Northern Ireland – the challenge of no Assembly

On the 2 April 2018 the High Court in Belfast heard a judicial review on behalf of a survivor in his seventies, identified as JR 80, who is seeking to compel the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley to act on and implement the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA).

In 2017 the HIA published a report recommending redress ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 for those who were resident in a care facility and who suffered neglect and abuse, or experienced a harsh regime or witnessed other residents being abused between 1922 and 1995. The proposed redress also provided for a specific award of £20,000 if the person was transported to Australia or any other country as part of the scheme to populate those territories.

With no functioning government in Northern Ireland since January, 2017 nothing substantive can be done to implement the recommendations of the HIA and establish the proposed redress scheme.

Counsel for JR80 told the Court that up to 30 people who were exposed to historical institutional abuse in residential care in Northern Ireland have died since the redress recommendations were made by the HIA over 2 years ago.

The recommendations went out to consultation earlier this year and draft legislation has been drawn up.

The court was advised that with no current indication that a power sharing executive can be agreed between the main political parties, the chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster has written to the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley suggesting that the laws necessary to establish the redress scheme and the other recommendations of the HIA should be brought through Westminster.

It was also confirmed in court that the Head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland, David Sterling supports putting the draft legislation dealing with redress before Parliament also in the absence of a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Counsel for the Secretary of State says she has no role in running Northern Ireland’s government departments, Counsel was clear she has no power to tell government departments in Norther Ireland what to do.

Counsel for the Secretary of State told the High Court that due to the Good Friday Agreement, his client’s role differed from the rest of the UK and the Northern Ireland Office holds no power to run the devolved government departments, any powers to do so would have to be legislated by Parliament.

Counsel for the Executive Office told the court there is no dispute about whether or not the redress scheme should be implemented, it should be implemented but there must be a proper legal basis for doing so. He was clear that his client, the Executive Office does not have the power or the funding to do so.

The Court has indicated that judgment will be handed down after Easter.

jefferson_p_web Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of abuse and neglect at BLM

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