O’Keeffe v. Ireland
Ireland, European Court of Human Rights

O’Keeffe v. Ireland

DATE 28-01-2014DOWNLOAD LEGAL DECISION

Judges:

Dean Spielmann

Dean Spielmann

Valeriu Gritco

Valeriu Gritco

Krzysztof Wojtyczek

Krzysztof Wojtyczek

Andre Potocki

Andre Potocki

Angelika Nussberger

Angelika Nussberger

Vincent A. De Gaetano

Vincent A. De Gaetano

Nebojsa Vucinic

Nebojsa Vucinic

Zdravka Kalaydjieva

Zdravka Kalaydjieva

Nona Tsotsoria

Nona Tsotsoria

Alvina Gyulumyan

Alvina Gyulumyan

Bostjan Zupancic

Bostjan Zupancic

Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre

Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre

Mark Villiger

Mark Villiger

Ineta Ziemele

Ineta Ziemele

Guido Raimondi

Guido Raimondi

Joseph Casadevall

Joseph Casadevall

Peter Charleton

Peter Charleton

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Topics:

Adolescents and girl child Intersectional DiscriminationRape, Sexual Abuse and Harassment

Related standards:

European Convention on Human Rights Article 8

RELATED STANDARDS

European Convention on Human Rights Article 8

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
European Convention on Human Rights Article 13

RELATED STANDARDS

European Convention on Human Rights Article 13

Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 3

RELATED STANDARDS

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 3

States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to en sure the full development and advancement of women , for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
European Convention on Human Rights Article 14.

RELATED STANDARDS

European Convention on Human Rights Article 14.

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
Protocol I (European Council) Article 2. Right to education

RELATED STANDARDS

Protocol I (European Council) Article 2. Right to education

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

WHY IT MATTERS:

The European Court of Human Rights’ final decisions are binding on the parties to a case and are enforced by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The European Court of Human Rights is a regional court that rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Subsequent petitioners may rely on the findings of state responsibility for situations where a state delegates' essential functions to a non-state actor.Further, the Court establishes mechanisms by which a petitioner may argue that a State knew or had reason to know of the risk of sexual abuse. In the case O’Keeffe v Ireland, the Court held that Article 3 of the ECHR places a positive obligation on States to take reasonable steps to prevent ill treatment of children, when authorities had or ought to have had knowledge of such treatment. The Grand Chamber emphasised once again that despite how the education system is organised or who is in charge of its daily management the positive duty to protect children from ill treatment falls under the responsibility of the State.

Nevertheless, the Court failed to take into account the vulnerable position of young girls. While it briefly looked into Sections 1, 2 and 14 of the 1935 Act, which created the offences of defilement of girls, it did not elaborate on the need to protect young girls against sexual offences. Despite the inclusion of such legislation and reports which demonstrates that women and girls experience sexual abuse in different manners and intensity than men and boys, the Court failed to use this opportunity to address the case with gender-perspective and address the different impact of such crimes on girls and women.

O’Keeffe v. Ireland examines state responsibility for sexual abuse in a state-supported parochial school in Ireland. The petitioner, O’Keeffe, alleged that the Irish State failed to protect her from abuse in violation of Articles 3, 8, 13, and 14 of the European Convention and Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention. The Court found that Ireland failed to protect the applicant from sexual abuse. The lack of effective mechanisms in place to protect students from sexual abuse at school, including religiously run schools funded by the state, was a violation of the petitioner’s Article 3 rights (prohibition of torture).

The petitioner, O’Keeffe, attended Dunderrow National School in 1968. National Schools formed part of the Irish schooling system that were state funded, with some oversight mechanisms, but mainly run by religious groups (majority of them being catholic).

From January to mid-1973 the petitioner, Ms Louise O’Keeffe, was subject to close to 20 sexual assaults by LH, a married man and the school principal, during music lessons in his classroom. At the time these events took place, both the applicant and her parents were unaware of an allegation made in 1971 about LH. In September 1973, other parents brought to the applicant’s parents’ attention similar allegations concerning LH. The teacher was put on sick leave and reassigned to a different National School the following year, where he taught until 1995.

In 1996, police investigating abuse complaints against the teacher contacted O’Keeffe, who related the 1973 abuse. In 1998 the teacher was sentenced in 21 sample cases out of 386 criminal offenses charged. The petitioner subsequently filed for and received compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.

In September 1998, the petitioner instituted civil proceedings at High Court against LH, Ireland and the Irish Attorney General, in an attempt to establish state responsibility for the sexual abuse she had suffered. Moreover, she claimed damages as result of assault and battery including sexual abuse by LH. She named the teacher, the Irish State, and the Irish Attorney General in her suit. While default judgment was entered against the teacher, the State defendants successfully argued that they did not have vicarious liability for the offenses, given the schools were largely under religious control and they had no reason to know of the potential for abuse. O’Keeffe appealed the vicarious liability issue to the Irish Supreme Court, where her appeal was dismissed.

While default judgment was entered against the teacher, the State defendants successfully argued that they did not have vicarious liability for the offenses, given the schools were largely under religious control and they had no reason to know of the potential for abuse. O’Keeffe appealed the vicarious liability issue to the Irish Supreme Court, where her appeal was dismissed.

In 2009, O’Keeffe brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights, where she alleged violations of Article 3 of the European Convention, which protects against torture and inhumane or degrading treatment, Article 13, which provides the right to an effective remedy for violations of rights protected in the Convention, Article 8, which covers the respect for private life, Article 14, which protects rights on a basis of non-discrimination, and Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which covers the right to education.

Article 3 (Prohibition of Torture)

The Court first examined the Article 3. O’Keeffe argued that the State knew or should have known of the risk of abuse at schools, and put in place minimal oversight over the National Schools to protect children. Their failure to do so was a violation of the positive obligations of the State to protect against torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. The State first argued the National Schools operated independently and abuse there should not trigger state responsibility. The State further argued that at the time, in the 1970s, when the risk of sexual abuse was not as publicized, they did not have reason to implement an oversight program. In evaluating these arguments, the Court notes the obligatory nature of primary education in Ireland and the fact that the vast majority of children attended National Schools, finding O’Keeffe essentially without other options. The Court also examined the rates of prosecution for sexual abuse and reports on sexual abuse from that time period, concluding the State should have been aware of the risk. Because the State entrusted the education of the majority of Irish children to non-State actors without providing for their protection in any substantive way, the Court found Ireland violated O’Keeffe’s Article 3 rights.

Article 13 (Right to an effective remedy)

The Court next addressed the Article 13 allegation, as to whether or not there were effective remedies available to the petitioner. The State argued that the petitioner should have raised additional arguments in other forums domestically that could have satisfied her complaints. However, the Court found that not all these remedies would have established State responsibility, which is what the petitioner sought, and that the State could not show they would have been successful either. The Court therefore also found a violation of O’Keeffe’s Article 13 rights.

Other Articles Not Analyzed 
As the Court already found violations of Article 3 and Article 13, they did not consider it necessary to examine the merits of the petitioner’s Article 8, 14 and Article 2 of Protocol 1 arguments.

The European Court of Human Rights that there had been a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 3 of the Convention in regards to the State’s failure to fulfill its obligation to protect the applicant. Moreover, it also held, that there has been a violation of Article 13, taken together with the substantive aspect of article 3 of the Convention on account of the lack if an effective remedy as regards the State’s failure to fulfill its obligation to protect the applicant.

However, it determined unanimously, that there has been no violation of the procedural aspect of Article 3 of the Convention. As well as, establishing that there was no need to examine separately the complaints under Article 8 or under Article 2 of Protocol No.1, whether alone or in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention.

The Court awarded 30,000 euros in damages and 85,000 euros for court costs.

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