Judge rules teenager’s work at hospital was akin to slavery

Court finds woman now in her sixties is entitled to seek redress

The judge remitted the matter to the Residential Institutions Review Committee for fresh consideration. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

The judge remitted the matter to the Residential Institutions Review Committee for fresh consideration. Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:00


A woman sent to a children’s hospital in a rural area aged 13 where she cooked and cleaned from 6am to 10pm daily for two years under an arrangement described by a High Court judge as resembling “a form of slavery” is entitled to seek redress, the court has ruled.

Now aged in her sixties, the woman claimed to have been sexually abused by older male patients and by a priest at the hospital and to have witnessed abuse of patients.

She said she was sent to the hospital by her mother, was not permitted to return home at Christmas, Easter, her birthday or any other holidays and was frightened to leave “because of the consequences”.

Anyone who broke the rules had their heads shaved and signs placed round their necks describing their wrongdoing, she claimed.


‘Resident’
The refusal of her application for redress arose after the Residential Institutions Review Committee found the woman was not a “resident” within the meaning of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002.

It took that view after finding the woman was “employed” at the hospital and was not receiving treatment or schooling there.

The woman challenged that finding in High Court judicial review proceedings and Mr Justice Iarflaith O’Neill yesterday upheld her challenge.

The central issue was whether the committee adopted a correct approach to ascertaining the proper statutory interpretation of the word “resident” in section 7 of the 2002 Act, he said.


Circumstances
The judge found the committee correctly concluded the woman’s circumstances at the hospital came within the meaning of “resident”. However, it erred in law by then applying a purposive interpretation of that term under the 2002 Act and finding the woman’s status, while in the institution, was of a person there by virtue of a lawful contract of employment, he found.  

The arrangement whereby she was in this institution “lacked any recognisable elements” of a lawful contract of employment, the judge said.

The arrangement was more akin to that easily recognisable “as a form of slavery” – involuntary labour provided with no remuneration to the person providing the labour, accompanied by “extraordinarily long” hours of work with little or no time off as of right.

The judge remitted the matter to the committee for fresh consideration.