Bid to stop victims of child abuse from suing the State
In a bid to stop victims of child abuse from suing the State, the State wants the High Court to strike out a decision that it can be sued along with the Christian Brothers, by three alleged sexual abuse victims, following a European Court ruling in the landmark Louise O’Keeffe case.
In January 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that, under the European Convention, the rights of Ms O’Keeffe had been breached by the failure of the State to protect her from abuse by her school teacher Leo Hickey in the 1970’s.
Ms O’Keeffe won her action against the abuser, however argued that the State, as payer of the teacher’s salary, and supervisor of other matters related to the school, was also liable. Ms O’Keeffe had previously lost High Court and Supreme Court cases which found the state could not be held vicariously or separately liable for the abuse as the school was not operated and managed directly by the State, but by an independent Board of Management.
Following the decision of the European Court, three men (who had damages actions pending against teachers and two Christian Brothers’ schools where they taught) successfully applied to have the Minister for Education and the State joined as defendants in their cases. The decision to join the State was made in September 2014 by the Master of the High Court, who deals with cases on their way to Trial. It was done on an Ex Parte basis with only the men represented and not the State.
The State has asked for the Order (for them to be joined as defendants) to be struck out, claiming that the European Court decision had no impact on Irish law. Counsel for the proposed Defendants have argued that even though the 2003 European Convention on Human Rights Act found Ms O’Keeffe’s rights to have been breached, the substance of the Act only binds Ireland at an international level and there was no domestic requirement arising out of any breach.
Counsel for the three plaintiffs in the ongoing High Court cases, have said that their clients have brought their cases within the two year time limit and it was evidently not statute-barred. They go on to state that it was not unstateable or vexatious because it was based on a finding of the European court that Ireland had breached Louise O’Keeffe’s Convention rights.
The case of the three plaintiffs is ongoing.