Child abuse legislation welcome, SA Govt must now act with urgency to implement reforms

27 August 2021
Leading abuse law firm Maurice Blackburn has welcomed proposed new laws for South Australian abuse survivors but has urged the State Government to act with urgency in implementing the reforms through the Parliament, with South Australia continuing to lag other states in improving access to justice for survivors.

Maurice Blackburn Associate and Abuse lawyer Ric Traini said the introduction of the Civil Liability (Institutional Child Abuse Liability) Amendment Bill to State Parliament this week was a long overdue but welcome step that would close an unfair loophole currently preventing survivors in South Australia from suing some organisations for abuse suffered.

Under the Bill, unincorporated organisations in South Australia 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 and other organisations from liability to be sued because it is not a legal entity.

“We welcome this reform, it was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission and will make a significant difference for survivors of historical abuse in South Australia who have faced great difficulty in seeking justice while offending organisations have hidden behind the Ellis defence to avoid paying compensation,” Mr Traini said.

“Unfortunately, South Australia is the last major State to implement this important reform despite the Royal Commission recommending it almost six years ago, with other states moving much more quickly to remove this longstanding barrier to compensation.

“We welcome that this important reform is at last before the South Australian Parliament, and we urge the State Government to now move with urgency in implementing these important reforms as soon as possible.

“The abuse many South Australians suffered within countless church-owned, affiliated and operated organisations is well documented, yet for decades survivors have been left with few options but to seek compensation from the diocese or congregation concerned, while the wider churches have remained at arm’s length.

“These new laws are an overdue step in helping child abuse survivors to access justice and the compensation that they deserve, and we urge the State Government to implement these reforms as soon as possible - survivors have waited long enough,” he said.

Media inquiries: Chee Chee Leung at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on 0412 560 584 or cleung@mauriceblackburn.com.au

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