As the Legal GP, Mark Ryan is willing and able to act on behalf of parties who may be seeking compensation for the impacts of institutional child abuse. It’s important to note that there have been recent reforms to the ways in which a victim can access compensation, providing greater protection and discretion where necessary. These compensation schemes are available without travelling, engaging unfamiliar lawyers or placing oneself in potentially stressful situations. Today’s blog aims to provide insight to those curious about these compensation revisions. Read on.
In December 2017 the Royal Commission presented a final report to the Governor-General, detailing the culmination of a five-year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters. The Royal Commission focused on systemic issues and was informed by an understanding of individual cases. Its findings and recommendations aimed to better protect children against various forms of abuse (sexual, physical and emotional) and alleviate the impact on children when it occurs. These recommendations have resulted in significant legislation revisions and reforms relevant to survivors seeking compensation and those who may have already received it.
An acknowledged and well-established concern regarding historical child abuse in institutional settings has been the difficulty for victims to report or discuss their abuse for various personal and relationship-based circumstances. And while it still remains difficult for many to discuss their abuse post-Royal Commission and consequential reforms, the facilities introduced and revised pathways have indeed removed significant obstacles making this more of an accessible option.
One of the most notable reforms included a significant change to the legal ‘limitation period’ or the mandated time period for a survivor to initiate legal action. All civil legal action is subject to a time period whereby action must be commenced in the relevant court. The reason for these limitation periods is that there can be increased uncertainty caused by the passage of time, resulting in impaired memory, lost documents and deceased witnesses and parties. Whilst there is the ability in all other civil cases to extend these periods where special circumstances exist, it was particularly difficult to navigate in cases of historical, institutional child abuse where survivors of child abuse often take longer than 20 years to disclose what happened, and much longer again before they feel ready to seek justice.
Thanks to the Royal Commission and long-running public agitation, the law has now reformed appropriately by removing this time limit specifically for child abuse cases only. However, it is still extremely important for survivors to seek legal advice as soon as possible, to mitigate issues caused by the passage of time.
Another significant reform removed the means for institutions to rely on their legal ‘non-existence’ to defend a case. Now, those seeking compensation can claim against a ‘related entity’ if the original institution no longer exists. These important and long overdue reforms mean that every child who was ever abused while a ward of the state, or under the care and protection of the state, or in any institution (churches, private schools, etc.) regardless of government ownership can now seek compensation.
The criminal acquittal of George Pell should not deter victims from coming forward. His acquittal was based on unusual evidentiary circumstances. Importantly, a criminal conviction is not a pre-condition for a successful civil claim for compensation. The level of the required standard of proof is less in civil cases i.e. civil cases consider the ‘balance of probabilities’ whereas criminal cases consider evidence ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. All cases are different.