New laws will help child abuse survivors seek justice

6 March 2018
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers says child abuse survivors will have greater access to justice after the Victorian Government today introduced new laws to overturn an unfair loophole that prevented survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse.

Under the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018, unincorporated organisations will no longer be able to rely on a legal technicality – known as the “Ellis defence” – to avoid being sued.

Based on a 2007 NSW Court of Appeal decision involving John Ellis who was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s, the defence essentially protects the Catholic Church from liability to be sued because it is not a legal entity.

Dimi Ioannou, a principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers who represents abuse survivors, said the new Victorian laws will break down a longstanding barrier to compensation for survivors.

“For too long the Catholic Church has been hiding behind the Ellis defence that blocks victims from suing for compensation and forces them to participate in the church’s Melbourne Response redress scheme because legal action is too difficult,” Ms Ioannou said.

“Despite well-documented abuse occurring within countless Catholic Church owned, affiliated and operated organisations, survivors have been forced to seek compensation directly from the diocese or congregation concerned, while the broader church remains at arm's length.

“These new laws in Victoria are a significant positive step in helping child abuse survivors access justice and compensation.”

Under the Victorian reforms, unincorporated organisations – including religious institutions – will be given the opportunity to nominate a legal entity with sufficient assets for child abuse survivors to sue.

If an organisation does not comply, the laws give courts the power to appoint the unincorporated organisation’s associated trusts to be sued and pay compensation to victims.

Ms Ioannou said Victoria’s leadership in this area was welcome, and it was hoped this would continue with moves to finalise a national redress scheme.

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