First prosecutions brought in Northern Ireland child sexual abuse claims in Fermanagh

In previous blogs we have highlighted the work of the Fermanagh newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, and its coverage of abuse reports in that area and the creation of a new police task force to re-examine older complaints and investigate recent reports of historic abuse.

Last week, the first prosecution came before the courts arising from a series of historical child sexual abuse claims in Co Fermanagh.

An 86 year old former businessman appeared before Enniskillen Magistrates Court to be returned for trial in the Crown Court in relation to five alleged charges of indecent assault. He is alleged to have indecently assaulted two males in the 1980s. Written statements of evidence and documents have been served by the prosecution for the committal hearing.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has arrested a significant number of people, thought to be in excess of 12 in connection with what are believed to be unconnected allegations of historical sexual abuse in Co Fermanagh. Those arrested came from a number of counties including Fermanagh, Antrim and Derry.

This is just another step in an ongoing PSNI investigation, which has taken place over the last 18 months after the reports by the Impartial Reporter.

It is understood that the PSNI is due to send on other files to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland to be considered in terms

Written by Katrina Gray at BLM

Justice Department to strengthen abuse of trust law in Northern Ireland

On 23 March Justice Minister, Naomi Long announced plans to amend the Justice (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill to change existing law.  The amendment will extend the current abuse of trust offence. The current law only applies to positions of trust within a statutory setting such as teachers and health care workers; the amendment will widen the scope to include perpetrators in non-statutory settings.  The category of non-statutory setting will be determined by the Justice Department in collaboration with the NSPCC, faith groups and sports organisations.  

Many groups have called to tighten the currently limited law and make it more robust for the protection of children and young people. This welcome extension will afford greater protection to young people in a variety of settings and ensure all those abusing positions of power will be held accountable and will not escape due to a gap in legislation.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said:

“I am very aware of calls to change the law, including from the NSPCC, the sports sector and faith groups, and I agree that the law needs tightening.  I am very conscious that people working in the non-statutory sector can have a significant level of influence and power over impressionable young people in their care, and some can abuse their positions of responsibility.I propose to strengthen the law in Northern Ireland, widening the scope of the existing position of trust legislation to afford our young people greater protection across a broader range of environments.”

Written by Katrina Gray at BLM

Northern Ireland launches public consultation to provide a statutory basis for adult safeguarding

On the 17 December 2020 the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swan launched a consultation into legislative options to bring forward a new Adult Protection Bill.

In September 2020 Minister Swann committed to bring forward a new Adult Safeguarding Bill for Northern Ireland, to help protect care home residents and other vulnerable members of society, this commitment was made in response to the first report from an independent review commissioned to examine the health and social care system’s response to care failings at Dunmurry Manor Care Home. We covered this matter in an earlier blog, here.

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Health Minister announces Adult Safeguarding Bill for Northern Ireland

On the 10 of September, the Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed his intention to bring forward a new Adult Safeguarding Bill for Northern Ireland, to help protect care home residents and other vulnerable members of society.

This commitment is in response to the first report from an independent review commissioned to examine the health and social care system’s response to care failings at Dunmurry Manor Care Home which had previously been identified.

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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 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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Need for online protection noted by Information Commissioner

We have previously commented on issues such as “catfishing” and online bullying both being issues of concern in the area of child abuse.  The instant and anonymous access of social media forums as well as the interactive nature of online gaming, create opportunities for both those intent on abuse and those intent on bullying and blackmail.

Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner, has spoken out on this issue and feels that future generations will be “astonished to think that we ever didn’t protect kids online.” She spoke in a forward thinking address while launching the Age Appropriate Design Code as a new set of privacy codes to be set by her office. Social media sites, online gaming sites and streaming services will need to abide by these new rules.

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HIAI Bill passes through Parliament before election Purdah

The Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill passed through the Commons yesterday before Parliament was dissolved in preparation for the December elections.  This paves the way for the creation of a Redress Panel and the appointment of a Commissioner for Victims of residential Institutional abuse as recommended by Sir Anthony Hart in 2017.

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Sexual Offences prosecutions in Northern Ireland take an average of nearly two years

The Department of Justice has produced figures which show that the average (median) time taken for processing cases where the main aspect was a sexual offence is 667 days.  This is in comparison to an average of 167 days in all other case or as low as 138 days for cases where the offences relate to public order offences.

The time is calculated from the point when the case was either reported to or detected by the PSNI until the date when the case was finally disposed of at court.

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HIAI report anniversary

Saturday 20th January marks the first anniversary of the publication of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report.  The report was published having been delivered to The Executive Office (formerly The Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers) as it was required to do. Continue reading