Royal Commission powers needed for NSW Inquiry into child sex abuse

12th Nov 2012

The Australian Lawyers Alliance says a full, wide-ranging NSW Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in religious institutions is the only way of ensuring true justice is served for hundreds abused as children while in the care of religious institutions in the state.

“The Premier Barry O’Farrell told ABC Radio today, ‘there is no worse crime than these assaults on children….,' but his response does not live up to his rhetoric,” Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW spokesman, Dr Andrew Morrison SC, said today.

“Mr O’Farrell told the station that his special Inquiry would have ‘Royal Commission type powers’ which could be readily accepted. The real problem is that its Terms of Reference – unlike a Royal Commission – are extremely limited and specific. They relate only to the comments made by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox of alleged interference of his investigation by both his superiors and the Catholic Church. The Inquiry is not examining information on any other failed investigations in the Newcastle-Maitland region.

"Manifestly, this will offer no satisfaction whatsoever to the hundreds of victims of abuse who will be seeking justice and an end to the alleged cover up of known abuse,” Dr Morrison said.

He said Cardinal Pell recently led a review of his own archdiocese records to uncover allegations of child abuse, but was unable to say whether any claims had been referred to police and if he had seen any credible allegations of abuse, let alone those where the church’s Towards Healing program was involved, then his clear duty was to report such alleged abuses to the police.

“The inference from his inability to comment on such claims suggests he has not followed his obligations under Section 316 of the Crimes Act,” Dr Morrison said.

“Premier O’Farrell would be well advised to agree to a wide ranging Inquiry that would offer help to victims throughout the state. The present Inquiry doesn’t even cover much of what is said to have gone on in the Newcastle-Maitland Diocese and if the Premier fails to act further on this issue, then any future suicides by victims, whose cries for justice have remained unheard, will return to haunt him.”

Dr Morrison said the Prime Minister was said to be contemplating a national, wide-ranging Royal Commission on the issue and any NSW Inquiry would make a useful contribution to such a federal examination.

“The Premier’s assertion that a broader Royal Commission would interfere with current investigations and prosecutions is inconsistent with his comments on radio this morning that the DPP is considering the prosecutions of three senior clergy.

"Those prosecutions are underway in Newcastle-Maitland and police investigations are being undertaken without any inconsistency with his limited Inquiry,” Dr Morrison said.

“There is nothing that a Royal Commission would do, but provide assistance to investigate and prosecute as other Royal Commissions over the years have managed with considerable skill.

"Mr O’Farrell has no excuse for failing to provide a wide-ranging Inquiry with Royal Commission powers into institutional abuse of children throughout NSW,” Dr Morrison said.

Tags: NSW Access to justice Victims of crime Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse