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

Damages Award in Historical Abuse Claim Against the Department of Education

A recent Supreme Court decision has raised the high water mark in damages assessments in historical abuse cases (Hand v Morris & Anor [2017] VSC 437). The Plaintiff had been sexually assaulted by his teacher whilst a student at Eastwood Primary School in 1974. The perpetrator (Morris) had been convicted of sex offences against Mr Hand and the Department of Education admitted liability so the decision only involved the assessment of damages or compensation that was to be paid to the victim.

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Child Abuse at RAAF Air Bases (Point Cook & Laverton)

Angela Sdrinis Legal is acting for the daughter of personnel stationed in the 60’s at the RAAF base in Point Cook who alleges that she suffered child sexual abuse at the hands of an officer stationed there. Angela Sdrinis Legal is also acting for the son of personnel stationed at the RAAF base in Laverton who also alleges sexual abuse at the hands of an officer stationed there.

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Defence Abuse Report (Balcombe Army Apprentice School, HMAS Leeuwin, Cadets)

The Royal Commission into Child Abuse (RC) has handed down its report into abuse in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) (http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/057f7f87-c47d-40c9-9ea8-6de0bbc1f211/Report-of-Case-Study-No-40) following a public hearing held in 2016. Angela Sdrinis Legal represented four former ADF members who were called to give evidence at the hearing.

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Child Protection System Fails Again

Maria Liordos died whilst in the care of the state aged 16 years and two days. The Coroner found that Maria’s death was caused by “ mixed drug toxicity”. Maria’s journey under child protection sadly followed a path which we see all too often when acting for victims of institutional abuse, although thankfully the child protection experience very rarely leads to death. However, Maria’s circumstances show how easy it is for vulnerable children like her to remain at risk notwithstanding that they are placed in care for their protection.

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Catholic Church Still Not Brought To Account Internationally In Child Abuse Cases.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (“SNAP”) recently provided an alternative report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) regarding the periodic reports of the Holy See (the Vatican) on child abuse. (https://ccrjustice.org/sites/default/files/attach/2017/09/2017-09_SNAPCCR_Report_CRC.pdf)

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Tasmania Releases Draft Bill to Abolish Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Claims

The Tasmanian Government has released for consultation a draft bill abolishing limitation periods in child abuse claims. The bill mirrors legislation that has been passed in Victoria and New South Wales and in particular specifically retains a judge’s discretion to stay or strike out proceedings on the basis of common law prejudice.

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National Redress Scheme - Christian Porter on Radio National - starts at 2:52

The legislation introducing a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional abuse will be tabled in Parliament today. You can listen to the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, talking to Sabra Lane about the proposed arrangements at this link:

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Commonwealth Redress Scheme-Major Points

At this stage, the scheme applies only to a Commonwealth institution. The scheme will also apply to Territory and non-government institutions of a Territory which decide to “opt in”. Institutions that opt in to the scheme will need to meet a number of criteria including that they are solvent and agree not to rely upon previous deeds of release. Participating institutions will be liable for the costs of providing redress and will contribute to the administration costs of the scheme;

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Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Cases Abolished by Scottish Parliament

Scotland has passed the limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 which has abolished in child abuse cases the previous three year time limit for lodging a claim with the court (https://news.gov.scot/news/legal-milestone-for-child-abuse-victims).

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Further Delays in Northern Ireland's Historical Abuse Compensation Scheme

Northern Ireland has received recommendations to establish a redress scheme for victims of historical child abuse following a report by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, led by Anthony Hart, which outlined a series of recommendations after sexual, physical and emotional abuse was revealed to have taken place at church and state-run institutions between 1922 and 1995. Among the recommendations was a proposal that abuse survivors should receive compensation ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 each as part of a compensation package.

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Western Australia and Tasmania to abolish time limitations

The Royal Commission identified that the strict time limits imposed upon survivors to bring a civil action were particularly problematic for victims of child sexual abuse. The Commission demonstrated that many survivors delay disclosure for years and even decades. Accordingly, it recommended that the State Governments move to legislate the removal of the statute of limitations.

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Maximum Compensation Doubled under Anglican Redress in Tasmania for Survivors of Abuse

On 17 April 2018, the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania Richard Condie came out in an opinion piece urging the Tasmanian Government to opt into the National Redress Scheme (NRS) (https://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/5347194/tasmanian-child-sex-abuse-victims-lawyer-slams-state-government-inaction). So far only Victoria and New South Wales have committed to the scheme with the Tasmanian Government saying only that the scheme is being actively considered by the Tasmanian Government. (The Advocate 22 April 2018).

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National Redress Scheme Senate Review

To provide an alternative mechanism, outside the civil law framework, in which survivors of institutional child sexual abuse may seek redress. This means that these survivors, whom may have been road blocked from seeking redress within the strict parameters of the law, may now seek relief under the National Redress Scheme (“the Scheme”). The Scheme is intended to operate for 10 years.

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UK Inquiry recommends compensation for Child Migrants

The United Kingdom Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse (IICSA) has issued its report into the Child Migration Programmes of the 40’s and the 50’s. The full report is available at https://www.iicsa.org.uk/key-documents. IICSA has made three recommendations for the British Government to consider:

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Bill To Abolish Statute of Limitations Passes both Houses in Western Australia

On 22 November 2017, the Western Australian Government introduced a Bill, taking its first steps towards abolishing the statute of limitations that have severely impacted an abuse victims ’ access to civil justice. Now, 4 months later, on 10 April 2018, the Bill was agreed to by the Legislative Assembly and will come into operation following Royal Assent and Proclamation.

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