacy scouting bodies.

Recent legal filings responding to claims taken by alleged victims of child sex abuse argue that the High Court has “no jurisdiction to hear and determine” the cases due to a relatively little know clause in charities law.

A law firm representing nearly 30 alleged victims has criticised the organisation for trying to use a “legal technicality” to avoid its liability to those who were sexually abused by scout leaders in the past.

In recent filings, Sheehan & Co LPP Solicitors, which represents Scouting Ireland, state that under a 1961 law anyone seeking to sue a charity must first notify the Charities Regulator. The filings argue that as “prior notice has not been given to the Charities Regulator of these proceedings” the court has no jurisdiction to rule on the cases.

Coleman Legal Partners, which represents 27 alleged victims of historical abuse in former scouting bodies, has written to the regulator criticising Scouting Ireland’s legal strategy to fight cases “tooth and nail”.

In a June 29th letter, seen by The Irish Times, the firm told the regulator that Scouting Ireland’s use of the “antiquated” provision of charity law to defend claims amounted to “an abuse of the privileged position afforded to charities”.

A spokeswoman for Scouting Ireland said the organisation could not comment on matters before the courts.

Full apology

Scouting Ireland has faced a historical sex abuse scandal in recent years, with revelations that more than 350 children were allegedly abused in its predecessor organisations, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and Scout Association of Ireland.

This abuse was tolerated at the highest levels and covered up for decades to protect the reputation of the scouting movement, according to a 2020 report by child protection expert Ian Elliott.

The organisation issued a full apology to abuse survivors following the report, with senior figures signalling victims would not face protracted court battles for compensation. More than 40 alleged abuse victims are pursuing cases against the organisation, which has set aside a liability of more than €6 million to cover the costs of claims.

Norman Spicer, solicitor with Coleman Legal Partners, said despite previous promises it appeared the organisation was using “any and all means” to defend legal claims from survivors.

Kieran Cleary, of Clonmel-based Cleary & Co Solicitors, who is representing a handful of alleged victims, described Scouting Ireland’s approach as “belligerent” towards survivors. He said the organisation was seeking extensive medical records from plaintiffs spanning several decades.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times