Accessing the European Court of Human Rights is a long and difficult journey but not an impossible one as Louise O’Keeffe has recently shown us. Louise’s fight for justice began in 1998 in Ireland and culminated finally in a successful outcome before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The European Court of Human Rights can only examine complaints from persons claiming their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been infringed by a State that has accepted and ratified the Convention, such as Ireland. In Louise’s case, the relevant articles in the Convention were Article 3 (which outlaws torture which includes sexual abuse) and Article 13 (because the State had failed to provide her with an effective remedy to vindicate her rights after she was sexually abused).
Under the terms of the Convention the Court can only deal with an application to it after all domestic remedies have been exhausted and within a period of six months from the date on which the final domestic decision was taken. This means that a person must have first tried to obtain a decision in the Irish courts and appealed that decision to the highest court in the land. For Louise O’Keeffe, this meant first going to the High Court, then the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court found against her in December 2008, Louise had exhausted all domestic remedies and had a period of six months then to make her application to the European Court – which she did on the 16th June 2009.
However, making that application is just the start of the procedure. It does not give you automatic access to the Court because you must first satisfy the Court that your application is admissible. Once the application is registered with the European Court, the case is assigned to a Judge who can make the decision whether your case is admissible or not.
However, if the Judge decides the case can proceed, the application is referred to a Chamber of the Court. In Louise’s case, the Irish State, from the outset, argued that her case should not be heard in Europe, arguing that it was inadmissible. The European Court did not agree with this argument and held that Louise’s case raised a serious question about the application of the Convention and a serious issue of general importance.
Finally, after a long battle to get there, Louise’s case was heard before a Grand Chamber of Seventeen Judges on the 6th March 2013 and the landmark Judgment was given on the 28th January 2014.
Louise O’Keeffe is one of the few individuals who successfully travelled the long and hard road to Europe and her journey should be a source of hope for others of similar courageous spirit.
Whoever would have thought it would take an eight year old girl forty two years to get from Cork to Strasbourg?
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
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