2nd May 2014
By Elaine Murphy
The legal Team behind courageous Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe’s triumphant 30-year battle for justice will be named today as the recipient of a prestigious award at this year’s Irish Law Awards.
The third Irish Law Awards, which takes place today, Friday 2nd May, at the Four Seasons Hotel, commend excellence in Irish law and recognise the outstanding achievements and exemplary practices of leading law firms, legal practitioners and in-house legal Teams across the country.
Cork based firm Ernest J Cantillon received the Special Merit Award for its work on the landmark Louise O’Keefe vs Ireland case.
In January of this year a 17 judge Strasbourg-based Court delivered a majority ruling in Ms O’Keeffe’s favour that the Irish State had been negligent in failing to protect her from abuse in national school.
The court ruled that her human rights had been breached under Article 3 and 13 of the European Convention with the Irish State liable to compensate the mother for the breaches.
The judgement is also expected to provide greater protection for children in the future, where such children might be abused by State employees. The State, in the future, must, under the ruling, take proactive steps to prevent abuse. The State can no longer claim that it is not liable for the criminal acts of teachers.
The Special Merit Award is specially selected by the judging panel to celebrate an individual or organisation within the sector who has demonstrated extraordinary skill, expertise or effort, setting precedents that have a positive impact on the industry and society in general.
Hosted by Miriam O’Callaghan, the awards will take place in The Four Seasons and this year’s awards received a total of 360 nominations across 25 categories.
The adjudication panel, chaired by Dr Eamonn Hall comprised of 20 leading national and international legal experts. Dr. Hall is principal of E.G. Hall & Co, former chairman of the Law Reporting Council for Ireland and currently a board member of the Irish Centre for European Law and member of the Governing Council of the Faculty of Notaries Public in Ireland.
At the announcement of the Special Merit Award Dr Hall stated “The Special Merit Award was presented to the Team at Ernest J Cantillon Solicitors, in recognition of the landmark lawsuit against the Irish State, which saw Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe take Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect her as a child. This landmark case was the culmination of a 15 year legal process that took the case through the Irish courts and to success in Europe.”
Mary Scriven, Solicitor, a member of Louise’s legal Team at for the past 15 years who will be accepting the award on behalf of the team at Ernest J Cantillon Solicitors commented “When Louise came to us first day, she asked that we not look at her as a 30 year old woman, but rather as an 8 year old child coming to us for help. We normally would not take on human rights or sexual abuse cases as our main area is general litigation and medical negligence, but, but we were all haunted by the image of that 8 year old child. That child had no one to turn to. School went from being a place of fun to one of terror. She hid in the toilets during breaks to avoid being abused. That image drove the Team at Cantillons on. It was a long journey but a journey we felt we had to go on with Louise, an amazingly selfless and tenacious lady, willing to fight a battle not just for herself, but for all children. Ultimately this case was about human rights in one of its purest forms; the child’s right to have the protection of the State against abuse by an adult placed by the State in a position of power over the child.”
Managing Partner Ernest J Cantillon added, added “In accepting this award, the Team accepts it on behalf of all victims of sexual abuse. At last we have the support from the European Court of Human Rights. This Court told the Government that they must put in place steps to prevent children being tortured in the future. It is humbling to receive this honour and recognition from our colleagues within the profession. We should add that we did receive considerable assistance from the Counsel who presented the case in Europe, particularly David Holland SC, and Alan Keating BL, and indeed we got considerable help from Ursula Kilkelly, Conor O’Mahony and the Child Law Clinic at UCC. We would like to thank the judging panel for choosing our Team for such a prestigious award. It is such an honour to be recognised in this way by our peers and it will have pride of place in our office in Cork.”