Northern Ireland HIA Redress Scheme review formally commenced

In our blog of 13 July, 2021 we reported that the then Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced the establishment of a review of the client journey for HIA redress to improve the experiences of victims and survivors.

On 15 December, 2021 the then Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced that this review had commenced.

The Review is being undertaken with a view to putting the needs of victims and survivors of abuse at the centre of the redress process.

At the time of announcing the formal commencement of the Review, the then First Minister Paul Givan said that “Victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse have endured dreadful pain throughout their lives. We owe it to them to ensure they not only get the compensation they deserve, but that the process to receive redress is designed and equipped to meet their needs.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Thousands of victims and survivors have made applications for redress and we know there are many more who have yet to come forward. We must listen to, and act on, the voices and experiences of those who have been through the process to ensure it is compassionate and fit for purpose.”

As at the end of November 2021:

  • 2,199 applications had been received by the HIA Redress Board;
  • Awards of redress totalling £32.244 million had been made; and
  • £28.846 million had been paid out in redress.

The purpose of the Review is to examine the operation of the redress process with survivors and other stakeholders in light of experience since its launch in March 2020 and in particular to:

  • identify what is working well and areas of good practice;
  • identify what is not working well;
  • identify areas for improvement; and
  • work with all stakeholders in developing an action plan to implement the priority improvements identified.

The Review is intended to be systemic in nature and look at the “whole system” and the victim/survivor journey in its entirety. This will require an examination of the support and services needed at each stage, for example in preparing to make an application for redress, while the application is in progress, and after an application has been concluded.

This reflects international experience to date which has been clear that for victims and survivors redress is not just about the making of financial payments. It should in their view also include additional supports such as enhanced medical benefits, prioritisation of housing needs for victims and survivors, free unlimited counselling service for victims and survivors for as long as they want it, counselling and psychiatric services for children of victims and survivors, education support for the children and grandchildren of victims and survivors, memorialisation, tracing service for individuals wishing to find their families and relatives and records and files to be made available to victims and survivors.

The Review will not be able to examine decisions in individual cases, as these are made on a quasi-judicial basis and are subject to Restriction Orders. However, the Review will be able to take account of general concerns of trends (including disparity of awards) in the application, assessment and decision-making process and how the reasons for these have been communicated.

It is intended that the Review will be completed with three months following agreement of its terms of reference and the final report will be submitted by the reviewer to the First Minister and deputy First Minister for consideration that is providing that they are in place following the Assembly Elections in May 2022.

This development in Northern Ireland mirrors the situation in Australia when the National Redress Scheme there was also subject to a review and in Ireland where there was a post hoc review of the work undertaken by the Irish Redress Board.

What seems clear is that despite best efforts it is extremely challenging to design and deliver a state funded redress scheme that meets the needs and expectations of the victims and survivors who are at the heart of that process.

Catherine Davey, Associate, BLM

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