Independent Inquiry to examine Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Executive announced yesterday that an independent investigation into mother and baby homes will be carried out.

The announcement has been made following yesterday’s publication of the research report on historical Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1990.

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Interdepartmental working group chair appointment

The Department of Health and The Executive Office set up an interdepartmental Working group to “take forward work on historic Mother and Baby Home/Magdalen Laundries and historical clerical child abuse” in June 2019.  At that time they appointed Mr Peter McBride to the position as independent Chair of the group.  His role was to initially run for a period of one year.

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Data breach at NI Commissioner for victims confirmed as “procedural error”

A data breach occurred when a newsletter was sent to a number of people in a circulation list held by the Commissioner’s Office. The names included around 250 people who were victims or survivors of historic abuse.

Following disclosure of the breach an investigation was started to identify the cause.  The Executive Office accepted that the incident had created problems for many victims and an inquiry has confirmed that the cause of the breach was a “procedural error.”

Mr McAllister had indicated he would await the outcome of any investigation and reflect on calls for him to resign in light of those investigations.

It is likely that this situation will ease pressure on him to resign and while some still feel he should leave many other victims and survivors continue to appreciate his work and support.

Written by Fintan Canavan, Partner at BLM





Sensitive data breach puts pressure on NI Interim Commissioner for Victims

Brendan McAllister, the interim Commissioner for Victims appointed in the wake of the report of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI), has indicated he will not be stepping down after a serious breach in data regulations.  He has issued an apology following the breach involving the identification of 250 survivors of historical abuse.

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Around 60 children were subjected to footage of child sex abuse, while they were taking part in a fitness class on Zoom, on Tuesday 5 May. The Zoom call had been hacked by someone who streamed the video of the abuse into the session, in a practice known as ‘Zoombombing’. The class had been organised by a sports club in Plymouth and it is believe the hacker gained access as a result of the group’s login details having been published on public internet forums.

Devon and Cornwall police officers are working with Plymouth City Council’s social care team to identify all those who saw the footage, and may have been affected by seeing the images, so as to provide them with any advice or support, as required.

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What is required of institutions by the Historical Institution Redress Board in Northern Ireland

Section 9(2) of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act, 2019 (“the 2019 Act”) provides that the panel dealing with an application before it must, in so far as it is practicable to do so and in accordance with such provision as may be made in rules, request the body, society or

organisation which provided residential accommodation in an institution to which the application refers to provide whatever information would enable the panel to verify the accuracy of information provided in support of the application for compensation.

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Northern Ireland Redress Board sets out fixed costs for applicant’s legal costs

The provision for payment of an applicant’s legal costs and outlays associated with an application to a redress scheme is always an important aspect of any scheme and often is critical to the success of the scheme.

In the absence of being able to access proper legal representation many applicants will not be able to navigate the application process and claim redress and this in turn can lead to applicants instead bringing their claims in the more traditional and costly way, by litigation.

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Northern Ireland Redress Board provides further guidance on bands of compensation payable

In an earlier blog we addressed recent guidance from the Northern Ireland Redress Board (“the NIRB”) on non exhaustive examples of what constitutes physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect for the purposes of assessing compensation payable to those who experienced abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.

While Section 12(2) of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act, 2019 (“the 2019 Act”) set out the amount of compensation that could be awarded it did not provide any guidance on the bandings for the compensation payable to applicants.

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Northern Ireland Redress Board provides guidance on examples of abuse

The Northern Ireland Redress Board (“NIRB”) was established on 31 March 2020. It is responsible for receiving and processing applications for compensation from those who experienced abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.

Applications to the NIRB will be considered by paper determination by a three person panel consisting of a judicial member and two non-judicial members from a health and social care background. The judicial member will chair the panel.

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Northern Ireland Redress Scheme opens

In an example of life continuing during the current difficult time, it was announced on 31 March that the Northern Irish Redress scheme was now available to accept applications.  It had been intended that there would be familiarisation training sessions for survivors and solicitors in the working of the scheme but this has had to be re-considered.

An online portal has been provided to raise concerns via the website and that site will provide access to the online applications process.  There is guidance on how to apply, the costs and fees structures for lawyers and a template for structuring claims.

The scheme follows on from the recommendations made by the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) and was created by legislation rushed through parliament before the pre Brexit proroguing.

The process covers anyone who was in a residential institution in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995. They must have suffered or witnessed abuse in that home.  It does not cover boarding schools.

Applicants can apply themselves or the family of someone who has died recently who was in an institution can make an application on behalf of the deceased.

While the applications can be made in person the NI Executive has advised that if someone wishes to speak to a solicitor they should do so over the telephone or use email in the present climate.

The opening of the scheme was widely welcomed by those representing victims and survivors with Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty calling it a “momentous day”.

The scheme will allow payments of between £10,000 and £100,000 depending on circumstances and an initial sum of around £37.5m has been set aside.  It is anticipated that the final payouts will exceed £100m.  The NI Executive will be looking to Westminster to assist with this substantial budget and the present financial burden on government, both local and national, will mean that significant additional funds will need to be administered carefully.

Credit must go to High Court Judge Adrian Colton and his staff for getting the scheme up and running at this time with all of the difficulties created recently.  The Executive has warned that getting payments out may be slower than they had hoped at present but that they are working hard to ensure the scheme will operate as intended.

Ciara McReynolds, Solicitor, BLM