Institutional News

 

24 November 2020

Tasmanian Government announces Commission of Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse

The Tasmanian Government largely avoided scrutiny by the Royal Commission Into Child Sex Abuse (RC) which commenced in 2012 and was completed in 2017. The RC looked at responses to historical child abuse across the nation and despite running for 5 years it was impossible for it to closely examine every state and every organisation in Australia. This meant that in Tasmania, only one case study dealt exclusively with a Tasmanian institution (the Hutchins school) although other case studies included branches of wider organisations which were in Tasmania (the CEBS case study). Whilst other case studies and the RC recommendations would have given guidance to the Tasmanian Government on action going forward, the dark past of institutional child abuse in Tasmanian government agencies was not examined.

 

To the Government’s credit, it has moved on the bulk of the recommendations made by the RC regarding legislative changes and has joined the National Redress Scheme. However, despite adopting legislative changes which now allow survivors of historical sex abuse to get their matters into  court, the Government has been slow to deal with these claims and has taken a legalistic  and adversarial approach to civil claims which has not been at all survivor focussed.

 

The Commission of Inquiry (which is essentially the Tasmanian version of a Royal Commission) will have the powers to delve into the cover ups, the moving of paedophiles between schools and other Government agencies and the failures to adequately deal with perpetrators who we now know operated in Tasmania for decades. It is important that this happen because not only do the perpetrators need to be brought to account, so do those who protected them.

 

For this to effectively occur, the Commission should have wide ranging terms of reference which allow for specific case studies to be examined. The recently announced, and now defunct, inquiry into the Education Department had terms of reference which did not allow for individual case studies. We know from the RC that closely examining individual case studies firstly allowed for direct accountability but secondly created the backdrop to inform the RC and Governments on what changes were necessary to be made to deal with past wrongdoings and to protect children going forward.

 

Angela Sdrinis Legal is in a position to provide evidence to the Commission of multiple serial perpetrators. We trust that others will take this opportunity to present their stories and evidence to allow the State to move forward in a positive way. We know how important “truth telling” is for recovery, not just of the individuals who were abused, but to finally shine a light on a very dark aspect of Tasmania’s history.

 

The important thing is for this Government not to use the Inquiry as another talk fest the purpose of which is to delay accountability. The Inquiry should, as did the RC, hand down interim reports and recommendations as it proceeds and ensure that the government agencies that it is scrutinising make the changes that are so desperately needed so that the cancer of the abuse of children which has clearly plagued Australian society is purged in Tasmania as far as it is possible to do so.

20 November 2020

Opinion Piece 

As a lawyer representing people who allege that as children they were abused in the care of the State of Tasmania, I felt incredibly disappointed to read the Solicitor General’s comments in the Mercury on 12 November 2020 under the heading “Top Law Man Hits at Compo in Media.”

 

It is the case that the media plays an important role in our society in highlighting issues particularly for the poor and disempowered and in fact it was media pressure in conjunction with survivors and lawyers taking action that resulted in the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. It is also important that the media hold Governments to account.  For example, on 3 February 2020 a Government spokesperson said in this paper, “the Government is currently exploring options for streamlining civil settlement processes including that the processes are trauma informed” and yet 9 months later no such processes have been established. This is despite my firm first writing to the Minister for Human Services about this issue on 20 September 2015 and several follow up letters and discussions with the Solicitor General’s office. Because of the lack of progress in establishing a settlement protocol, my firm has begun issuing abuse claims in the Tasmanian Supreme Court and will continue to do so.

 

To the Government’s credit, and as a result of the Royal Commission, there have been a raft of changes to legislation which have been passed in Tasmania which finally enable victims of historical abuse to sue for damages and yet the Solicitor General is complaining that survivors are choosing this course of action rather than opting for the redress scheme, which has a maximum payout of $150,000, whilst at the same time he acknowledges that civil action has resulted in substantial payouts in other states. Why wouldn’t survivors pursue common law claims if they think they can do better and besides what was the point of those legislative changes to enable historical abuse claims to be litigated if survivors should all just pursue redress claims anyway?

 

Further, where we have issued matters in court, we are routinely receiving requests to provide further and better particulars regarding exact dates and details of alleged abuse (which the Royal Commission acknowledged was very difficult for most victims of historical abuse to do) and to provide precise details of the nature of any duty owed by the State to the children in its care. Whilst we accept of course that the Government is entitled to evidence of abuse and in some more complex matters details of the exact nature of the duty of care, what we are saying on our clients’ behalves is that in the first instance the Tasmanian Government should take as a given that it owed a duty of care to children abused as wards or at school and where there is evidence of abuse it should try and deal with these cases in a trauma informed out of court settlement process, as do most other state Governments, rather than forcing survivors to engage in costly legal arguments about duty of care and other preliminary issues.

 

We are not saying the Government should not have time to appropriately investigate claims. Indeed, we have been pressing the Government to engage in a settlement protocol which allows for an early exchange of material, timelines for investigation and then an opportunity to attempt to resolve claims on an alternative dispute resolution basis.

 

If following that process, matters are unable to be resolved, the survivor has the option to litigate or apply to the Redress Scheme. This is a model that has worked well in Victoria and other jurisdictions and has ultimately saved taxpayers considerable amounts in legal costs and has delivered a third option to survivors who would otherwise be forced to accept the modest amounts available via the redress scheme or to engage in a long, expensive, traumatic and stressful court process.

 

In conclusion, despite the Solicitor General’s comments, his office has recently commenced engaging with my office with a view to finally establishing a much needed and appropriate settlement protocol which is a move that I welcome. I look forward to continuing to engage with the Solicitor General’s Office and the Tasmanian Government to deliver positive outcomes to our very vulnerable and deserving client group. However, if ultimately these discussions do not bear fruit, I will not apologise for again raising the issue in the media or in any other appropriate forum. Further we will have no choice but to protect our clients’ interests by continuing to litigate.

https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/tasmanian-premier-announces-commission-of-inquiry-into-child-sex-abuse-and-more-allegations/ar-BB1bfYdn?viewall=true+

 

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/tasmania-announces-commission-of-inquiry-into-child-sex-abuse-amid-new-allegations

$215,000 awarded in Sentencing Act application brought by Angela Sdrinis Legal - AA v Buckley

Judge Dean of the County Court handed down written reasons for a Judgement on 29 January 2016 in relation to an award of $215,000 in a claim for compensation pursuant to s85B of the Sentencing Act (where the sentencing judge can order that compensation is paid by the perpetrator to his or her victim) brought by this firm on behalf of a former ward of state who was abused in care.

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Did you or someone you know suffer abuse at St Luke’s Children’s Home, Bendigo?

St Luke’s Children’s Home, also known as St Luke’s, St Luke’s Toddlers’ Home, St Luke’s Bendigo for Toddlers, or Langley Hall, was run by the Mission of St James and St John (now the Anglican Church). From 1932 until 1979, it housed around 1500 children.

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Royal Commission Announces Defence Case Study-Balcombe Army Apprentice School/HMAS Leeuwin and Cadets to be Investigated

The Royal Commission is continuing to cast its laser eye over institutions and on 21 June, 2016, the Australian Defence Forces’ response to child sex abuse will be the subject of public scrutiny for a period of 2 weeks. The scope and purpose of the public hearing is to inquire into the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse of the following institutions operated by the Australian Defence Force (ADF):

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David Whitcroft-Convicted Paedophile

Earlier this month David Whitcroft was convicted of offences against a man whom he abused at age 14 when he was a ward of the state. It has now been reported by the Age that Whitcroft also had access to students at Geelong College for a period of over 20 years. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/convicted-paedophile-had-access-to-geelong-college-students-for-almost-20-years-20160526-gp4iby.html

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More States Move to Abolish Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Cases

The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse into its report on Redress and Civil Litigation ( http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/policy-and-research/redress/final-report-redress-and-civil-litigation ) identified many barriers which faced victims of historical child abuse who wished to pursue justice in the courts. One of the very significant barriers identified by the Royal Commission was limitation periods which provide for specific periods of time within which victims of child abuse had to lodge their claims with a court or face having the claim struck out because they were too late.

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More States Move to Abolish Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Cases

Whilst the abolition of time limits in child abuse cases is a very important move for current and future victims of child sex assault, it does not provide for justice for thousands of past victims of institutional abuse who either settled their cases for modest sums, or who did not receive any compensation at all, because of the probability or fact of being unable to overcome the limitation periods in order to pursue their claims in court.

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The Adversarial Legal System and Child Sex Abuse

In a recent address to the Judicial College of Victoria, (http://childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-centre/speeches/judicial-college-of-victoria) the Hon Justice McLellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, discussed the difficulties experienced by child sex abuse victims in the courts where their alleged perpetrators are being prosecuted. His comments equally apply to victims who are seeking compensation in our courts. Justice McLellan in speaking of the adversarial legal system made the following points:

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Redress for Victims of Institutional Abuse

One of the reasons we have a Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse (RC) is because there was community outrage at the many legal barriers in both civil and the criminal law faced by victims of historical abuse so that the perpetrators of abuse, and those who shielded them, were escaping responsibility.

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Tasmania Announces Abolition of Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Cases

The Tasmanian Government is the last in the line of state governments to announce the abolition of limitation periods in child sex abuse cases as recommended by the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland have already abolished limitation periods in these cases and the Western Australian Government and Opposition have promised to introduce similar legislation in the WA parliament after the state election next March. With the Tasmanian announcement the only state yet to act is South Australia and the South Australian Government should hang its head in shame for dragging the chain.

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Report into the Melbourne Response published by Royal Commission

Former Federal Court Judge Donnell Ryan QC handed down his report (Ryan Report) into the Melbourne Response on 25 September 2015. Many victims had yet again poured their hearts out regarding their abuse and their treatment at the Melbourne Archdiocese of the Catholic Church and had an expectation that the report would be released to them and to the public by Archbishop Hart. Calls to the Archbishop to release the report have fallen on deaf ears reaffirming yet again that the Church still doesn’t get it despite apologies, crocodile tears and assurances that things have changed. It took the Royal Commission into Child Abuse to release the report. This underlines yet again the importance of this Royal Commission and raises concerns about how institutions will behave once the Commission’s spotlight is no longer shining a light on institutional responses to child abuse claims.

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Update on the Federal Child Abuse Redress Scheme

The Advisory Council that was established to report to Senator Christian Porter (Minister for Social Services) who has carriage of the process on behalf of the Federal Government will not report until the end of the year and in the meantime, the Advisory Council (and its members) is not allowed to discuss its deliberations. So, there is frustratingly little information in the public arena other than the Government’s media release of 4 November 2016 when the scheme was announced. However, Ms Barbara Bennett, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Social Services, gave evidence on behalf of the Department of Social Services and shed some further light on what the Federal Government is planning:

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Abuse in Victoria Police

The Victorian Government has announced a consultation process following the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) independent review handed down in December 2015 into sex discrimination and sexual harassment within Victoria Police (https://engage.vic.gov.au/victoria-police-redress-scheme).

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Funding for Redress-Child Migrants, Defence Abuse & Aboriginal Welfare

Christian Porter, Minister for Social Services, also announced that from March 2018, a dedicated telephone helpline and website will be available to provide information to survivors and their families about the Scheme. These services will also connect survivors with legal and community support services that are currently provided through the Royal Commission and which will continue to be funded to support the Scheme. This means that the Knowmore Legal Services which was established to provide support to survivors of abuse engaging with the Royal Commission will continue to operate and provide vital legal assistance. It is also very important that the dedicated psychological services will continue to operate and fill an essential need.

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Delay Is Still A Factor In Child Abuse Cases

The plaintiff (Marita Murphy), who was born on 19 July 1961, alleged that the defendant (John Connellan), who was born on 12 December 1954, sexually assaulted her, on two occasions, in ‘approximately 1967 or 1968’. The plaintiff alleged that these sexual assaults occurred whilst she was staying with Connellan’s family for a period of about 7 to 10 days.

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Child Migrant Compensation

The British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told the UK Historical Child Abuse Inquiry that the child migration policy in which both the UK and Australian Governments participated was “fundamentally flawed.” (Herald Sun 28 July 2017)

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