Abuse redress scheme legal fees cost 15% of €970m awards

Relative costs higher in Irish institutional care cases than in other countries

A person who suffered even mild sexual abuse as a child in an institution could have had their lives destroyed. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A person who suffered even mild sexual abuse as a child in an institution could have had their lives destroyed. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

The Irish redress scheme for people abused in institutional care resulted in a high level of legal fees relative to the total awards granted, according to a review by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), Seamus McCarthy.

Since the first such scheme for children abused in institutional care was introduced in Canada in 1993, there have been redress schemes in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and the United States.

The Irish scheme led to legal costs equivalent to 15 per cent of the €970 million issued in awards. The equivalent percentage for the Canadian scheme was 13 per cent, while those in Queensland and Western Australia each led to costs of 4 per cent of total awards.

Flat-rate awards

In Canada and Queensland flat-rate awards were granted to everyone who had been in the institutions. People who then wanted to be compensated for particular experiences of abuse had to make their claim subject to a certain standard of proof. It was only in such cases that they were entitled to legal costs.

The flat rate in Canada was €8,000 plus an extra €2,500 for each year in the institution, while the rate in Queensland was €5,500.

While the flat rate model was introduced in other jurisdictions to drive down legal costs, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in its reponse to the C&AG, said that blanket access of this nature could result in the effort to drive down legal costs being “completely nullified” by higher overall expenditure on compensation payments.

A solicitor whose firm acted for applicants to the Irish scheme said that in his view the flat rate idea was “really bad”. He said a person who suffered even mild sexual abuse as a child in an institution could have had their lives destroyed.

The cap applied for awards in the Irish scheme (€300,000) was “a fraction” of what would have been awarded in some cases of sexual abuse if the cases had gone to the courts, the solicitor said.