A significant number of Queensland child sex abuse compensation claims under the national $4 billion redress scheme will be filed in the coming weeks.
Prominent Brisbane compensation law specialist Mark O’Connor expects 2019 to be a landmark year for abuse victims as the redress scheme gets underway, as well as a major move to remove a previous loophole, known as the Ellis Defence, used by the Catholic Church to defeat claims of sexual assault against it.
Until now the church has argued it was not liable for such claims because the Catholic Church did not technically exist as a legal entity. But a major change is coming in NSW to now make the church liable for such claims.
Mark O’Connor says NSW victims of abuse by Catholic priests will finally be able to seek proper redress for their ordeals and moves are underway for Queensland to mirror the southern law change.
Bills are before the Queensland Parliament which when passed will abolish the Ellis Defence and require churches to nominate an entity to be sued in a child sexual abuse claim.
Mark, a Director with Bennett & Philp Lawyers, says meanwhile, media reports that only 28 sex abuse victims have so far been compensated under the $4 billion national redress scheme, despite 2335 people applying because key states and institutions have been slow to sign up, does not reflect the Queensland situation.
“Queensland only signed up to the scheme and pushed through law changes in the latter part of last year. NSW and Victoria started earlier than us. So while Queensland has no payouts yet under the redress scheme, that will change very soon,”
Mark has a significant number of redress scheme claims to file within a few weeks.
He has endorsed cautions from other legal experts that victims should seek legal advice before committing themselves to the scheme, which caps payouts at $150,000 and only for the most extreme cases.
“In some cases victims may stand a better chance to obtain fairer compensation with a common law damages claim,” he says. Such claims are not subjected to the rules and restrictions of the official redress scheme.
In particular he is cautioning people tempted to be self-represented in redress claims to get independent legal advice first. He has fielded calls from self- represented claimants complaining of poor communications and lack of information from the redress body to their claims.
It’s believed up to 60,000 people could be eligible for compensation under the redress scheme. Lawyers say the redress scheme offers a lower legal bar to cross to have a claim accepted then if victims were to seek compensation through the courts
The latest data on redress payouts comes as victims of Catholic sexual abuse in NSW welcomed news they will now be able to sue the church, after the state government abolished what is termed the “Ellis defence”, which blocked survivors from suing unincorporated groups including churches.
“Queensland is moving toward matching this, as it should. The big problem has been the fact that victims had no legal entity to hold responsible for their abuse. In effect the priests assigned to parishes and local churches were effectively self-employed, sole traders if you like. The church said they were not employees of the church and there was no legal entity to sue.
“The changes mean there now will be a legal entity that can be sued so this coupled with the launch of the nationwide redress scheme mean that the next couple of years is going to be very busy with regards to victims of historic sex abuse finally being compensated for their ordeals.”
Mark says while the redress actions are necessary, nothing will adequately restore the lives of those subjected to horrendous abuse in institutions and churches in past decades.
“I am trying to help people whose whole lives have been derailed and destroyed by sexual abuse. What we are trying to do is ensure they are adequately compensated to help them cope with the rest of their lives,” Mark says.
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