The government has announced a scheme for women to claim compensation for a symphysiotomy procedures that was conducted between the 1940s and the 1980s without their adequate consent.
Previously, the government had stated that they had plans to create a window in the Statute of Limitations. They have since abandoned that plan in favour of a new scheme has been announced to enable the estimated 350 survivors of childbirth symphysiotomies and pubiotomies to claim compensation for a symphysiotomy.
Solicitors advised the government that opening a window in the Statute of Limitations would set a legal precedent which could be considered unlawful, and therefore the government abandoned that plan. The new scheme consists of payments based on consequences of undergoing the procedure. There are three tiers of compensation offered to women under the scheme:
• Women who had a symphysiotomy but did not suffer any serious long term consequences will be entitled to €50,000 compensation.
• Women who suffered a quantifiable injury as the result of a symphysiotomy procedure will receive €100,000 compensation.
• Women who gave birth by Caesarean Section and then underwent a symphysiotomy will get €150,000 compensation.
The government has appointed Maureen Harding-Clark-a former High Court Judge-to assess each application for compensation. They further granted her the authority to extend the December 5th deadline for applications by a further 20 working days in exceptional circumstances.
Once an application has been assessed and an offer of compensation made, survivors have twenty days in which to accept the assessment. Under the terms of the scheme, the plaintiff must withdraw any claim for compensation for a symphysiotomy currently going through the High Court in order to receive the payment. However, if they are dissatisfied with the level of compensation offered to them, they are free to make an appeal.
Marie O’Connor – chairwoman of Survivors of Symphysiotomy group – has criticised the scheme for its short time limit and said that it makes it “impossible for women to seek independent advice and to make a considered decision” within the time allowed. Therefore, the chance of any women appealing their case instead of accepting the offer very small. Currently, more than 150 High Court actions are in progress, with dates for two hearings already set.
There has also been criticism of the scheme from Mark Kelly – the Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. Mr Kelly believes that the scheme falls short of what is required under Ireland´s human rights obligations on two counts – that it does not allow the victims to claim compensation for a symphysiotomy on an individual basis, and because the state has made no admission of liability.