HIA inquiry: Sir Anthony Hart to appeal High Court ruling

The Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry is taking place in Banbridge courthouse, County Down The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry is examining claims of abuse at children's homes across Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995

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The Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry's chairman is to appeal a High Court ruling that he unfairly denied legal representation to a victim.

Sir Anthony Hart's inquiry is examining claims of abuse at children's homes in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.

Earlier this week, the High Court ruled a woman who claims she was molested by a "very high-profile figure" should be granted her own lawyer at the inquiry.

Its chairman, Sir Anthony, has now lodged a challenge to that verdict.

The High Court ruled that a bar had effectively been erected against the woman by the inquiry's refusal to grant her access to her own legal representation.

'Years of abuse'

The woman at the centre of the legal battle is due to give evidence at the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry at Banbridge, County Down.

It has so far heard from nearly 100 victims and survivors of abuse, most of whom were in the care of the Catholic Church at children's homes in Londonderry and Kircubbin, County Down.

Others were part of a state-approved child migrant scheme to Australia.

The focus has now shifted to the former Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge in Belfast.

The woman behind the judicial review challenge claims she suffered years of physical, sexual and mental abuse while in the care of the Sisters of Nazareth.

She also separately alleges that she was targeted by an unidentified high-profile figure, but ahead of testifying she applied to have lawyers act for her at public expense.

'Unfair advantage'

Sir Anthony, a retired High Court judge, turned down the woman's request after concluding it was not in the public interest because she was unlikely to be criticised during the inquiry or in its report.

Further reasons included the cost to the public purse and her lack of "core participant" status.

In the judicial review challenge to the refusal, it was claimed that Sir Anthony's decision was unlawful and would give an unfair advantage to alleged abusers.

Both those who have been accused of child abuse and the institutions under investigation have been permitted legal representation.

As he delivered the verdict on Tuesday, the High Court judge said: "Why should the perpetrator be placed in a materially more advantageous position in terms of legal representation, especially in circumstances where he already enjoys more participative rights to safeguard his interests?

"Can this objectively and as a matter of public law be regarded as fair?"

Postponed

He ruled that the HIA inquiry should reconsider woman's request for legal representation and reach a decision in accordance with his ruling.

But now Sir Anthony is seeking to have the ruling overturned and the appeal has been listed for early March.

It is expected that the woman's evidence to the HIA inquiry will be postponed until the appeal is concluded.

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