International Case Law

O’Keeffe v. Ireland European Court of Human Rights (2014)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

Louise O’Keeffe was repeatedly sexually abused by her school principal during the 1970s. When these events were reported to the police in 1996, the complete police investigation revealed that the principal had sexually abused twenty-one former students during a ten-year period. In total, the principal was charged with 386 criminal offences of sexual abuse. O’Keeffe brought a civil action against the Minister for Education and the Attorney General of Ireland, claiming that the State had vicarious liability for the personal injury she suffered as a result of the abuse in the public school. The High Court ruled that the state did not have vicarious liability for its employee’s actions, and the Supreme Court dismissed O’Keeffe’s appeal. In January 2014, O’Keeffe brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging violations of Article 3 (torture or inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 13, alleging that she did not have an effective domestic remedy. The European Court of Human Rights held the following: (1) the Irish State failed to meet its positive obligation, in violation of Article 3; (2) there was no violation of the procedural obligations under Article 3 since an effective official investigation into the ill-treatment of the applicant had been carried out in 1995 once the a complaint was made by another former pupil to the police; (3) the applicant did not have an adequate remedy available to her regarding her Article 3 complaints, in violation of Article 13; and (4) the applicant was awarded 85,000 euros for the costs and expenses of the proceedings. As a result of this case, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gave an apology to O’Keeffe, and, in August 2014, the Irish government submitted an Action Plan to the Council of Europe setting out the measures that have been taken since this ECtHR decision.

Case of Airey v. Ireland European Court of Human Rights (1979)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Family law, domestic violence and the right of access to court.  Petitioner, a domestic violence survivor, could not find legal assistance to appear before a court.  The Court ruled that member states must guarantee effective access to the courts.

Domestic Case Law

A. and B. v. Eastern Health Board High Court of Ireland (1997)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

C. was a 13 year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape allegedly by a family friend and was now in State care.  The health board sought a court order to allow her to travel outside the State to obtain an abortion because abortion was illegal in Ireland except where the pregnancy formed a real and substantial risk to the woman's life. The Court granted the health board's order permitting C. to travel outside the State to obtain an abortion. The Court based its decision on the fact that the girl's risk of suicide presented a real and substantial risk to her life, entitling her to an abortion within Ireland as well.  

Attorney General v. X. and Others Supreme Court of Ireland (1992)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

X was a 14 year-old girl who became pregnant and suicidal after being raped.  Her parents tried to take her to England in order to obtain a first-trimester abortion that was illegal in Ireland but the Attorney General obtained an interim injunction from the High Court restraining the girl and her parents from leaving the country for a period of nine months or from arranging an abortion for her. The family appealed.  The Supreme Court held that the Constitution's prohibition on abortion did not prevent a suicidal 14 year-old, pregnant as the result of rape, from obtaining an abortion in Ireland, because the suicide was a substantial risk to the life of the pregnant girl. The Court also struck down the injunction prohibiting the girl from leaving the country.

De Burca and Anderson v. Attorney General Supreme Court of Ireland (1975)

Gender discrimination

The plaintiffs were two female criminal defendants who chose to be tried by a jury and objected to the Juries Act of 1927 which excluded all women from jury pools except those who opted to be part of the potential jurors list.  The Supreme Court ruled the Juries Act unconstitutional because it constituted invidious discrimination on the basis of sex.

People v. Jem Court of Criminal Appeals (2000)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant was convicted of four counts of sexual assault against a 15 year-old girl. He appealed on the grounds that the judge did not instruct the jury as to the danger of convicting the accused in the absence of corroboration of the victim's testimony. The Court rejected the appeal and held that the Criminal Law (Rape) Amendment leaves it to the judge's discretion whether to issue a warning about corroboration or not.