Monday, 15 July 2013

Mandatory Reporting - the latest

Picture courtesy of Nick Ballon of the Guardian
Interest in our campaign of mandatory reporting is slowly gathering momentum - in summary we are pushing government to make it a criminal offence to fail to report abuse that someone is aware of taking place to a child. We have narrowed the offence to those professionals whose job it is to look afer children. You can sign our petition here. So far we have nearly 2000 signature.

It is illegal in most commonwealth countries - Canada, & Australia, as well as Argentina, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Sweden, USA, and now the Republic of Ireland, which has recently held a referendum found to be in overwhelming support of the new law. In these countries, if you do not report abuse you are aware of it is a crminal offence.

Louise Tickle of the Guardian wrote this excellent article on the subject, which is centred around the recent appalling case of Nigel Leat who abused girls at Hillside School under the noses of teachers. It is entitled "Sex abuse in schools: the parents who want a change to the law." Complaints were made of the abuse to the headmaster, who did not pass them onto the police or social services. Leat hoodwinked everyone with his charm, and was not suspected for years. Leat was culpably negligent, and went to prison for an indefinite period of time two years ago.

A serious case review heavily criticised the headmaster for not passing on this complaints to either the police or the local authority. They allege that staff registered their complaints and made about 30 different complaints about Leat, 11 of which went to the headmaster. None of the complaints went anywhere. The point is that if the head had acted on any of the complaints, Leat would have been reported to the police, year earlier, and scores of children would have been saved from years of abuse.

No one wants to prosecute scores of headmasters/teachers, or social workers who turn a blind eye, because most of them are hardworking dedicated adults. It is the deterrent factor which will work on the minds in charge of child care, and encourage them to report.

Think about it - a private fee paying school with a good reputation has a child abuse problem. The headmaster knows that, if he reports the abuse to the LADO, there will be an investigation, scandal, and no one will want to send their children to the school. What does he do?

  1. Report the paedophile and risk the downfall of his school, OR
  2. Do nothing in the hope that the problem goes away. This way he keeps the pupils, his income, his, but the abuse carries on.
One can see that whichever he chooses there is a conflict. If he knows that if he doesn't report at the time, he will be committing a criminal offence and risk going to prison, then surely that will act on his mind and encourage him to contact the LADO (Local Authority Disclosure Officer).

The government line is that is not necessary to have a criminal sanction for this and that they can rely upon regulations, which provide for the very guidelines which are not being obeyed it seems. There are very clear guidelines which say abuse should always be reported to the police.

The teachers associations are one of the opponents. They do not want their members prosecuted and are lobbying the government hard not to legislate, but rather to relay on the internal guidelines. This was the attitude to the press for years, and look what has happened to them?

The Home Affairs Committee report into “Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming” was published on 10 June 2013 and Recommendation No.36 says :

We also recommend that the Government examine the Florida Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act passed in 2012 in order to ascertain whether the mandatory reporting of child abuse could, and should, be implemented in England and Wales.
One of our supporters Jame Rhodes, the pianist, will be broadcasting a fabulous programme on Channel 4 on 24th July at 10pm. He will be talking about his childhood abuse. He is advocating a change in the law to make mandatory reporting a criminal offence, and has said so on Twitter.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Will Irish Magdalene Laundries Victims get the justice they deserve as compensation scheme is announced?

Magdalene Laundry at New Ross
The new controversial Magdalene Laundries compensation scheme was announced by the Irish Government last week for all the badly treated women at the hands of the religious congregations which ran them for many years.

The sequence of events which led to the announcement is the pinnacle of many years of hard campaigning by the Magdalene women for justice they dearly deserve.

Thousands of women and girls were forced into unpaid labour at the Catholic-run workhouses that operated for decades in the Republic of Ireland.

Last February saw the publication of the 1,000-page McAleese Report. It found that approximately 10,000 women and girls had been put into the laundries between the founding of the State and 1996 when the last one closed. The Irish government were implicated, and embarrassed by the findings.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in a tearful address apologised in parliament for the "national shame" of the laundries after a report found that a quarter of the women were sent there by the Irish state.

The Irish government has agreed to pay between 35m and 58m euros (£30m to £50m) in redress to about 600 women. Out of respect for the needs and feelings of the victims one would have thought that the government would want medical evidence, and would assess the harm that was caused, in the usual way that compensation schemes work. So the more damage that was caused, the larger the figure awarded.

Not so with the Irish scheme. Mr Justice Quirke has recommended that the women in question should all receive cash payments in the range €11,500 (if their duration of stay was three months or less) to €100,000 (duration of stay of 10 years or more).

Judge Quirke’s other recommendations include:
  • The Magdalene women should all be granted access without charge to a wide range of services (GP, hospital, drugs, dental counselling etc.) i.e. an enhanced medical card;
  • All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age should have an income equivalent to the State contributory pension;
  • All Magdalene women who have not reached pensionable age should have an income from the State of €100 per week;
  • The cash payments should be exempt from income and other taxes and should not be taken into account for the purposes of means testing social welfare or other entitlements and should not affect funding under sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act 2004;
  • The creation of a dedicated unit to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with the religious congregations, social opportunities to meet other such women and to provide for the creation and maintenance of a memorial park;
  • The extension of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 so that persons are appointed to look after on an individual basis the best interests of Magdalene women;
  • Any previous payments made to these women under the Residential Redress Scheme should not be taken into account
So the scheme has been made somewhat two dimensional and simplistic. Why? Somewhat naively to make it possible to avoid victims having to use lawyers to help them with their applications. The point is that if the victims were badly educated, then they will need help with the forms, and correspondence. They are also likely to be damaged by their experiences, and will want to avoid dealing with the details repeatedly. The same applies to people who do their own probate after a near relative has died. This serves as a constant reminder of the grief that is ever present.

The Irish Redress Scheme which is now closed encouraged lawyers to be involved and paid their fees for so doing. It recognised that due to a lack of education, literacy etc. the victims would need help. The Magalene Laundries should have been included in the Redress Scheme. If this mistake had not been made, then the victims would have been entitled to instruct a lawyer without charge.

What the motive is behind the Irish Government's determination to exclude lawyers this time, I don't know. It is an easy jibe to say that as a lawyer I would say that wouldn't I? I have been acting for the victims of abuse for nearly 20 years. I know how they struggle emotionally, and how much help they need. The process is painful in itself. They need the assistance of someone to support their emotional and legal needs.

What reaction has the scheme received from the survivors? Mixed. Some are welcoming it, and others angry that it isn't enough. Ex-resident Maureen Sullivan, from Magdalene Survivors Together, said her campaign group had "rejected the deal".She said the amount of money she personally would be entitled to through the redress scheme had not been worked out yet, but it was "not very much".

Abuse carries with it life long scars. It is wrong to award money based upon how long the women were in the laundries. One has to assess the medical effects on each person. It is not unusual of someone to sustain massive damage from one incident if they are particularly fragile, whereas others who suffer serious abuse can react in a particularly robust way. This crude method also disrespects the feelings of the victims, and does not treat them as individuals.

It is sad that a motive to save money has been cloaked in a dig at lawyers - nothing new there however. I have looked at the Irish Redress Board figures. Far from "much of the money" being spent on lawyers as reported by RTE News, the figures I saw for 2010 and 2011 showed that legal fees were  between 20 and 25% of the compensation awarded.

We will see what develops, as the figures have not been finalised yet. It is said that as many as 600 women have been sent letters. Let us hope that whether or not they seek help, they get the justice they truly deserve.