Child cruelty victim in legal challenge

Northern Ireland- 25th July 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye.  ''General views of the High Court in Belfast.
Northern Ireland- 25th July 2013 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. ''General views of the High Court in Belfast.

A Belfast woman whose stepmother subjected her to child cruelty has been unfairly denied compensation because they shared the same home, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

Her lawyers are challenging a scheme that denies pay-outs to victims of historic abuse who lived under the same roof as perpetrators.

Barrister Sean Mullan argued: “The ultimate harshness for her is extreme, she has received absolutely nothing.”

The woman, who cannot be identified, alleged she was physically and sexually abused as a child nearly 40 years ago.

Decades later, her stepmother pleaded guilty to child cruelty and assault offences.

Charges of sexual abuse she faced were left on the books.

Proceedings were launched against the Department of Justice after a criminal injuries compensation panel turned down the victim’s application for recompense.

Under legislation dating back to the 1970s, pay-outs were not made in cases where the abuser and perpetrator lived in the same household.

The rationale was based on difficulties in establishing the facts, and to ensure to benefit to the offender.

Although the law has since been amended, the bar remains in place for historic cases.

Seeking leave to judicially review the authorities, Mr Mullan argued that the policy breaches his client’s human rights.

The barrister said it was unfair to deny her when it has already been established beyond reasonable doubt that she was the victim of physical abuse.

“Had she been abused by her next door neighbour she would have been entitled to compensation,” he contended.

“Yet, with the more sinister (abuse) occurring within the family home she gets nothing. The proposition has to be illogical.”

Sir Paul Girvan, who is hearing the case, was told the woman had no other options.

“This is it, it’s all or nothing for her,” Mr Mullan added.

At one stage the judge questioned whether the policy was in breach of rights to family life.

He posed a hypothetical scenario where the woman taking the challenge and a friend had both abused in her house.

Although the applicant is barred from compensation, her friend would have been eligible for the same circumstances, the judge noted.

But with a similar case in Scotland potentially going to the Supreme Court, Sir Paul ordered proceedings to be adjourned to await that outcome.