Sunday 21 January 2018

Woman's case against religious order over alleged forced adoption 46 years ago dismissed

Judge's gavel.
Judge's gavel.

THE Court of Appeal has dismissed a 68-year-old woman's case against a religious order over the alleged forced adoption of her four-month-old son 46 years ago.

Her case against a second religious order and the HSE is still pending.

The appeal court upheld a decision earlier this year by the High Court to dismiss her claim against the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul on grounds it was statute-barred and would, in any event, have been struck out for inordinate and inexcusable delay in bringing the case.

The woman claimed she was raped in 1968 and became pregnant at the age of 21 before being sent to St Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road, Dublin.

She had to give the baby up for adoption as she was also a resident/worker in the Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin. She said she was warned  by a nun there if she didn't sign the adoption papers she would be "put out on the street."  

The Court of Appeal said she had limited insight into how appalling her life was with no freedom, physically abused, frightened and forced to work very hard for no pay.  In 2008, with the assistance of one of her other children, she set about trying to locate her adopted son to find he had died in 2004.

She sued in 2013 claiming duress, illegality and fraud over the adoption.  She claimed while those involved in the adoption process impliedly represented to her that what was being done was routine that, when viewed objectively, they ought to have realised the practice was totally irregular and unlawful.

It was claimed that because there was a breach of a six month statutory period before an adoption can be made, that the clock stopped running on the Statute of Limitations for bringing the legal action.

She had sued the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, who she said managed St Patrick's, along with the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, who operated the Magdalene Laundry, along with the HSE as successor to the original health authority for Dublin.   They denied her claims.

The Daughters of Charity, who said it was not them but the health authority who managed St Patrick's, argued that  because of a 44 year delay in bringing the claim, important witnesses and information relating to the events of 1969 when the adoption took place were no longer available.  The case, it was argued, should be dismissed because of delay.

After the High Court dismissed the claim in relation to the Daughters of Charity, she appealed to a three-judge Court of Appeal which Wednesday (Oct 21) unanimously dismissed her claim, also on grounds that it was statute-barred.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the claim against the Daughters was doomed to fail and it was unnecessary to consider the issue of delay.

The judge was prepared to allow new evidence to be admitted, which had been found after the High Court decision, to be admitted as part of the appeal.

This was a letter, which had been found in a bundle of documents left unattended in a solicitor's writing room in the Four Courts and later sent on to the woman's solicitor. 

It was dated September 26, 1969, and sent by St Louise Adoption Society to the sister in charge of St Patrick's Home and stated the woman's son had been discharged to the care of a named couple "with a view to adoption". 

Mr Justice Hogan said, taken at face value, the letter would indeed tend to support the woman's contention that the Daughters of Charity were actively involved in the adoption process even after she had left St Patrick's.

However, he said, the High Court had already proceeded on that presumption (that the Daughters were involved) in making its decision.  

In this context, the letter "adds nothing new" from the woman's perspective as it would simply help prove a fact which the courts have already assumed in her favour for the purpose of deciding whether the case was statute-barred, he said.

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