Child sexual abuse victims able to launch new legal action despite previous financial settlement under SA-BEST proposal

19 June 2019

Child sexual abuse victims coerced into paltry compensation settlements will have the chance to launch new legal action under proposed legislation introduced today by SA-BEST.

SA-BEST MLC and Attorney General spokesperson, Connie Bonaros, today introduced a Private Member’s Bill, which if passed, will allow survivors of any child abuse to sue institutions - predominantly churches and schools - that previously coerced them into unfair and unjust financial settlements.

The Limitation of Actions (Actions for Child Abuse) Amendment Bill 2019 is in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to allow people to sue regardless of when the alleged abuse happened.

The new laws will bring South Australia into line with other states that have already introduced similar legislation - or are in the process of doing so - including Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.

“This much-needed legislation is long overdue and has been a long time coming,” Connie said.

“I have introduced the legislation as a Private Member’s Bill because the government is too afraid to do so,” she said.

“Many survivors - particularly of sexual abuse in institutions - have described the difficulties of dealing with the might, power and intimidation of some of our most powerful institutions, including the Catholic and Anglican churches.

“Many were offered pathetic, paltry settlement sums despite despicable acts of abuse perpetrated on them by priests.

“To add insult to injury to survivors, those settlements included legal agreements which forced vulnerable survivors to waive their right to take any further legal action of the abuse.

“It was completely repugnant behaviour by lawyers representing these institutions and the heinous paedophiles they knowingly protected for decades.”

Connie said compelling evidence given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse revealed that in many settlements the Catholic Church did not divulge the full extent of its knowledge about its paedophile priests - preferring to keep the veil of secrecy and denying its liability, rather than entering into fair and just settlements.

This forced many victims to enter into settlements for pitiful amounts.

Connie sited an interstate case where a victim launched new legal action last year and was awarded $1.1 million after originally settling for $32,000 in 1998.

Connie said her Private Member’s Bill seeks to address that imbalance and give back power to survivors.

“Victims of child sex abuse have never had a level playing field against the power and influence of the institutions who protected the paedophiles among them,” Connie said.

“This Bill will give survivors the ability to deal with a previously settled right of action, if a court sets aside the previous agreement on the grounds that it is appropriate to do so,” she said.

“It also makes it clear that where past settlements were reached as a result of misleading, coercive or other improper conduct, they can be set aside - giving the courts the ability to reopen claims that were unfairly settled.

“In addition, a court can take into account any amounts already paid or payable under a voided agreement when awarding damages - as well any costs already paid or payable.

“My Private Member’s Bill is predicated on continuing the path to justice for survivors of all forms of abuse that occurred in our institutions, and recalibrating current laws to ensure the balance of justice and fairness is well and truly weighted toward the victims of child sexual abuse.”

Connie took a swipe at the Marshall Government for not taking the lead on such crucial legislation.

She said Parliament last year passed legislation which abolished the limitation period of civil claims for compensation for victims of child sexual abuse - whether that abuse occurred in a government, non-government institutions or another setting.

That Bill was expanded to include all forms of abuse including physical, mental and emotional abuse.

However, the government chose not to include the provision for abuse victims to initiate new legal action.

“This Bill seeks to correct that wrong,” Connie said.

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