Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Destroying the history of those victimised by the State

Fiona de Londras has a letter in the Irish Times today, co-signed by a range of prominent lawyers, highlighting an injustice about to be done by the Irish state. The letter is worth quoting in full:
As human rights lawyers we note with great concern the proposal that records of applicants to the symphysiotomy payment scheme would be shredded after March 20th.
This would reinforce the harm done to women by the physical and symbolic destruction of official medical records attesting to the abuse and harm they experienced. Furthermore it would lead to the destruction of vital records and evidence that might be of assistance in future legal, historiographical and political processes of recording the symphysiotomy in Ireland and ensuring accountability for these instances of inhumane and harmful treatment.
The UN Human Rights Committee has called for a “prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy” leading to prosecutions where appropriate.
It is likely that Ireland is under a positive obligation to hold such an inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights
That these records would be returned to the applicants to the scheme is, thus, of paramount importance.
We note that applicants to this scheme were obliged to provide “relevant supporting records”. They were not informed that these records would be destroyed, that they should send or retain certified copies, or that by applying to the scheme through submission of these records they were at risk of losing this documentary evidence of their medical mistreatment
The limitations of data storage at hospitals are such that such records, if destroyed, might not be capable of retrieval elsewhere, and in some cases processes for accessing records can be so difficult to navigate as to be almost inaccessible.
Thus, we call on Ms Justice Harding Clarke to reconsider this, and to ensure that all records are returned to the applicants to the scheme, by registered post, at the earliest possible date. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed.
We also endorse the call from Marie O’Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy that applicants to the scheme be asked for their consent to these records being archived. 
Quite apart from the collective harm involved, the destruction of these records will be a significant wrong to the individual women. They were told that "the Assessor  shall,  where  reasonably possible, arrange  for  the  return  to  the  Applicant  or  her  Solicitor  of  any  documents submitted". The plan to shred these documents is a direct breach of this promise and makes it likely that the women will not be able to get copies of those documents from other sources.

The issue is urgent. The documents will be destroyed unless "an option letter" is received by 20th March. However, there is an interim solution for those affected: a subject access request under the Data Protection Acts will, in effect, stop the clock. Daragh O'Brien has details of the steps to take.