ECHR decides ‘O’Keeffe v. Ireland’

Posted by ab98 at May 16, 2014 12:04 PM |
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently held in O’Keeffe v. Ireland that Ireland breached the Convention rights of a victim of sexual abuse at school who had unsuccessfully sought to hold the Irish State liable under Irish law. The Grand Chamber found violations of both Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy)

The case concerned the question of the responsibility of the State for the sexual abuse of a primary school pupil, in 1973, by LH, a teacher employed at a church-managed school. In October 2006 the High Court ordered LH to pay Ms O’Keeffe  damages. In March 2004 the High Court summarily dismissed the claims of direct negligence against the State. In January 2006 the High Court further held that the State was not vicariously liable for the sexual assaults by LH and dismissed her claim based on violation of her constitutional rights. In December 2008 the Supreme Court dismissed Ms O’Keeffe’s appeal on the vicarious liability point.

The Grand Chamber has now held that under Article 3 it is an inherent obligation of a Government to protect young children from ill-treatment at school by adopting special measures and safeguards. A State cannot absolve itself from that obligation by delegating to private bodies or individuals. The crucial question in this case was thus not the responsibility of LH, or the clerical management of the school, of a parent or of any other individual for the sexual abuse. Rather the case concerned the State’s responsibility and whether it should have been aware of a risk of sexual abuse of minors such as the applicant in National Schools at the relevant time and whether it had adequately protected children, through its legal system, from such ill-treatment. The State had failed to fulfil this responsibility.

The Grand Chamber ruled that Article 13 was violated because none of the national remedies (the State’s vicarious liability, a claim against the State in direct negligence or a constitutional tort claim) had been effective as regards Ms O’Keeffe’s complaint about the failure to protect her from abuse.

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