Sex abuse victim unable to meet legal costs for compensation battle

MSSP sex abuse victim Lawrence Grech unable to finance compensation case against Maltese church

Lawrence Grech
Lawrence Grech

A victim seeking compensation for clerical sex abuse has said that he is unable to appeal a decision declaring his complaint as time-barred due to the upfront costs involved.

Lawrence Grech, together with ten others, had filed a case for damages against two priests, their Order, the Archdiocese and the government in 2013. He showed the MaltaToday a recent notice that he had received from court, informing him that in order for his appeal to be heard, he needed to provide a €1,895 deposit for costs to cater for the eventuality that the appeal was decided against him.

Grech, who now runs a one-man cleaning business, said he cannot afford the sum, known in the legal industry as “kawtela”.

Contacted by MaltaToday, his lawyer Patrick Valentino explained that the deposit was required by the courts to ensure that costs for the other party were covered should the appeal be lost.

The case dates back to August 2011, when two priests of the St Paul’s Missionary Society, Godwin Scerri, 78, and Carmelo Pulis, 69, were defrocked and jailed for five and six years respectively on appeal in 2012, after they had been convicted of sexually abusing 11 boys in their care at St Joseph’s Home in Santa Venera in the 1980s.

Pulis and Scerri were later defrocked by the Vatican. Scerri was released on parole in 2015, on humanitarian grounds.

But the victims were then faced with another uphill battle: seeking monetary compensation from the Church for the abuse they had suffered.

The applicants had won a partial victory in 2017 when the Constitutional Court ordered the recusal of Judge Joseph R Micallef from hearing the case for damages. Doubt had been cast upon the latter's impartiality, as a result of his close ties to church organisations in his role as president of Radio Maria.

But their efforts to obtain compensation all came to naught in April 2018, when the First Hall of the Civil Court, presided by Mr. Justice Mark Chetcuti ruled the claim for damages to be time-barred by the two-year prescriptive period laid down by law.

It is against this decision that Grech had hoped to appeal, on the grounds that prescription had been interrupted, but says he cannot source the funds to do so.

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