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Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission requests the Council of Europe to assess whether Irish rulings on Abuse Claims are meeting Strasbourg Standards.

The Council of Europe has been requested to carry out a review for the purposes of assessing whether or not Ireland is in compliance with rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights regarding cases of sexual abuse.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has expressed concern regarding the manner in which victims of national school sexual abuse are being treated by the State on foot of the landmark decision of the European Court of Human Rights in O’Keefe v Ireland [2014].

By way of background, Ms. Louise O’Keefe suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her school principal, Mr. Hickey while attending Dunderrow National School Co. Cork, in 1973.

Mr. Hickey was later imprisoned on sample charges relating to 21 other children.

In 1998, Ms. O’Keefe issued proceedings against the perpetrator, the Department of Education and the State, only to be found against in both the High Court and the Supreme Court.

Both superior courts found that Ireland could not be held vicariously liable for the abuse that had occurred at the national school under circumstances where the State did not exercise direct control over the operation and management of the school.

On foot of the ruling given by the Supreme Court, the State Claims Agency proceeded to write to those who had similar cases pending against the State, informing them of the outcome of Ms. O’Keefe’s case, and warning them of the costs’ implications of cases with little prospect.

All but 45 claimants discontinued proceedings against the State upon receiving this correspondence.

Ms. O’Keefe appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights and was successful.

It was held that Ireland was in violation of both Article 3 and Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 3 ECHR states:

“ No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Article 13 ECHR states:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity”.

The Court further held Ireland vicariously liable for the abuse that had taken place in the national school, holding that the State had “failed to put in place any mechanism of effective state control against the risks of such abuse occurring”. The Court held that there was an “inherent obligation” on the government to protect and ensure the safety and proper treatment of children, particularly those in primary school education.

Following Ms. O’Keefe’s success at the European Court of Human Rights, the Irish government agreed to grant settlements to those of the 45 pending cases that had not yielded to the previous warnings issued by the State Claims Agency, provided that they could show that prior to the abuse taking place, a complaint had been made against the school employee alleged to have abused them. In it’s recent submission to the Council of Europe, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is arguing that the interpretation adopted by the State Claims Agency of the Court’s ruling is “unduly narrow” and restrictive, depriving abuse victims of an adequate means of redress. The Commission has asked the Council of Europe to assess whether Ireland is meeting its obligations to victims under the 2014 ruling of the European Court.

To date, only seven settlements have been granted to victims, giving rise to the Commission’s concern that the interpretation of the Strasbourg ruling is indeed too narrow to allow for victims to be compensated for the pain and suffering caused.

The Commission’s role in ensuring that judgments of the European Court are fully implemented in Ireland carries with it a huge responsibility towards those survivors of sexual abuse who may be affected by Ireland’s interpretation of the abovementioned ruling. This is the first occasion upon which the Commission has requested that a case be referred back to the European Court, indicating the importance of the issues raised therein, and the potential effects that same may have on many victims’ lives.


RELEVANT NEWS:

Irish Times

Justice.ie

European Convention on Human Rights

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