Judgment reserved in woman’s abuse case

Judgment has been reserved in a Supreme Court case where a woman, who suffered institutional abuse while in state care as a child, was refused in her application for redress because she was too late.

The refusal was challenged yesterday at the Supreme Court, during a historic first sitting in Cork. The woman’s identity cannot be published due to an allegation of sexual abuse.

Her senior counsel Niamh Hyland said the 33-year-old applied to the Residential Institutions Redress Board for compensation but the application was refused on grounds it was too late.

This decision was challenged at the High Court by way of judicial review but again it was unsuccessful.

Ms Hyland said that Mr Justice Gerard Hogan in the High Court indicated he would have found in favour of the appellant but for the extent of previous High Court cases which ruled against the type of argument being advanced by the applicant.

Ms Hyland yesterday made a series of submissions to the five-judge panel led by Mrs Justice Susan Denham, arguing that the statute under which the redress board was established allowed for a late appeal in exceptional circumstances.

Frank Callanan SC, for the board, said over 80% of late applications had been allowed and the board had discretion in the matter.

He said the redress scheme had been heavily promoted and advertised through the media and the woman at the centre of yesterday’s case was effectively saying she had absolutely no recollection of ever having heard anything about it, and that was why she was late in making her application.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke asked Ms Hyland SC if she was claiming the board was effectively saying to the woman, no matter how meritorious her case, she could not apply because she was late. Ms Hyland said that was her argument.

She submitted there was manifest error in the board’s reasoning.

Ms Hyland submitted the extensive promotion of the scheme coupled with the fact the woman failed to know anything about it, until it was too late, was itself an exceptional circumstance.

Arguing about the publicity given to the existence of the redress board, Ms Hyland said: “The board rely on this as a factor in their favour. We say it is a factor in our favour.”

Summing up her case Ms Hyland said: “Because of the nature of the function of the board the idea that they keep people out because they came late to the knowledge of the scheme is not in keeping with the statue.”

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said the statute erred on the side of generosity in that it did not seek to limit the numbers who could be compensated and also by providing for late applications in exceptional circumstances. One of the key issues the five judges have to determine is if the woman satisfies the grounds for the term “exceptional”.

The judges, who also include Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman and Mr Justice Peter Charleton, may consider her lack of knowledge of the redress board until it was too late as a reason for considering her an exceptional case.

Mrs Justice Denham reserved judgment in the case.

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