Belfast Telegraph

Abuse compensation Bill expected to be passed before Westminster dissolution

An abuse survivor said he has been told the Bill will pass all stages in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Survivors of historical institutional abuse outside the Court of Appeal (Rebecca Black/PA)
Survivors of historical institutional abuse outside the Court of Appeal (Rebecca Black/PA)

By Rebecca Black, PA

Westminster is expected to pass legislation to allow compensation to be paid to institutional abuse survivors before dissolution.

Victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse have been waiting for the payments since they were recommended following a major inquiry in 2017.

However the compensation scheme was never enacted following the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland and absence of ministers.

Now the abuse survivors say they have been assured that enabling legislation will be passed by the House of Commons on Tuesday before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election.

Jon McCourt, chairman of Survivors North West, said: “We are being told that the Bill should pass all its stages in the Commons tomorrow. This is welcome news.

“That means it can become law and that victims can finally start to see the redress to which they are entitled.”

DUP MP Gavin Robinson said he expects the bill will be taken as the first item of business, after any urgent questions and statements on the final sitting day of this Parliament.

“Given the widespread support for the Bill, the challenge was securing Parliamentary time for the debate,” he said.

“Thankfully this will now take place and I hope that we can finally secure definite progress for those who suffered so grievously and who have campaigned so tirelessly.”

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty, which has been supporting victims since 2010, said they are hopeful.

Margaret McGuckin, leader of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, speaks outside The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, as it has ruled that the Executive Office has the power to introduce a compensation scheme for victims of historical institutional abuse.
Margaret McGuckin, leader of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, speaks outside The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, as it has ruled that the Executive Office has the power to introduce a compensation scheme for victims of historical institutional abuse.

“Last week, there were grown men in tears at the news that this crucial Bill might fall,” he said.

“This week, we hope those will become tears of relief that the long campaign for justice is nearing an end.”

Earlier the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ruled that the Executive Office has the power to introduce the compensation scheme in the absence of ministers.

It follows a case brought by a survivor of historical abuse, referred to in court as JR80.

Appeal court judges found that what children suffered in state and church-run homes between 1922 and 1995 amounted to torture.

A redress scheme was recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in 2017. However, the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed before it could be enacted.

JR80, an elderly man who was subjected to physical and sexual mistreatment in children’s homes run by religious orders and the state, took a judicial review to force the Executive Office or Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to bring forward the compensation scheme.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal concluded that the Executive Office does have the power to act in the absence of ministers.

The judgment noted the 2018 Northern Ireland Act, which gave senior civil servants more legal clarity to make decisions in the absence of ministers, and said it “permits the Executive Office to exercise the prerogative in relation to the recommendation for example by establishing an ex gratia redress scheme”.

It found that the Secretary of State does not have the power to act, but should “consider giving a direction to the Executive Office”.

Abuse survivors celebrated the ruling as a victory outside court.

Margaret McGuckin, leader of Savia (Survivors & Victims of Institutional Abuse), also called for a public apology from the Executive Office to victims.

“So many of our victims, many who have now passed away, were not able to feed off this money, maybe even to pay for their own funerals, to make life a little better,” Ms McGuckin said.

“Now we head to Westminster and, if this legislation is not passed tomorrow, they (Executive Office) need to be starting this today and getting this scheme set up for all these people who have suffered terribly.

“We need an apology from them (the Executive Office), we really need an apology because they failed us.”

PA

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