Sinnott v Minister for Education

 
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[2001] IESC 63

THE SUPREME COURT

Keane C.J.

Denham J.

Murphy J.

Murray J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.

326/00
327/00
SINNOTT v. MIN FOR EDUCATION & ORS
BETWEEN :
JAMIE SINNOTT A PERSON OF UNSOUND MIND NOT SO FOUND
SUING BY HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND KATHRYN SINNOTT
Plaintiff/Respondent

and

THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, IRELAND AND
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Defendants/Appellants

BETWEEN:

KATHRYN SINNOTT
Plaintiff/Respondent

and

THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, IRELAND AND
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Defendants/Appellants

Citations:

O'DONOGHUE V MIN FOR HEALTH 1996 2 IR 20

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S7(1)

CONSTITUTION ART 40

CONSTITUTION ART 42

CONSTITUTION ART 40.1

CONSTITUTION ART 40.3.1

CONSTITUTION ART 40.3.2

CONSTITUTION ART 42.3.2

CONSTITUTION 42.4

CONSTITUTION ART 41.2

CONSTITUTION ART 42.1

CONSTITUTION ART 42.2

CONSTITUTION ART 42.3

CONSTITUTION ART 42.4

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS 1957

CROWLEY V IRELAND 1980 IR 102

O'SHIEL V MIN FOR EDUCATION 1999 2 IR 321

EDUCATION ACT 1993

EDUCATION ACT 1996

CONSTITUTION ART 41

H (P) V MURPHY 1987 IR 621

RYAN V AG 1965 IR 294

REPORT ON THE EDUCATION & TRAINING OF SEVSRLY & PROFOUNDLY MENTALLY HANDICAPPED CHILDREN IN IRELAND 1983 (THE BLUE REPORT)

REPORT OF THE REVIEW GROUP ON MENTALLY HANDICAP SERVICES 1990 (THE LILAC REPORT)

EDUCATION OF ALL HANDICAPPED CHILDREN ACT 1975 US PUBLIC LAW 94–142

EDUCATION ACT 1970 (UK)

WARNOCK REPORT - UK COMMITTEE OF SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS 1978

UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

DPP V BEST 2000 2 IR 17

CONSTITUTION SAORSTAT EIREANN 1922 ART 10

BYRNE V IRELAND 1972 IR 241

MCKENNA V AN TAOISEACH (NO 2) 1995 2 IR 10

BRADY V CAVAN CO COUNCIL 1999 4 IR 99

R V EAST SUSSEX CO COUNCIL EX-PARTE TANDY 1998 AC 714

MULLALLY V BUS EIREANN 1992 ILRM 722

MCLOUGHLIN V O'BRIAN 1983 1 AC 410

MCMAHON V LEAVY 1984 IR 525

AG V SOUTHERN INDUSTRIAL TRUST 94 ILTR 161

EDUCATION (WELFARE) ACT 2000 S2(1)

CHILD CARE ACT 1991 S2(1)

QUINN, STATE V RYAN 1965 IR 70

O'B V S 1985 ILRM 86

ART 26 OF THE CONSTITUTION & THE SCHOOLS ATTENDANCE BILL 1942, RE 1943 IR 334

CONSTITUTION ART 6.1

CROTTY V AN TAOISEACH 1987 IR 713

MURPHY V DUBLIN CORPORATION 1972 IR 215

MCDONNELL V IRELAND 1998 1 IR 134

BOLAND V AN TAOISEACH 1974 IR 338

G (D) V EASTERN HEALTH BOARD 1997 3 IR 511

DPP, PEOPLE V QUILLIGAN & O'REILLY (NO 3) 1993 2 IR 305

NICOLAOU, STATE V BORD UCHTALA 1966 IR 567

MURRAY V IRELAND 1985 IR 532

L V L 1992 2 IR 77

ART 26 & THE MATRIMONIAL HOME BILL 1993, RE 1994 1 IR 305

MCGEE V AG 1974 IR 284

KELLY V HENNESSY 1995 3 IR 253

CONSTITUTION ART 42.5

MCENEANEY V MIN FOR EDUCATION 1941 IR 430

EDUCATION (IRL) ACT 1892

BROWNE, STATE V FERNA 1967 IR 147

PEOPLE V O'SHEA 1982 IR 384

HEALY, STATE V DONOGHUE 1976 IR 325

KELLY THE CONSTITUTION OF IRELAND 1937–1987 1988

AG V PAPERLINK LTD 1984 ILRM 373

O'BYRNE V MIN FOR FINANCE 1959 IR 1

MCCULLOCH V MARYLAND 1819 17 US 316

M (F) V MIN FOR EDUCATION 1995 1 IR 409

CONSTITUTION ART 41.3.2(iii)

CONSTITUTION ART 25.4

CONSTITUTION ART 17.2

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S6

EDUCATION ACT1998 S7

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S32

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S38

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S41(2)(f)

EQUAL STATUS ACT 2000

BROMLEY LONDON BOROUGH COUNCIL V SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS TRIBUNAL 1999 3 AER 587

EDUCATION OF THE HANDICAPPED 1975 (US)

O'REILLY V LIMERICK CORPORATION 1989 ILRM 181

MHIC MATHUNA V IRELAND 1995 1 IR 484

RIORDAN V AN TAOISEACH UNREP SUPREME 21.7.2000

BUCKLEY V AG 1950 IR 67

CONSTITUTION ART 15.2.1

CONSTITUTION ART 28.2

CONWAY V IRISH NATIONAL TEACHERS ORGANISATION (INTO) 1991 ILRM 497

Synopsis:

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

Children

Education - Disability - Damages - State liability - Right to primary education - Whether constitutional right to education infringed - Education Act, 1988 - Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 section 2 - Child Care Act, 1991 section 2 (1) - Bunreacht na hÉireann, 1937 Articles 40.1, 40. 3. 1°, 40.3. 2°, 42.4 (326/2000 - Supreme Court - 12/7/01) [2001] 2 IR 599

Sinnott v Minister for Education

The plaintiff, suing by his mother, had initiated proceedings against the State regarding an alleged failure to provide an appropriate education. The plaintiff was autistic and had profound learning difficulties. In the High Court the plaintiff was successful and had been granted the relief sought. On appeal the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and found that the plaintiff's constitutional rights had not been infringed. The plaintiff's claim was dismissed.

1

JUDGMENT delivered the 12th day of July 2001 byKeane C.J.

Keane C.J.
2

The facts in these two cases are not at this stage in dispute and, for the purpose of this judgment, I would propose to adopt the comprehensive statement of them by Barr J. in the judgment under appeal. It is unnecessary to do more than summarise them and set out the inferences which the learned trial judge drew from the primary facts and which, again, are not at this stage in dispute.

3

The plaintiff in the first proceedings was born on 11th October 1977 and was, at the date of the trial in the High Court, nearly 23 years of age. He was the third of nine children born to the plaintiff in the second proceedings (whom I shall call "Mrs. Sinnott") and her husband. Mrs. Sinnott has been separated from her husband for a number of years and the primary responsibility for the care and upbringing of the plaintiff has been hers.

4

At about the age of four months, having developed normally until then, the plaintiff began to display symptoms of the condition known as"autism". While this appears to have happened shortly after he had received the vaccinations usual for a baby at his stage, there is no finding, and nor was it necessary that there should be, that the autistic condition was caused or contributed to by the vaccination he received.

5

Mrs. Sinnott is a U.S. citizen and her father, Dr. John Kelly, is a surgeon who has a house in Co. Cork where she and her children originally lived. He became concerned about the plaintiff's condition and Dr. Quigley, the family's general practitioner, was consulted. He referred him to the paediatric unit in St. Finbarr's Hospital in June 1978 where he was assessed by Professor Barry. At that stage, he had lost control of his jaw which had started to clamp and he has never since regained full jaw control. As a result, he tended to drool saliva, a condition obviously distressing both to him and those in contact with him, from which he continued to suffer at the date of the High Court hearing. Pressed by Dr. Kelly as to why the child was not reaching his normal milestones, Professor Barry said that he would not discount autism. He advised that he be taken home and that they should watch the autism develop. Mrs. Sinnott and her father were not directed to any other service where treatment might be given, nor was any arrangement made with them for a further assessment by the hospital.

6

There followed a depressing saga extending over twenty years in which Mrs. Sinnott's efforts to persuade the State's health and education authorities to recognise autism and provide appropriate education and training for those suffering by it were met with what the trial judge described as

"Official indifference and persistent procrastination which continued up to and through this trial."

7

Mrs. Sinnott's unremitting battle to secure proper treatment and educational facilities for her son eventually became a campaign on behalf of autistic children generally: her commitment to that cause cannot be praised too highly. It must be pointed out that the ignorance of the problems of autism in official circles was in stark contrast to the well known and documented international progress in the area since the 1960s and earlier. The problem was compounded in this case by misleading professional advice which set back the education and training of the plaintiff for years.

8

At an early stage, he was brought to Chicago where Mrs. Sinnott's father practised as a surgeon and where he was diagnosed as suffering from a psycho-motor problem, the effect of which was that the brain was not sending messages to his muscles and limbs. Mrs. Sinnott was advised that by the Chicago specialist that intensive intervention was required in the form of occupation therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language training. This treatment was made available to him at the Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, the director of which was Dr. Naomi Abraham. There he had regular sessions with Mrs. Elizabeth Osten, an occupational psychotherapist, who gave evidence in the High Court and with other therapists. The treatment brought about substantial improvements in the plaintiff's behaviour, including the virtual elimination of the repetitive movements which are a feature of the autistic condition. An important part of the training at the centre involved Mrs. Sinnott and the elder siblings: family collaboration and participation in the education and care of the plaintiff was regarded as being of special importance.

9

Unfortunately, these encouraging developments ceased when Mrs. Sinnott returned to Ireland with the plaintiff and her other...

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