Bill passed to enable child abuse victims to sue

Ian Bushnell 21 September 2018

The ACT Government has committed to addressing every recommendation from the Royal Commission.

The ACT Legislative Assembly has passed a Bill to remove legal loopholes preventing child abuse survivors from suing some institutions.

The Civil Law (Wrongs) (Child Abuse Claims Against Unincorporated Bodies) Amendment Bill 2018, will remove a legal technicality – known as the ‘Ellis defence’ – which prevents survivors of child sexual abuse from seeking compensation through the courts.

“The ACT Government acknowledges the long-lasting trauma and severe injuries that survivors can experience for the rest of their lives, and the Bill goes some way in helping support the survivors,” Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said.

“These changes are in-line with recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

Under the new law, an institution which is unincorporated can nominate a legal entity with sufficient assets as the ‘proper defendant’ in a proceeding for a child abuse claim.

If no nomination is made, or the nominated proper defendant is not suitable, a survivor will be able to apply for a court order to appoint a trust, related to the unincorporated institution, as the proper defendant.

“All child abuse survivors deserve equal rights to take legal action and seek compensation, and this Bill will give them the opportunity to get the justice they rightly deserve,” Mr Ramsay said.

“We have changed the law so that all organisations, regardless of their legal structure, can be held accountable for the harm caused to survivors of institutional child abuse.

“This important reform means that funds and property held in trust can be used to satisfy child abuse claims, where previously these funds have been protected due to technicalities.

He said churches around Australia had already started to reform their structures to provide an avenue for compensation to survivors, and the Government welcomed their steps in enabling survivors to recover compensation for the wrongs committed against them.

The Government has accepted all of the Royal Commission’s civil litigation recommendations and this Bill is part of a suite of reforms to make civil litigation a more accessible means of providing justice for survivors of institutional child abuse.

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