Action over alleged sex abuse against estate of Christian Brother is dismissed

Death of the accused brother gives rise to risk that a fair trial would not occur, says judge

The High Court has dismissed a man’s action against the estate of a Christian Brother teacher he claims sexually abused him at school more than 24 years ago.

The brother, who died in 2019, was a vice-principal and career guidance counsellor in the secondary school which the man attended in the 1990s.

He alleged the brother, between 1993 and 1998, sexually abused him in his office on the school grounds, in private, and during the school day.

He brought High Court proceedings against the brother in 2012 claiming the abuse had a profound effect on his life. He claimed it disrupted his education, led to him engaging in alcohol and drug abuse for many years and led to depression and post traumatic stress disorder-type symptoms.


Following the brother’s death, an order was made substituting the executors of his estate as defendants.

The executors then brought an application seeking to strike out the proceedings on grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay both prior to and subsequent to the commencement of the proceedings in 2012. The man opposed the application.

Mr Justice Cian Ferriter dismissed the case against the executors saying the balance of justice favoured him granting the order. He also did so because the “very serious prejudice” caused to the executors by the death of the brother was such as to lead to a very real and substantial risk that there will be an unfair trial or an unjust result at trial.

The right of the executors to call evidence in defence of the very serious allegations made was “effectively set at nought” by the death of the brother, he said.

The judge was “acutely conscious of the very serious damage which the plaintiff says has been caused to his life as a result of the matters complained of”.

He had very carefully considered his right to seek to pursue to trial his claim for compensation for the grave wrongs he alleged were perpetrated against him.

However, in considering fair trial rights it was necessary to also weigh in the scales of justice the right of a defendant who maintains his innocence of allegations made against him.

Unfortunately, “and through absolutely no fault of the plaintiff”, the death of the brother meant that, objectively, there is a real risk that a fair trial would not occur in this case.

The judge noted there might still be an opportunity for vindication on the plaintiff’s part because no application has been brought to strike out proceedings against two other defendants, the board of management of the school and the Christian Brothers order.

As matters stand, the man’s claims in vicarious liability for wrongdoings of the brother against those defendants, can proceed to trial, he said.