As has been widely reported, Prince Andrew has settled the civil claim brought by Virginia Giuffre (“Giuffre”) relating to allegations of sexual abuse when she was a teenager. The settlement no doubt brings to an end further suffering for Giuffre, as well as preventing the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations planned for later in the year being overshadowed. However, from a legal perspective it brings to an end one of the most high-profile cases pursued through New York’s recently relaxed limitation laws.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District Court of New York under the state’s Child Victims Act 2019 (“the 2019 Act”). This was introduced on 14 February 2019 and extended the statute of limitations for a victim of child sexual abuse in both criminal and civil cases in New York. This meant there was more time for victims to press criminal charges and bring a civil claim. In relation to criminal charges, a victim previously had until the age of 23 to seek to bring criminal charges for a felony crime. However, under the new Act this raises the age to 28. Significantly, the Act effectively repealed the statute of limitations on abuse civil claims.
Due to the impact of the pandemic, the window for any victims to pursue claims was extended to 14 August 2021. This resulted in Giuffre then filing her claim on 9 August 2021, just five days before the window expired.
The matter was set for trial later this year with Prince Andrew due to give sworn evidence next month, which could also have opened the door to evidence being called from other key members of the royal family. It appears that the defence was mounted on the following arguments:
That the claim was no longer able to proceed as a result of the 2009 settlement between Giuffre and Epstein where she received US$500,000 (£370,000) and the terms of the settlement provided a release for “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant” against her claims. Prince Andrew’s legal team argued that he qualified as a “potential defendant” for the purposes of that settlement. However, last month, having heard the parties’ arguments on the issue, Judge Kaplan found that the claim could still proceed.
Another element to the defence was that the claim had been brought under the 2019 Act. Before the new law, New York had one of the country’s most restrictive statutes of limitations and Giuffre would not have been able to bring her claim.
On her own evidence Giuffre was 17 when the alleged abuse by Prince Andrew took place. One of the arguments being put forward was that as a result there was a direct conflict between the language in the Act and New York’s age of consent. The Act allows claims for victims under the age of 18, but New York’s consent age is 17 and in cases such as this where the issue of consent remained unsettled then lack of consent must be positively established. The only witnesses available to give evidence as to whether or not Giuffre allegedly engaged in unconsented sex acts with Prince Andrew are Epstein who is now deceased, Maxwell now in prison following her conviction last year, Prince Andrew and Giuffre herself. Her case would, therefore, rely on unavailable third-party evidence.
In addition, Prince Andrew’s legal team also argued that since Giuffre claims some of the abuse occurred outside of New York they should not be allowed to proceed as part of this case as the Act specifies the abuse had to have occurred within the state.
Prince Andrew’s lawyers also sought to argue that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that Giuffre resides in Australia, not in America, and, therefore, jurisdiction was an issue.
It is well known that the majority of cases, particularly in the US, settle out of court. Notwithstanding this, the settlement arguably came as a surprise, given that Prince Andrew has maintained a firm denial of the allegations throughout, and in addition Giuffre had been publicly clear that she wanted the case heard in court. From a legal perspective it has distinguished the prospect of what was thought likely to be the first case to proceed as a result of the change of limitation law in New York. Further, given this case was submitted five days before the window to bring claims expired, there would be no prospect of any further claims being brought, meaning New York has now reverted to being one of the most restrictive jurisdictions on limitation in respect of child sexual abuse.
For more information, please contact Lauranne Nolan.
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