The Andrews Government has introduced new laws to quash a legal loophole preventing child abuse survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse.
Under proposed new laws introduced to parliament, unincorporated associations—including religious institutions—would have to nominate an entity to pay damages. If a religious organisation failed to nominate an entity, a court could order the unincorporated organisation’s associated trusts to be sued and used to pay compensation to victims.
Previously victims of abuse have been unable to sue unincorporated entities like the Catholic Church in civil claims. Stemming from a case brought to the NSW Court of Appeal by abuse survivor John Ellis in 2007, the Court of Appeal found the Catholic Church was not a legal entity, and as such could not be sued for abuse.
Leaders within the Catholic Church including Archbishop Denis Hart have voiced their support for the new laws.
‘I welcome today’s announcement by the Victorian Government of its intention to introduce new laws allowing victims of child abuse to sue institutions which may be responsible for their abuse’, the archbishop said in a statement.
‘I remain committed to fair, reasonable and honest dealings with victims of child abuse and to always treating them with respect and dignity,’ the archbishop said.
Speaking with reporters, Premier Daniel Andrews said, ‘this deals with what is something that I think has re-traumatised victims and survivors for too long, something that has made a terrible set of circumstances even harder.’
Premier Andrews stressed that for too long ‘there's been this veil, this fiction, that in the case of, say, the Catholic Church’ where there is no legal entity that can be sued. ‘We know, of course, that there are considerable, indeed enormous, resources that are available to the Catholic Church.’
The new laws would make Victoria the first state in Australia to abolish a legal defence used by churches to prevent child sexual abuse victims from targeting assets in compensation claims.
These reforms implement key recommendations from both the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the 2013 Victorian report Betrayal of Trust which both suggested that this legal precedent be addressed.
Speaking to ABC Radio, the head of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan also welcomed the legislation. ‘This is a very positive thing,’ he told ABC radio. ‘This is a proper step forward as a pathway for people who want to seek damages for what's happened to them in abuse cases in institutions like the Catholic Church.’
Read Archbishop Hart’s full statement here