Brendan Smyth abuse victims cannot take new case against Church

Friday 28 February 2014 18.58
Interviews were carried out with two young victims of Brendan Smyth in 1975
Interviews were carried out with two young victims of Brendan Smyth in 1975

The High Court has ruled that three victims of abuse by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth who settled cases in 1998 may not proceed with fresh legal action against the Catholic Church.

The victims had alleged the Bishop of Kilmore and now Cardinal Seán Brady did not take steps to prevent Smyth from abusing children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly was sued as successor to the previous bishop Francis McKiernan. Cardinal Seán Brady is being sued in a personal capacity. 

The victims allege negligence because complaints made about Smyth in interviews with two young boys in 1975 were not reported and the boys were sworn to secrecy.

One of the victims in the current case was identified during those interviews but no action was taken to prevent further abuse, the court was told.

Lawyers for Bishop O'Reilly had argued before the High Court that the case could not proceed because of earlier settlements reached with Smyth's Norbertine Order and the Church.

Under the settlements, one of the victims accepted £25,000 (€30,000).

Lawyers for the victims say the content of the 1975 interviews was "actively concealed" in their court proceedings in the 1990s.

They said if they had known, they would not have settled the case for that amount.

They also said the earlier settlement was a partial one.

In his ruling on whether or not a new case could proceed against the Bishop of Kilmore, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said counsel for the plaintiffs were mistaken in suggesting that some new cause of action arose from the revelation about the 1975 meeting.

He said: "If a hospital doctor bungled an operation in circumstances where he had medical issues and it later emerged following a settlement of a claim by the injured party that the hospital authorities knew in advance about the doctor's problem but allowed him to continue operating, that does not amount to a new cause of action but rather is an aggravating factor."

The judge said it was a "matter of the utmost importance that the integrity of settlements, once arrived at with the benefit of proper legal advice, be upheld.

"It goes without saying that no claim could ever be regarded as finalised and concluded if it could be set aside in circumstances where a newly discovered complication were to come to light in the aftermath of a settlement.

"Settlements must in the interests of the proper administration of justice achieve finality of disputes."

He was also of the view that the alleged new or additional facts were already in the public domain when the earlier proceedings were settled.

He said in the course of the hearing the defence had handed in a number of newspaper reports, which made it clear that the information relating to the meetings in 1975 had been in the public domain for some time.

The judge said he was satisfied that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate either that a different cause of action or different damage had arisen in the case.

In terms of the adequacy of the compensation obtained, it was not for the court to second guess quantification of damages made in a different jurisdiction some considerable time ago, particularly when the settlement was arrived at with the benefit of full legal advice.

After the decision, in a statement, Bishop O'Reilly said: "I acknowledge and I deeply regret the great suffering that all three plaintiffs endured at the hands of Father Smyth and I utterly condemn his actions and the betrayal of trust that they represent."