In December 2014, the Government approved proposals to offer out-of-court settlements to those bringing cases of school child sexual abuse where the cases come within the terms of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights: Cases involving sexual abuse of a school child by a primary or post primary school employee [i.e., not simply teachers]; and in respect of whom there was a prior complaint of sexual abuse to a school authority (including an authority of a school in which the employee had previously worked) prior to the issue of the Department of Education guidelines to primary and post-primary schools in 1991 and 1992 respectively.
On the date when the ECtHR Judgment was delivered, there were 35 cases extant before the domestic courts. Those cases were reviewed by the State Claims Agency to assess whether any of those plaintiffs in the extant cases came within the category of victims entitled to compensation which had been identified by the ECtHR.
Of the 35 extant cases, the SCA identified 7 cases which came within the terms of the Judgment and the Agency made settlement offers of €84,000 in those 7 cases. Six offers were accepted while in the remaining case, the settlement offer was withdrawn as the plaintiff died in August 2015.
The SCA wrote to the other 28 litigants in March 2015 advising that their circumstances do not appear to come within the parameters of the Judgment and inviting them to revert with any contrary evidence. To date, no evidence has been submitted to the SCA in any of these 28 cases.
New Litigation since the date of the Judgment in relation to Historic Abuse Claims
Where other plaintiffs institute claims against the State in relation to historic school child sexual abuse which are not statute barred and their circumstances come within the terms of the ECtHR Judgment, the SCA is authorised to make settlement offers to those plaintiffs, on the same basis as the extant cases.
Since the ECtHR Judgement, the SCA has been notified of many new historic school child abuse claims. These are either (a) claims which are entirely newly instituted or (b) pre-existing claims against school authorities and in which claimants are now more recently seeking to join the State as a respondent.
As part of the State’s response to the ECtHR Judgment, the position of historical cases which had been discontinued by plaintiffs was also reviewed. In July 2015, the Government agreed to respond to those persons who had instituted legal proceedings in relation to school child sexual abuse which were subsequently discontinued and which came within the terms of the Judgment, in a similar way to how it was dealing with persons in the previous two categories.
As these cases had been discontinued by the Plaintiffs, the proceedings were no longer before the domestic courts and therefore there was no litigation in existence which could be settled. Accordingly, it was determined that ex gratia payments would be offered to all those persons who come within the terms of the ECtHR Judgment and whose claims were not statute barred at the time of their discontinuance. This process is referred to as the ex gratia scheme and is operated by the State Claims Agency (SCA).
To date, 50 applications have been received, of which 44 applications have been declined. In respect of all of the declined applications, the applicants were advised that they could apply for an independent assessment of their application. 20 people chose to do so and it is expected that determinations in their cases will be reached within the next few weeks.