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Derek Achong

The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in an appeal against a judge’s decision to award almost $2 million in compensation to a teenager, with a rare genetic disorder, who suffered physical, verbal and sexual abuse at the St Michael’s Home for Boys and the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital. Appellate Judges Charmaine Pemberton, Peter Rajkumar and Mira Dean-Armorer deferred their decision in the case yesterday after hearing submissions from the Office of the Attorney General, the Children’s Authority and the teenager, who is no longer a minor but still cannot be named due to an order of the court. “It is up to us to consider dispassionately the complex and troubling matters in this case,” Rajkumar said at the end of the virtual hearing. Presenting submissions on behalf of the AG’s Office, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein said High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams made several errors when she upheld the teenager’s negligence and constitutional motion lawsuit and awarded the compensation. Hosein claimed that while the teen’s lawyers could have pursued the negligence claim in relation to the alleged abuse they should not have been allowed to claim breaches of his constitutional rights as he was kept at both facilities after he mother was charged with abandoning he and his siblings in 2012 and not because he was remanded there because he was charged with a crime. Hosein noted that he had been rejected by six orphanages, who could not provide adequate care for him, before he was placed at St Michael’s Home for Boys. Hosein also challenged the judge’s findings over abuse the teen suffered at the hands of fellow residents at the home. “The child cannot be the victim only, he has to be a perpetrator albeit somewhat innocent,” Hosein said, as he claimed that the judge did not properly consider that the residents’ attacks were in response to the teen’s behaviour.His suggestion appeared to be rejected by Justice Rajkumar, who noted that the attacks could not be justified.“It smacks of victim blaming,” Rajkumar said. Hosein also questioned the judge’s order that the Children’s Authority assist in advocating for State housing for the boy’s family so that he could be reintegrated into their care. He alleged that offers were made and the mother refused. The claim was vehemently denied by the teen’s lawyer Anand Ramlogan, SC. Hosein also challenged the judge’s calculation of the compensation. In his submissions, Justin Phelps, who represented the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) which operates the hospital, noted that his client could not be faulted for admitting the teen as it was done based on the recommendation of three mental health experts.He suggested that there was absolutely no evidence to show that the trio colluded to arrive at similar findings.Attorney Danelle Singh, who represented the Children’s Authority, sought to give an explanation over its role in the case. Singh claimed that within months of the authority being established in 2015 it developed two treatment plans for the teen. She claimed that the authority sought to implement the plans at the home but realised that they could not be executed. In his submission, Ramlogan stated that the judge’s findings and orders were appropriate.“The facts in this case are horrible, astonishing and shocking to say the least,” Ramlogan said. He noted that while the judge had ordered that the compensation be held on trust until he turns 18, he was never able to access the funds as the State sought a stay of the compensation as part of its appeal.

About the Case According to the evidence in the case, the teenager was nine-years-old when he was first taken into the State’s care after his mother was arrested and charged with abandoning him and his sister. He was placed at the home, where he was first diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder which causes extreme obesity and speech disorders. The abuse allegedly started a short while after there was a transition in the management of the home. “On more than one occasion he told her that he was made to perform oral sex on male residents of St Michael’s and when he refused they became aggressive and beat him which were evidenced by large blue-black marks visibly apparent to her about his body,” Quinlan-Williams said as she detailed a report compiled by a social worker, who spoke with the teenager in her judgment. The report also detailed several incidents of physical abuse including one when he had been beaten with a piece of wood by a member of staff and another when his arm was burned by three fellow residents using an aerosol can and a lighter. The abuse allegedly continued up until October 2016, when a decision was taken to transfer him to the hospital. While at the hospital, the teenager was allegedly sexually assaulted by an adult patient although doctors at the facility claimed that there was not any medical evidence to substantiate the claim. The hospital also claimed that he was resistive to the treatments being provided. The teenager was eventually removed from the hospital and placed at the authority’s centre after his mother brought the lawsuit. While Quinlan-Williams noted that there was no doubt that the teenager was abused while at the home, she suggested that the psychological trauma he suffered at the hospital was far worse.

In terms of liability, Quinlan-Williams ruled that the State should bear the burden for the compensation in the case as it had committed him to a home for young offenders and then to the hospital and not to an orphanage or community residence as required under the old and recently revised Children’s Act. Quinlan-Williams awarded the teen a total of $921,200 in compensation for the time he spent at both institutions since being taken into State care in September 2012. The teen received $450 for each of the 1470 days he spent at home and $700 for each of the 371 days he spent at the hospital before he was removed.Quinlan-Williams also ordered that he be paid $ 1 million in vindicatory damages for the breaches to his constitutional rights, which is the highest ever sum awarded for such breaches in a local case.