Two-thirds of sex abuse victims in schools who had cases like Louise O’Keeffe’s pending against the Department of Education withdrew them after being warned of the financial consequences by the State.
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
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whose clients had not by then withdrawn their proceedings against the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.