State Govts must match Fed commitment to child abuse victims

8th Sep 2014

State, territory and federal governments need to provide certainty of adequate compensation for victims of institutional child sexual abuse, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

Recently, the federal government made a commitment to extend the term of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse by two years, after earlier concerns the Commission might have to prematurely wind up proceedings.

ALA spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison SC said that while the future of the Royal Commission had been assured, victims of institutional child abuse must have a similar sense of certainty.

“It is clear that the Federal Government has made a commitment to victims of institutional child sexual abuse – the states and territories must now also step up and meet this challenge,” Dr Morrison said.

“State and territory governments need to start considering the level of legislative change required in their jurisdictions to ensure certainty of adequate compensation for abuse victims.

“This will include changes to the relevant limitations acts, civil liability legislation and legislation governing the assets of the Catholic Church. This will also include a consideration of retrospective legislation permitting access to sue institutions, as was introduced in Ireland in 2000,” Dr Morrison said.

Dr Morrison said that victims of abuse need more than the opportunity to share the stories; they need to be legally enabled to undertake enforceable action.

“The Royal Commission has been the only stage on which many of these victims were given a voice and were able to speak out about how they were treated. However, this in itself will not be enough in the long term,” Dr Morrison said.

“People also need to be equipped with the legal rights and ability to achieve justice and adequate compensation.”

“Victims of institutional child abuse need to be armed with the choice to sue institutions for adequate compensation,” Dr Morrison said.

“Many people speaking to the Royal Commission have had very limited options available for redress. Many people have had few, if any, real choices for adequate redress, and a power imbalance in negotiation has been heavily weighted towards institutions.” 

“State and territory governments are in a unique place in Australian history to remedy this situation. Australia’s position regarding institutional abuse is anachronistic when compared with the rest of the common law world,” Dr Morrison said.

“The Royal Commission is currently considering how appropriate compensation for those victims is best ensured. We believe that state and territory governments must work together at a COAG level to facilitate legislative change to open up the vault and remove some of the legislative challenges that bar survivors from the courts.”    

“While a national redress scheme has many advantages, any discussion of adequate redress must first start with a revision of our legal foundations and their repairable flaws,” Dr Morrison said.

“Failure to consider this will mean that any result is only a band-aid solution that could rob victims again of the chance for adequate acknowledgement of their loss, and for justice to be served.”

“We will continue to oppose on basic principle attempts by some offending institutions to incorporate unrealistically low caps on damages and restrict access to legal advice,” Dr Morrison said.

Dr Morrison said the Australian Lawyers Alliance would continue to strongly support the work of the Royal Commission and the efforts of victims of institutional child abuse in their quest to seek common law compensation for institutional abuse.

Tags: Compensation Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse