Thursday 23 October 2014

Government had warned victims: drop cases or be chased for costs

Dearbhail McDonald and Ralph Riegel

Published 31/01/2014 | 02:30

Louise OÕKeeffe pictured in Cork with her legal representative Ernest Cantillon as she won her landmark case against the Irish State, ruling that the Irish state failed to meet its obligation to protect Ms OÕKeeffe from the sexual abuse she suffered while a pupil in an Irish national school.
Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Louise O'Keeffe

THE Government told victims abused in primary schools to drop their court actions against the State, or face the prospect of being pursued for legal costs if they lost.

Dozens of victims of abuse in primary schools had taken cases against the State similar to that of Louise O'Keeffe, in which the State denied liability, insisting that it was the school boards of management involved which were responsible.

Weeks after Ms O'Keeffe lost her Supreme Court case in December 2008, victims were told that the State Claims Agency (SCA) would seek full legal costs from them if they did not discontinue their cases, the Irish Independent can disclose.

The revelation came after Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised to Ms O'Keeffe, saying her experience was indicative of a long litany of child abuse cases that had scarred memories.

Mr Kenny said: "I would like to say to Louise O'Keeffe that I apologise for what happened to her in the location where she was and for the horrendous experiences that she had to go through."

The Supreme Court had ruled the Department of Education and the State were not vicariously liable for the abuse perpetrated by lay teacher Leo Hickey as there was no employer/ employee relationship between the abuser and the State.

But earlier this week, Ms O'Keeffe secured a landmark victory before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) when the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the State was liable for the sexual abuse she suffered while a national school pupil.

Ill-treatment

The ECtHR found that there was an inherent obligation of a government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context, and had failed to put in place any mechanism of effective state control against the risks of such abuse occurring.

The Irish Independent has learned that in the weeks following the 2008 Supreme Court ruling, the Chief State Solicitors Office (CSSO) wrote to victims with a proposal that the State would not pursue them for legal costs if they discontinued their cases within a two-month deadline.

The CSSO, acting on instructions of the SCA, which manages personal injuries actions against the State, also insisted that the victims would not seek the legal costs incurred in bringing the cases.

"We wish to specifically state, at this time, that this offer to go back-to-back on costs stands strictly subject to the filing of a Notice of Discontinuance by 31st March 2009. In the event that a Notice of Discontinuance is not served by that date then our instructions are to seek costs in the event that your client's claim is not successful against our clients."

Irish Independent

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