Institutional abuse victims granted leave to challenge compensation failure

Retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart (Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press)
Retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart (Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press)

Victims of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland have secured High Court permission to challenge the ongoing failure to provide them with compensation.

They were granted leave to seek a judicial review of alleged failures by authorities in London and Belfast to implement the recommendations of a major inquiry in the absence of a devolved administration.

Lawyers representing a group of those abused in children’s homes have issued proceedings against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Exective Office.

With many victims in poor health and others having passed away since their campaign began, they claim both bodies have legal powers and duties to step in and ensure pay-outs.

In January 2017 the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry concluded that there should be a public apology to those who suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse between 1922 to 1995, and compensation ranging from £7,500 to £100,000.

Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart has since made repeated pleas to politicians to act on his recommendations and provide the financial, social and educational support as a matter of urgency.

Earlier this year the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland revealed work was underway on draft legislation aimed at implementing the inquiry’s proposals.

But legal action has now been launched in a bid to compel the Secretary of State and Executive Office to take immediate steps and ensure compensation is fully provided.

Barry Macdonald QC, representing one of the victims granted anonymity, told the court that despite Stormont’s collapse there can be “no vacuum in government”.

He argued that the Secretary of State is “pointing the finger” at the devolved authorities as having responsibility for the redress scheme, while civil servants currently running the Departments say they lack the necessary power in the absence of ministers.

Contending that there is a legal obligation to propose an early date for Assembly elections, Mr Macdonald continued: “In the meantime the Secretary of State had residual executive powers to give effect to a redress scheme for victims of abuse.

“In the alternative, senior officers in the Executive Office have the power and duty to do so.”

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Secretary of State, countered that it was an issue for the devolved institutions to deal with.

And counsel for the Executive Office argued work was continuing on the draft legislation to deliver the inquiry’s recommendations and achieve what the victims are seeking.

However, Mr Justice McCloskey granted leave to seek a full judicial review after ruling that an arguable case had been established.

“As of April 2018 none of the recommendations in the HIA report have been activated,” he said.

The judge added: “There’s a seemingly indefinite moratorium in Northern Ireland affecting the Executive and the legislature.

“The court had experience this in more than one judicial review case - there have in fact been several.

“One of the consequences of this moratorium is that members of the Northern Ireland population are driven to seek redress from the High Court in an endeavour to address aspects of the void that has been brought about by the absence of a government and legislature.”

He also pledged: “The substantive hearing of this case will not be later than Septeber 2018.”

Outside court a solicitor representing the victims and survivors said they were being further distressed and re-traumatised by the delay and uncertainty in implementing the compensation and care for abuse perpetrated against them.

Claire McKeegan of KRW Law added: “These individuals are entitled to a remedy for the abuse that they suffered.

“Since the campaign began many of our clients have sadly passed away without obtaining the redress that they so greatly need and deserve. Many of these individuals are elderly and infirm.” ends