The Government has today published the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2013 which when enacted will provide that certain persons shall be under a “disability” for the purpose of bringing actions relating to symphysiotomy and pubiotomy performed on them without medical justification.
The Bill and explanatory memorandum note that operations known as symphysiotomy and pubiotomy were performed without medical justification on women in maternity facilities in Ireland from 1942 onwards and that such practice was not generally exposed until 1999. As a consequence of the failure to obtain patient consent, concealment of surgery, lack of appropriate medical advice, misinformation, paucity of information in the public domain and other reasons, survivors of symphysiotomy and pubitomy remained unaware that a wrongful operation was performed on them. The Bill further notes that it was not until the Supreme Court decision in Kearney v McQuillan, delivered on 11th July 2012, that it was the first time an institution of the State declared that symphysiotomy was not a generally accepted practice, was unjustified and unjustifiable in the circumstances then prevailing.
Key Provisions of the Bill
- A new Section 48B is to be inserted in the Statute of Limitations Act 1958 to provide that an action founded on tort in respect of a symphysiotomy or a pubiotomy, performed without medical justification or against a person (other than those who performed the symphysiotomy or pubitomy) claiming damages for negligence or breach of duty where the damages claimed consist of or include damages in respect of personal injuries caused by such surgery be under a disability.
- The Bill sets aside (for one year only) the bar on taking legal action for tort or personal injuries caused by negligence, nuisance or breach of duty that is set out by the Statute of Limitations Act 1957 (as amended). Under the 1957 Act, actions must be initiated within two years from the date at which the cause of action accrued or the date of knowledge (if later) of the person injured.
The Bill and in particular the explanatory memorandum is worth reading (attached to the Bill above) as it sets out further detail including what is meant by “date of knowledge” when survivors became aware that serious wrong was done to them. The Bill aims to protect survivors who, through a consequence of lack of knowledge that a wrong was done to them, never initiated proceedings or indeed did not seek advice.
In essence the Bill as currently drafted lifts the bar on legal action, claiming damages for negligence or breach of duty) (for one year only) in respect of those who may have had a symphysiotomy or pubitomy performed on them.