‘Incorrect’ evidence in Magdalene case

A High Court judge reprimanded a Department of Justice official for offering ‘incorrect’ evidence on an affidavit in a Magdalene laundries case.

The comments were made by Judge Michael White, in June of last year, in his judgment in the case of two women who went to the High Court to fight a decision by the Department of Justice to exclude them from the Magdalene redress scheme.

The Irish Examiner has obtained two sworn affidavits by the Department of Justice in relation to the case of two women who went to the High Court to fight a decision to exclude them from the Magdalene redress scheme.

The women had been registered on the books of the An Grianán training centre, which was located on the grounds of the High Park Magdalene laundry operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. Both women, when young girls, worked in the laundry. This was not disputed.

However, they were denied access to the redress scheme by the Department of Justice, because they had been admitted to An Grianán and not directly to the laundry. As part of its defence, the department submitted a sworn affidavit, in April, 2016, in relation to the case of one of the women.

Opened in court on the first day of the hearing, on January 25, 2017, it claimed that the proceedings were “premature”, as the woman had “failed to exhaust the appeals procedure” — namely, going to the Ombudsman.

The affidavit points out that, under the scheme, an internal appeal procedure is provided for within the department. However, in addition to this, the affidavit states that the department sought to involve the Ombudsman and had committed to be “bound by their decisions in individual cases”.

"To date, the Ombudsman’s office has upheld all of the decisions of the department on the complaints made to their office in relation to this scheme,” states the affidavit. “Therefore, I believe that there are no grounds on which the applicant could properly base her refusal to submit an appeal to the Office of the Ombudsman. In the circumstances, the within proceedings are premature.”

The affidavit also states that the assertion by solicitors for the women that a recommendation of the Ombudsman would not be binding was “incorrect”.

When these affidavits were opened in court in January, the Ombudsman’s legal advisor wrote to both legal teams, pointing out that the department’s assertion that it was bound by the Ombudsman’s decisions was not correct.

It then emerged that the department was also privately engaged in a dispute with the Ombudsman, since April 2016, in relation to a number of other women refused access to the Magdalene scheme for the same reason.

The Ombudsman was asking thedDepartment to review certain cases, where women had worked in the Magdalene Laundry, but had been admitted via a related institution, either attached to or on the grounds of the laundry.

Following this revelation, the department provided a second affidavit to the court, in February, clarifying its position on whether or not it felt it was bound by the Ombudsman’s views in relation to the redress scheme.

The second affidavit stressed that the appeals mechanism, utilising the Ombudsman, recommended by Mr Justice Quirke, would be binding, but that it was “clearly specified” that this was only to apply to whether an applicant was in one of the 12 institutions and their duration of stay, and not other aspects of the scheme.

The disagreement between the Ombudsman and the department led to the former launching an investigation into possible maladministration of the scheme.

Judge Michael White said it was “incorrect to recite, in an affidavit, that the respondent considered itself bound by the Ombudsman’s recommendation. This should have been clarified, as the respondent reserved the right to disregard the Ombudsman’s finding.”

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