Limitation and sexual abuse (England & Wales)

There has been a recent flurry of decisions on limitation in the context of claims for sexual abuse.

Under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980, there is judicial discretion to disapply the limitation rules in personal injury claims.  The judge should only exercise such discretion in favour of claimants if a fair trial is still possible: the judge will look at the reasons for the delay, the cogency of the evidence, and whether any detriment to the defendant prevents a fair trial.

In historical cases of sexual abuse, the courts have developed sophisticated mechanisms to assess the impact of delay.  It is interesting to note that the courts will exercise their discretion even if the abuse took place a long time ago, provided there are good reasons for the delay and a fair trial is still possible.  The strength of the claimant’s case (if limitation is set aside) is also a factor.  The existence of a recent criminal trial may be helpful to claimants – but not necessarily and all of these cases are fact specific.

We summarise in table format the outcome of reported cases since 2015:


Case name

Age at time of abuse Delay since abuse Delay since primary limitation expired Recent criminal trial? Discretion exercised?
RE v GE  (2015)


6-14 30 to 38 years 24 to 32 years No No at 1st instance

No on appeal


Wilde v Coventry City Council (2017)


13-16 35 years 30 years No No
Catholic Child Welfare & Others v CD (2018)


12 24 years   Yes Yes at 1st instance

No on appeal


Sarah Jane Young v John Anthony Downey (2017)



(not a case of sexual  abuse)

35 years 15 years Yes (trial aborted) Yes
Murray v Devenish & other (2018)


14-16 39 to 40 years  34 years No No

LXA & BXL v Willcox (2018)


4-15 35 years &

40 years

31 years &

32 years


Yes Yes

RSL v CM (2018)


7-14 16 years 9 years Yes Yes
BXB v Watch Tower And Bible Tract Society Of Pennsylvania (2020)


28 27 years 24 years Yes Yes
LB Haringey v FZO (2020)


14- 22 28 to 36 years 25 to 30 years Yes Yes at 1st instance

Yes on appeal

DSN v Blackpool Football Club Limited (2020)


13 31 years 22 years No Yes
EXE v Governors Of The Royal Navy School (2020)


14 26 years 20 years No No
FXF V Ampleforth Abbey Trustees  (2020)


4-5 48 years 32 years No No


Written by Geneviève Rich, associate at BLM


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