Belfast Telegraph

Failure to compensate abuse victims a 'dystopian nightmare'

Mr Justice McCloskey confirmed he will rule on the challenge next month
Mr Justice McCloskey confirmed he will rule on the challenge next month

By Alan Erwin

The ongoing failure to compensate elderly survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland is subjecting them to a "dystopian nightmare", the High Court has heard.

Counsel for some of those who suffered physical and sexual mistreatment rejected claims that neither the Secretary of State nor the Executive Office have authority to implement a recommended redress scheme.

Barry Macdonald QC argued that one or both of them must be legally wrong.

He said: "The aggregate result here in their submissions is that, although a redress scheme has been recommended by a statutory inquiry, and although it's supported by just about everyone in this society, no-one in government, we are told, has the power to do anything about it.

"For the victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse, for those who are still alive, that is the very definition of a dystopian nightmare."

Counsel continued: "This court not only has the power, but it has the constitutional duty to bring that nightmare to an end by identifying who is responsible for this an requiring that body to take the steps necessary to implement the recommendations."

Judgment was reserved in the bid to secure an order for the proposed payments to be implemented.

Mr Justice McCloskey confirmed he will rule on the challenge next month.

Proceedings have been brought by a man in his seventies, identified only as JR80, on behalf of other survivors.

In 2017 the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry published a report recommending compensation ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 to those who suffered neglect and assaults at children's homes run by religious orders and the state between 1922 to 1995.

With no functioning Assembly at Stormont since devolution collapsed, the challenge is aimed at having the Secretary of State and Executive Office compelled to take immediate steps on the pay-outs.

The court heard that up to 30 people who suffered abuse have died since the report was issued.

JR80's lawyers argued that elderly victims are dying amid a complete loss of democratic accountability and  branches of government "pass the parcel" over responsibility for implementing the redress scheme.

During the hearing it emerged that the head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland plans to ask the Secretary of State to put draft legislation dealing with the redress scheme before Parliament.

The request is expected to be made after a consultation process is analysed over the Easer period.

Counsel for the Secretary of State contended that under devolution she has no power to control Stormont departments.

He also stressed there was no legal obligation on her to intervene.

A barrister representing the Executive Office said it agreed that the compensation arrangements should be put in place.

But he added that it also lacks the authority or funding to implement the scheme.

In closing submissions, however, Mr Macdonald insisted: "The victims and survivors are not asking for any favours here.

"The applicant and other victims and survivors are asking the court to provide the remedy to which they are legally entitled."

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