The Supreme Court had ruled against her claim that the State had a liability for her abuse at school in the 1970s in Dec 2008.
Between then and Jun 2009 when Ms O’Keeffe lodged proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in her favour this week, the 135 claimants in similar cases were sent letters by the State Claims Agency (SCA).
The correspondence was described this week by Ms O’Keeffe’s solicitor, Ernest Cantillon, and by abuse survivor’s group One-in-Four as threatening and bullying.
The SCA which handles litigation against the State or Government departments now has only 45 of those cases still open in the courts here, it has admitted. But it has yet to decide how to approach the matter, now that the Supreme Court finding has effectively been dismissed by the ECHR.
“The State Claims Agency and its legal advisers will consider the judgment of that court and its wider applicability to any of the 45 open cases against the State involving allegations of day school abuse,” a spokesman said. He said it is normal for a defendant, when a precedent case has exhausted its route through the courts, to seek to have proceedings in similar cases with similar facts struck out.
“Following the judgment by the Supreme Court in favour of the State, the SCA had written to lawyers representing individuals involved in proceedings relating to day school abuse to invite them to withdraw their proceedings against the State and to assure those that did that the State would not seek to recover its costs for which they might otherwise be liable,” he said.
“Later that year, the agency sent a further letter to those lawyers whose clients had not by then withdrawn their proceedings against the State to give them a further opportunity to do so or to be aware that if the agency itself had to issue strike out motions, it might seek to recover costs from relevant individuals,” he said.
Louth solicitor James MacGuill said seven out of 15 clients who had been sexually abused while at school had discontinued their cases after the Supreme Court ruling. But he believes the Government should not exclude those or others like them from maintaining claims, being victims of gross sexual crimes while in State schools beyond any shadow of a doubt. In these cases, the perpetrator was a priest who was moved through a series of schools.
“Regularly enough, people enter into agreements on mistaken knowledge of the facts and the State clearly were mistaken about the strength of their legal position,” he said.
“They made threats which were terrifying to people of modest means against the State’s effectively limited resources and, in those circumstances, I think it’s perfectly open to them to turn around and say ‘we were wrong’,” Mr MacGuill said.