Belfast Telegraph

Survivors of historical abuse 'unjustly denied' compensation for 'monstrous wrongs,' court told

Julian Smith has been urged to issue the payments.
Julian Smith has been urged to issue the payments.

By Alan Erwin

Elderly survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland are being unjustly denied compensation for the "monstrous wrongs" they suffered, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Counsel for a group of victims claimed Secretary of State Julian Smith has the power to introduce ex gratia payments in the absence of a Stormont administration which may never be restored.

Proceedings centre on an ongoing failure to implement the redress scheme recommended by a major inquiry back in 2017.

The challenge is being taken by a man in his seventies, identified only as JR80, on behalf of those subjected to physical and sexual mistreatment in children's homes run by religious orders and the state.

Earlier this year a High Court judge dismissed the case after describing the continued political vacuum as defective and damaging for society, but not unconstitutional.

Despite indications that legislation to compensate abuse victims will be introduced at Westminster by the end of the year, JR80 is pressing ahead with an appeal against that ruling.

His barrister, Barry Macdonald QC, told the court: "He is one of a cohort of mostly middle-aged and elderly men and women who all suffered monstrous wrongs as children in the care of state-run or state-approved institutions.

"Like other members of this group he's lived most of his life denied the justice he deserved from the state."

The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry recommended compensation ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 to those who suffered neglect and assaults in the homes between 1922 and 1995.

With no operating Assembly since devolution collapsed in January 2017, JR80 is seeking to have the Secretary of State and Executive Office compelled to take immediate steps on the pay-outs.

Since the report was published up to 30 abuse victims have died, while others in the group have suffered "one demoralising disappointment after another" in their fight for redress, according to Mr Macdonald.

He stressed that the challenge is being directed at authorities who dispute being under any legal obligation to take action.

Referring to the defunct Stormont regime, the barrister submitted: "They say the only authorities with legal power to deal with this are entities that don't actually exist, they haven't existed for two years and nine months and are unlikely to come into existence in the foreseeable future, if ever.

"The result of that analysis is literally no-one has executive or prerogative power to implement the recommendations of the statutory scheme which everyone seems to agree should be implemented."

Mr Macdonald argued that the law should not produce "absurd results".

Questioned by the three appeal judges, he maintained that the Secretary of State has prerogative authority to introduce an ex gratia scheme of payments.

Any assurances or commitments about introducing legislation cannot be relied on, it was contended.

The appeal continues.

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