Moves to bar sex offenders and other criminals from the Federal Government’s proposed sex abuse redress scheme have been labelled as unfair and unjust by a prominent Brisbane compensation law specialist.
Mark O’Connor said the proposed $150,000 capped government compensation payout to thousands of child sex abuse victims specifically excluded sex offenders and anyone convicted of a crime with a sentence of five years or more, including homicide, drug or fraud offences.
“This is grossly unfair and ignores the fact that in very many cases the people it excludes were themselves the victims of abuse as children, which has derailed their own lives.
“I expect this view will be criticised but it’s wrong and grossly unjust to simply exclude people because of what they have done and ignored the very real likelihood that their spiral downwards is due to themselves being abused as children.”
Mr O’Connor, an Accredited Specialist in compensation law and a Director with Brisbane firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers, said the government’s planned redress scheme seemed to be reserved for people who meet a set of ‘middle class norms’.
“Real life is much more complex. We deal with many people who have ended up in jail for things they are ashamed of, but when you delve deeper it usually starts with some terrible abuse they suffered as children.
“This derails their lives and often sets them on a path to drugs and crime and inevitably prison.
“But if the Federal redress scheme goes ahead in its current form, they would be denied compensation for their own suffering. That’s unfair,” he said.
The compo scheme will transform the way abuse survivors are handled, with victims to be judged independently according to the severity of their abuse and the impact it has had upon them.
Sums of up to $150,000 will be offered but claimants will not be able to pursue other legal actions if they accept it.
The states, churches and other institutions will face pressure to opt into the scheme amid reported concerns they will struggle to fund some payments.
The initial legislation will create a Commonwealth system and the states will be required to opt in, passing their own laws, to ensure it has a broad national reach.
However the scheme will ban sex ¬offenders and those convicted of serious drug offences and fraud that carry penalties of five years or more. The decision to ban criminals aims to “protect the scheme’s credibility” by ensuring public money is not spent on offenders.
Mr O’Connor said it’s this discriminatory attitude that troubles him deeply.
“We need to look beyond the crimes they have been sentenced for and realise in many cases these people might also have legitimate claims for abuse suffered as children.
“We are hearing stories every day of horrendous abuse suffered by people in institutions such as schools, churches, orphanages and the like. As a result of the abuse it’s common for these victims to themselves go off the rails into a life of crime, drugs and abusive behaviour.
“My feeling is it’s not for us to arbitrarily judge who should or should not be entitled to be compensated for their ordeals as children. The process should be open and fair at all times,” Mr O’Connor said.
He cited the example of a client who was abused at a Queensland Catholic boys school years ago whose life spiralled out of control into drugs and violent crime ending in prison.
”Stories like this are incredibly commonly heard. These people serve their sentence but the proposal to bar them from the redress scheme is just imposing another punishment afterwards. Its unjust and unfair,” he said.
He urged the Queensland Government to pause and think about the issues before signing off on the Federal redress plan.
“We are not talking about rewarding people for their crimes but we should acknowledge they may have just as valid a claim as other child sex abuse victims.
Mark O’Connor, Accredited Specialist Personal Injury Law and Director, Bennett & Philp Lawyers can be contacted on +61 7 3001 2999.