A victim of Lotto rapist Iorworth Hoare today won the right to claim compensation from him.
The Law Lords ruled that the retired teacher, identified only as Mrs A, could make the claim even though it was outside the six-year time limit.
Because of the limit, Mrs A, whose life was ruined by the attack, was originally told she could not claim against Hoare, who won the £7 million National Lottery jackpot after he was jailed for the rape.
Her case was one of five appeals heard at the House of Lords on how the Limitation Act affects claims in abuse cases.
The five Law Lords unanimously allowed the appeal of Mrs A and four other cases involving sexual abuse, including some involving children.
All the cases were sent back to the High Court so that they can be reconsidered in the light of the House of Lords findings.
The Law Lords said that in all the cases High Court judges can exercise their discretion in deciding whether or not to hear compensation cases involving abuse.
Baroness Hale said that victims of child abuse were often reluctant to report it at the time.
She said: "Until the 1970s people were reluctant to believe that child sexual abuse took place at all.
"Now we know only too well that it does. But it remains hard to protect children from it.
"This is because the perpetrators are so often people in authority over the victims, sometimes people whom the victims love and trust.
"These perpetrators have many ways, some subtle and some not so subtle, of making their victims keep quiet about what they have suffered.
"The abuse itself is the reason why so many victims do not come forward until years after the event.
"This presents a challenge to a legal system which resists stale claims.
"Six years, let alone three, from reaching the age of majority is not long enough, especially since the age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18."
In a statement read outside the court by solicitor Sandra Baker, Mrs A said: "I am both delighted and relieved that my appeal to the House of Lords has been successful and that I have succeeded in changing a law which will provide others in the future with a means of achieving justice.
"It was this, rather than financial gain, which motivated me to begin this process two years ago.
"Partaking in a legal process has not been easy for me but the unwavering support of my family and close friends, my counsel, Alan Newman QC and Paul Spencer, and my solicitors, DLA Piper, gave me the strength I needed to carry on and achieve this fantastic success.
"It is to be hoped that my claim for damages against Iorwoth Hoare will now be brought to a speedy resolution without the need for me to endure further protracted litigation.
"I hope that many others in the future will be able to benefit from the change in the law which I helped to bring about."
Lady Hale said allowing judges discretion balanced the injustice to a claimant who may be deprived of the chance of damages, often because of the very injuries which gave rise to the claim, against the injustice to defendants who may be called upon to defend themselves a long time after the event.
"A fair trial can be possible long after the event and sometimes the law has no choice," she said.
Lord Hoffmann, outlining the other four cases involved, said in C v Middlesbrough Council, the claimant was subjected to sexual abuse between 1982 and 1988 when he was 10 to 16 years old at a school managed by the council.
The judge who heard the case said C would have been entitled to damages of nearly £100,000 but the claim was barred by the Limitation Act and he dismissed the allegations of negligence against the council.
In H v Suffolk County Council the appellant claimed that while resident at a school for difficult children managed by the council, he was sexually abused by a member of the staff.
He brought proceedings 12 years after the event and his case was thrown out because it was out of time.
In X and Y v Wandsworth London Borough, the appellants both allege that between 1984 and 1987 they were sexually abused by the same teacher at a council-managed school.
They brought proceedings more than 15 years later and were told they would have won damages but for the fact they were outside the time limit.
In Young v Catholic Care and Home Office, the claimant alleges sexual abuse by employees at a school and a detention centre.
His claims were again barred by the Limitation Act.
Lord Hoffmann said Section 33 of the Limitation Act gives judges the discretion to extend the time limit when they believe it is right to do so.
"Section 33 enables the judge to look at the matter broadly and not have to decide the highly artificial question of whether knowledge which the claimant has in some sense suppressed counts as knowledge for the purposes of the Act."Reuse content