Sex abuse inquiry: Law Institute submission says church responses inadequate

LEGAL experts have called for an independent organisation to be established to receive reports of child sexual abuse and provide compensation to victims. 

Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) president Michael Holcroft and Melbourne lawyer Angela Sdrinis told the Victorian inquiry into child sexual abuse that current response mechanisms run by the Catholic Church and other organisations were inadequate. 

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse has previously received evidence from Ballarat witnesses who have described existing response protocols, including from the Catholic Church, as inadequate. 

In evidence to the inquiry yesterday, Mr Holcroft and LIV lawyer Alice Palmer said one or more new legal mechanisms could provide “restorative justice” and adequate compensation. 

Mr Holcroft said an independent statutory body could oversee handling of abuse by religious and other non-government organisations and could issue guidelines for preventing abuse.

He said the asbestos compensation fund set up to manage claims against the James Hardie company could provide a potential model for legislators in Victoria. 

“We also would support more flexibility in laws to facilitate and support civil actions and we note that there needs to be consideration of the capacity to sue statutory trusts,” he said. 

“We need a review of vicarious liability options and perhaps deem members of religious organisations to be employees of those organisations.” 

Mr Holcroft called for changes to the Victorian Crimes Act to create a new offence of failing to report child sexual abuse to police by ministers of religion.

He said the LIV believed the only possible exception to the law would be for priests who had received the information during the sacrament of Confession. 

The committee conducted its final hearing for the year yesterday with senior Catholic Church leaders expected to give evidence after public hearings resume on January 23.

thomas.mcilroy@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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