Child abuse survivors will have more avenues to pursue compensation from churches under newly proposed legislation reforms.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced a raft of changes that will ensure various organisations, including churches, can be more easily sued in civil court. The reforms follow recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“The NSW government will remove legal barriers that have stopped survivors of child abuse from seeking the justice they deserve,” Mr Speakman stated.
“The royal commission found many survivors felt let down by the current civil litigation system, which made it difficult for them to seek damages and hold institutions to account.”
One of the key reforms closes an infamous loophole known as the Ellis defence. A NSW Court of Appeal ruling prevented abuse survivors from targeting church assets held in association with trusts because a trustee can’t be made liable for the actions of individuals.
Earlier this year, the Victorian government took steps to stop organisations from using the defence by enabling churches to nominate a suitable entity for claimants to sue. If no entity is chosen, the state’s courts have the power to select a trustee instead and allow any relevant trust assets to be used to satisfy compensation claims.
We predicted in May that NSW might follow Victoria’s lead and abolish the loophole. Abuse survivors will welcome the news, particularly as the Archdiocese of Sydney has regularly relied upon the Ellis defence since the precedent was established in 2006.
In addition to abolishing the Ellis defence, the NSW government will ensure any organisation that exercises care, supervision or authority over children will have a new statutory duty of care to prevent abuse. The onus will now be on institutions to prove they took reasonable steps to ensure a child’s safety.
Organisations will also be liable for abusive acts that non-employees – such as volunteers and religious officers – carry out. NSW has already removed time limits on death and personal injury claims against negligent institutions and child abuse perpetrators, meaning historical crimes will not go unpunished.
At Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers, we understand the traumatising effect that child abuse and sexual assault has on survivors.
While money will never heal these wounds, compensation can help provide a sense of closure and ensure responsible parties are held to account for their actions. Please contact us today for a free consultation with a compassionate, dedicated personal injury lawyer.