WATCH: Judge rules failure to compensate victims of historical abuse not unlawful

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By David Young, Press Association and Q Radio News

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley's ongoing failure to compensate victims of historical abuse in the absence of a Stormont executive is not unlawful, a High Court judge in Belfast has ruled.

An abuse survivor failed in his bid to compel Mrs Bradley to implement stalled redress mechanisms for victims and call an Assembly election.

But Judge Bernard McCloskey opened the door for a further potential challenge if Mrs Bradley does not act on draft legislation on the compensation scheme that has been developed by Stormont civil servants.

He said the current political vacuum was unsatisfactory but it was not unconstitutional.

"The plight of victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland illustrates graphically just how damaging this is for certain sections of society," he said.

The case was taken by an unnamed male victim, who is now in his seventies, known to the court as JR80.

He was challenging the lack of action on recommendations by a state inquiry into historical institutional abuse in the region.

The proposals put forward by the HIA inquiry, chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, are mired in uncertainty due to the Stormont impasse.

They were published just as the DUP/Sinn Fein-led executive was imploding in January 2017, so no elected local ministers have been able to take action.

A public consultation on the proposed shape of the compensation scheme closed last month, but the plans cannot be implemented without intervention by the UK Government.

The HIA inquiry studied allegations of abuse in 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 and 1995. There were 76 homes that operated during that time and abuse victims from all of them would be eligible to apply for compensation.

The facilities were run by the state, local authorities, the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and children's charity Barnardo's.

The inquiry recommended compensation payouts ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 for victims.

Members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster have written to Mrs Bradley urging her to intervene and legislate for compensation.

Victims and supporters have been speaking outside the High Court in Belfast following Judge McCloskey's ruling.

(Kate McCausland (centre left) speaks of her mother Una Irvine outside Belfast's High Court with victims and families of victims of historical institutional abuse, after a failed bid to force the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley to compensate those abused.)

Jon McCourt, chairman of the Survivors North West group expressed his anger. 

"Disappointed is not the word we would use, it's angry," he said.

"This was a hope that the justice system would actually start to move forward for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse.

"There's a moral obligation as well as a legal obligation on the Secretary of State to move this forward.

"This should have been done as soon as the executive collapsed, the Secretary of State should have taken charge of this."

Meanwhile, a member of SAVIA called Shauneen, urged Northern Ireland politicians to put aside their differences as she spoke on behalf of the group outside court.

 Kate McCausland, whose 88-year-old mother Una Irvine was abused in the Nazareth home in Belfast, wept as she described her mother's current battle with Alzheimer's.

"The time has passed for her to have the satisfaction of knowing that justice was done," she said. "Two years ago she may have been able to enjoy the practical help that compensation would have afforded her, but there are so many like her and I think it's an absolute disgrace that's she's been let down.

"They were helpless in the home. She was four when she was put in and she spent 10 years there and they were helpless, they had nowhere to run then, and they've been let down again by those in authority."

Mrs McCausland said her mother's two younger sisters, who were also put in Nazareth House, died before the HIA was set up.

"It was her wish that the compensation be shared with their families," she said.

"That would have given her the greatest satisfaction to know that was done."

The applicant JR80 is a member of the lobby group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA).

The group's solicitor Claire McKeegan said the order was "unique".

"The court has not abandoned these proceedings, there has been no final order," she said

"Today's order suggests that JR80 has an opportunity to revisit these proceedings should there be a situation where the Secretary of State refuses to take the legislation through Parliament once David Sterling (Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service) has it completed.

"We believe that this is a positive and the court has exercised a supervisory role over what should happen next."

She said the legal team would study the judgment in full before deciding whether there were grounds for appeal.

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