Law firm honoured for Louise O’Keeffe case

Company fought 15-year battle for justice for abuse survivor before victory in Europe

Louise O’Keeffe, who was sexually abused by her teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Courts

Louise O’Keeffe, who was sexually abused by her teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Courts

Sun, May 4, 2014, 18:22

The legal team which helped Irish child sex abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe win a landmark judgment in the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year has been honoured with an award by peers in legal profession.

Cork firm Ernest J Cantillon received the Special Merit Award at this this year’s Irish Law Awards for its work for Ms O’Keeffe, who was abused by schoolteacher Leo Hickey at Dunderrrow National School in Co Cork in the early 1970s.

Ms O’Keeffe, represented by Cantillons, sued the Department of Education over abuse she suffered at the hands of Hickey, but in 2006 the High Court ruled it was the board of management of the school rather than the Dept of Education which was liable for the abuse.

Ms O’Keeffe lost a Supreme Court appeal against the High Court ruling in 2009 but Mr Cantillon then lodged a detailed submission, outlining her arguments for appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which finally culminated in victory last January.

And now the work done by Mr Cantillon and his colleague, Mary Scriven on behalf of Ms O’Keeffe which led to that success, has been recognised with the Special Merit Award which Irish Law Awards adjudication panel chairman, Dr Eamonn Hall said was “well merited”.

“This landmark case, which saw Louise O’Keeffe take Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect her as a child, was the culmination of a 15 year legal process that took the case through the Irish courts and to success in Europe. ”

Solicitor Mary Scriven, a member of Ms O’Keeffe’s legal team at Cantillons for the past 15 years, accepted the award at a ceremony in Dublin at the weekend and said the case had helped highlight the duties of the state to protect children in education.

“The win in Strasburg was momentous for Louise and for everyone in the firm. It was a long journey but a journey we felt we had to go on with Louise, an amazingly selfless and tenacious lady, willing to fight a battle not just for herself, but for all children.

“Ultimately this case was about human rights in one of its purest forms; the child’s right to have the protection of the State against abuse by an adult placed by the State in a position of power over the child.”