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€8,500 damages for priest over human rights abuse in trial

An Irish priest, whose trial for alleged sexual abuse took almost 13 years, wins damages at the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg.
The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg.
Image: Christian Lutz/AP

AN IRISH PRIEST whose trial for alleged sexual abuse crimes took over 13 years to come to completion has won €8,500 in damages at the European Court of Human Rights.

The priest, named only as ‘O’ in the proceedings, was accused of abusing a teenager in the early 1980s. The allegations were made in the mid-1990s, and charges were brought against him at a District Court in June 1997.

The case was then transferred to a Circuit Criminal Court, where in 1998 the trial was adjourned amid complaints of a conflict of interest by the trial judge, and a delay in releasing psychiatrist’s records relating to the priest’s alleged victim.

These delays meant proceedings where then delayed until 2000, when the jury was discharged and transferred to another Circuit Criminal Court listed for June 2001.

Further delays in the release of medical records saw the priest apply to the High Court in 2002 for an order prohibiting his trial, because of the delays in the disclosure of the necessary records.

This was granted in February 2003, but appealed to the Supreme Court where it was heard – and overturned – in spring 2007.

There was then a 10-month delay in hearing the trial because a Garda connected with the case was ill, which was pushed back even further when a Garda witness was injured in a car accident, resulting in the case being pushed back to 2009.

After a further delay, over confusion about whether the alleged abuse victim had been referred for hypnosis, the trial was eventually fixed for four days in January 2010, where the priest was acquitted due to the unavailability of three medical witnesses, one of whom had died.

The priest then took a case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that his right to a fair trial “within a reasonable time” – under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – had been breached.

The court ruled that the Irish government had not put forward “any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion” as it had reached in similar previous cases, and that there was therefore a breach.

The priest sought damages of €100,000 – an amount that the Irish government considered excessive – but the court believed it equitable to award damages of €8,500.

He also sought €48,400 in legal fees, inclusive of VAT – another claim that the government contested, saying the claimed costs had not been itemised – but was awarded €3,500, inclusive of VAT.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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