Clarification on redress scheme urged

Legal experts have urged the Council of Europe to seek urgent clarification from the European Court of Human Rights about the State’s redress scheme for people who allege they were sexually abused in school.

In a submission to the council’s committee of ministers, UCC’s Child Law Clinic said it believes the committee’s assessment that the redress scheme — set up after the European court’s landmark 2014 ruling in the Louise O’Keeffe case — is “legitimate and reasonable”, is “inaccurate as a matter of law”.

“It is essential that clarity be provided on the question of whether the redress scheme is sufficient to discharge the State obligations on foot of the Grand Chamber (court) decision in O’Keeffe,” its submission said.

“This clarity can only be provided by the court. Rather than await repetitive applications from future litigants, the committee can provide a resolution to the matter at this point by exercising its discretion to refer the matter to the court for an interpretive ruling clarifying whether it is necessary to demonstrate the existence of a prior complaint which was not acted upon in order for a case to come within the terms of the O’Keeffe decision. The Child Law Clinic respectfully urges the committee to pursue this option at the earliest opportunity.”

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has also asked the Council of Europe to sanction a review of how the State is treating those who allege they were abused. Ms O’Keeffe was eight was she was sexually abused in 1973 by Leo Hickey, the former principal at Dunderrow NS in Co Cork. When Hickey was jailed in 1998 on sample charges relating to 21 girls, Ms O’Keeffe began legal proceedings against him, the Department of Education, and the State. But the High Court and Supreme Court, ruled against her, finding the State could not be held separately liable for the abuse as the school was not operated or managed directly by the State. Ms O’Keeffe appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and won. After the ruling, the Government set up a redress scheme, through the State Claims Agency, to grant out-of-court settlements to certain claims of school child sex abuse. But the agency is only granting settlements to claimants who can show a prior complaint of sexual abuse had been made to a person in authority in a school.

In June, the committee of ministers found the terms of the scheme were “legitimate and reasonable” as long as the “flexible and holistic approach” of the State Claims Agency is maintained. But the Child Law Clinicsaid this assessment is “inaccurate in law”. It pointed out about 210 potential applicants who had previously instituted legal proceedings against the State, discontinued them under threat of costs, and contrary to what the Government said and the committee accepted, these applicants are unable to reinstitute proceedings.

added just seven offers of settlements have been made, even though at least 360 cases arise for consideration.


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