New hope for justice for victims of institutional child abuse
16th Oct 2015
A Bill proposing to abolish limitation periods for victims of institutional child abuse to seek justice in New South Wales is a welcome development in the fight to bring closure for victims, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
The Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse Civil Actions) Bill 2015 (NSW), which has been introduced by the Labor Party into the NSW Parliament, amends the Limitation Act 1969 to remove limitation periods that apply to actions relating to death or personal injury resulting from institutional child abuse.
ALA spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison SC welcomed the new bill, which parallels amendments introduced in Victoria, which commenced as law on 1 July 2015. Dr Morrison called on all governments to introduce similar amendments and complete a framework to better support survivors of abuse.
“The ALA welcomes this Bill, which could remove limitations and finally provide a pathway to justice for survivors of abuse,” Dr Morrison said.
Such a move is in keeping with findings that survivors can take in excess 20 years to disclose abuse.
“We applaud the progress that is taking place to remedy past injustices, however such remedies must be carefully weighed to determine if they are the correct solution,” Dr Morrison said.
“The ALA urges the NSW government to closely consider this Bill and to remove limitation periods for individuals taking legal action for child sexual abuse,” Dr Morrison said. “This would incorporate adopting Option A in the ‘Limitation Periods in Civil Claims for Child Sexual Abuse’ discussion paper issued by the NSW government earlier this year.
“If the NSW Parliament adopts this Bill and follows the all-party decision in the Victorian Parliament earlier this year, this will offer leadership to the nation which could see other states and territories fall into line,” Dr Morrison said.
“It is time for all states to introduce similar legislation to ensure that there is a consistent approach nationwide for survivors of abuse to be able to access justice. This is important so that survivors, no matter what state is applicable to their legal claim, would not face this significant barrier,” Dr Morrison said.
It is anticipated that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will discuss institutional responses to child sexual abuse, and the recommendations of the Royal Commission, at its next meeting.
Dr Morrison said that the proposed Bill was a timely reminder that there are many victims of historical child abuse who still seek justice for treatment they suffered decades ago, and that justice is still available at common law.
“There are many examples of historical institutional abuse which need to be settled,” Dr Morrison said.
“Governments have the opportunity to make redress at common law more accessible to survivors through removing limitation periods.”
“It is clear that institutional responses to child sexual abuse to date have been grossly inadequate,” Dr Morrison said.
“Governments must ensure that their responses will provide justice to survivors and open the way forward for fair compensation.”