Royal Commission looks at options for redress for victims

UPDATE: The Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has launched a consultation paper on redress and civil litigation in Sydney today.

Justice McClellan said the Royal Commission's terms of reference require it to make recommendations in relation to ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions.

"Many institutions have acknowledged that their previous response to survivors has been inadequate," Justice McClellan said.

"Many survivors have a pressing need for assistance, including effective and just redress. For these reasons, the Commissioners accepted that we should consider the issue of redress and make final recommendations in relation to it as soon as possible.

"The consultation paper suggests that effective redress must have three elements - personal response by the institution to the survivor, guaranteed funding when needed for counselling and psychological care and a money sum which is paid in recognition of the wrong done to the individual."

The consultation paper sets out options for the formation and ongoing management of a redress scheme.

"Many people prefer a single national scheme administered by the Australian Government.  Institutions would contribute to the funding of the scheme in accordance with their responsibility to individual survivors and in addition would meet their relative proportion of the costs of the scheme's administration," Justice McClellan said.

"An alternative considered in the paper is to provide individual State and Territory based schemes which adopt and are administered in accordance with common national principles. 

The Royal Commission engaged Finity Consulting Pty Ltd to conducted detailed modelling on the possible costs of redress.

"The consultation paper includes the modelling that assumes 65,000 eligible survivors and average payments of $65,000. Based on these assumptions, the total cost of redress nationally would be in the order of $4.378 billion," Justice McClellan said.

"The cost of redress would be spread over a number of years. The actuarial model over ten years suggests, on these assumptions, the maximum cost in any one year is likely to be in the order of $650 million nationally. This would be funded by contributions from both governments and institutions.

"There are many considerations relevant to the appropriate money sum, including fairness and affordability. The consultation paper considers various options with a cap of $100,000, $150,000 or $200,000.  These are used to assist an understanding of the situation. Of course, other options may be appropriate.

"I stress that no one should assume the Commissioners have a final view on any issue. We are seeking submissions which will help us to establish our views and provide recommendations which are just, practical and affordable," Justice McClellan said.

Justice McClellan also outlined the Commission's plans for 2015 including public hearings and private sessions in regional locations. 

"The Commissioners have throughout our work been conscious of the need to engage with people in regional areas," Justice McClellan said.

"We have now conducted private sessions in the regional centres of Rockhampton, Woorabinda, Launceston, Cairns, the Kimberley, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Coffs Harbour.

"In first half of 2015, we have programmed private sessions, including some return visits, in the regional centres of Lismore, Newcastle, Townsville, Launceston, Cairns, Warrnambool, Shepparton and the Tiwi Islands.

The Royal Commission will also hold a regional public hearing into St Joseph's Orphanage, Neerkol, Rockhampton in April and in May, will travel to Ballarat, a regional centre with a deeply distributing history of institutional child sexual abuse.

The consultation paper on redress and civil litigation is designed to seek widespread community input before the Commissioners release a final report on the issue, with recommendations, in mid-2015.

All interested parties are encouraged to make written submissions responding to this consultation paper by midday on Monday 2 March 2015, preferably electronically to redress@childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

There is also a facility on the Royal Commission website to allow people to provide short comments on specific issues by completing a short online form.

The consultation paper is available on the Royal Commission website www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/redress
 

EARLIER: Removing the time limit on a survivor's right to seek compensation is one option being looked at by a Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse hearing in Sydney today.

Justice Peter McClellan will preside over the public hearing to launch the Royal Commission's consultation paper on provisional redress for survivors.

Public input will be sought ahead of preparing a final report which will be released mid-year to guide the government's response.

The paper make clear any kind of redress should be survivor-focused.

"Redress is about providing justice to the survivor, not about protecting the institution's interests," it states.

"There should be a 'no wrong door' approach for survivors in terms of gaining access to redress - whether survivors approach a scheme or an institution, they should be helped to understand all the elements of redress available and to apply for those they wish to seek."

In NSW, victims generally have between three and 12 years to sue for damages.

The former Victorian LNP Government drafted legislation last year to abolish the time limit for both child abuse claims of both a sexual and physical nature.

The changes were due to come into effect no later than July 1 this year, prior to a change of government to Labor in December.

The Royal Commission discussion paper outlines the distress victims face both psychologically and financially in seeking reparations.

"We have heard from survivors, survivor advocacy and support groups and others about the many difficulties that survivors experience in seeking redress or damages through civil litigation," it states.

"There was a time in Australian history when the conjunction of prevailing social attitudes to children and an unquestioning respect for authority of institutions by adults coalesced to create the high-risk environment in which thousands of children were abused.

"Although the primary responsibility for the sexual abuse of an individual lies with the abuser and the institution they were part of, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the problems faced by many people who have been abused are the responsibility of our entire society.

"This broad social failure to protect children across a number of generations makes clear the pressing need to provide avenues through which survivors can obtain appropriate redress for past abuse."

The paper estimates the cost of compensating all eligible Australian victims to be more than $4.3 billion - $1.2 billion from the government and $3.1 billion from the non-government sector - using a $65,000 pay-out as the standard, along with counselling and administration costs.

It estimates there would be 23,000 eligible victims in NSW, 19,000 in Victoria and 9000 in Queensland.

Nationally, there were thought to be about 65,000 survivors entitled to redress.

"Limitation periods are a significant, sometimes insurmountable, barrier to survivors pursuing civil litigation," the paper states.

"Given what we know about the average length of time that victims of child sexual abuse take to disclose their abuse, standard limitation periods are fairly clearly inadequate for survivors.

"Options for reform are to remove limitation periods for actions relating to child sexual abuse altogether or to substantially extend them.

"There is also an issue as to whether any changes should apply prospectively only or retrospectively.

"If limitation periods are removed altogether, defendants may be required to defend proceedings without evidence that would have been available to them previously and in circumstances where the trial could not be fair.

"If limitation periods are removed altogether, an option is to include provision for the courts to stay proceedings for reasons of unfairness to the defendant." -APN NEWSDESK



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