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Recently, a carefully worded statement was released by Prince Andrew’s legal team confirming that a settlement had been agreed in the civil case raised by Virginia Giuffre, who accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager.

It appears that Prince Andrew has now finally accepted that defending this case to the point of appearing at a trial (or a Proof, in Scots civil law) was unlikely, to put it mildly, to be successful. This marks a significant change in the approach so far taken in defending the case, which included questioning the authenticity and credibility of both the evidence and Ms Giuffre.

The statement confirming settlement commends Ms Giuffre’s bravery and acknowledges her status as a victim of sex trafficking by Jeffrey Epstein but does not go as far as to admit any wrongdoing on Prince Andrew’s part. The closest it gets is to note his regret in associating with Epstein.

Settlement Agreement

There is no doubt that the statement was a matter of negotiation between legal teams on both sides of this case. It is common for settlement proposals to be accepted without the need for an admission of liability or wrongdoing, and while this can be a source of frustration, there are advantages to concluding a case in this way:-

  • Criminal charges have never been brought against Prince Andrew although he has been linked to the investigations into Epstein’s crimes. Lack of a criminal conviction does not, of course, bar anyone from pursuing civil proceedings but it leaves open the question of liability. Where liability is not admitted ahead of Proof there is the risk to the pursuer of a judge finding in the defender’s favour.
  • There is a risk to both parties that a judge does not find them credible. In this case, Prince Andrew’s credibility has been called into question since the disastrous BBC interview in 2019. His bullish conduct in defending the case against him surely has not helped.

In turn, Ms Giuffre’s character and credibility has been attacked by those tasked with defending the allegations. She has been accused of simply lying, repeatedly.

  • In cases of such a sensitive nature, there is a very delicate balance between achieving justice and protecting a survivor of abuse. A settlement agreement can fulfil certain goals, including acknowledgement and compensation, without the need to give evidence and be cross-examined. Where there are legal points to be tested there will be numerous discussions with a pursuer to ensure they are prepared for court, and this is one of the many reasons why it is vital to instruct solicitors who have specialist knowledge of the unique issues involved in historic abuse cases.

Damages – UK vs US

It is reported that Prince Andrew has agreed to pay a sum of around $12 million, and it’s also understood that a condition of settlement was that substantial donations would be made to charities supporting victims of trafficking.

Civil claims in the US can include provisions for punitive damages, hence the often eye-watering sums, sometimes running into tens of millions, we read about when notable cases conclude.

In the UK, civil cases are valued to take account of “pain and suffering” as well as loss of earnings and any other special expenses in order to, as far as possible, compensate a pursuer and restore their life to something approaching what it would have been but for the incident which led to the claim.

That being said, Thompsons has recently secured £1.75 million for a client who suffered abuse at the hands of their foster carer. No doubt the figure would have been higher in America as punitive damages could reflect the importance of the foster parent/child relationship and the ongoing suffering following the denial of liability for so many years, amongst other factors. For our justice system though, this was a hugely significant decision and one which acknowledged fully our client’s case. We certainly hope that it has paved the way for many more similar judgments in favour of survivors, and that is a very positive outlook.

Pursuing an historic abuse case

Thompsons regularly advises clients pursuing historic abuse cases, and part of that advice involves how to handle any publicity surrounding the case before and after a court hearing. It is rare that an individual chooses to waive their anonymity, and equally rare that we would advise them to do so. It’s therefore worth noting that Ms Giuffre did exactly that in her case, and she should be commended for her bravery in doing so. She has been exposed to significant criticism and scrutiny which has no doubt had an impact on every area of her life.

It is clear that Ms Giuffre had a dedicated team of specialist solicitors supporting her throughout this arduous process, and that is what we strive to offer every day. Cases of historic abuse affect not only the survivor but the people around them, and they are complex in terms of both evidence and the law which, in Scotland, is still developing following the introduction of the Limitation (Child Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017. It is vital that survivors seek advice from solicitors with the expertise and working knowledge required to see these most complex and important cases to their conclusion.

Blog by Shona Cocksedge, Historic Abuse Solicitor

 

 

 

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