Spike in legal action against Church jams Victorian courts

A spike in legal action against the Catholic Church is resulting in calls for Victoria’s state premier to speed up the court system for abuse victims.

So far the church in Victoria has been hit with at least 800 new legal actions for child sexual abuse since state legislation allowed new rights for survivors.

They include a statute of limitation (abolished in July 2015) and a provision known as the Ellis Defence (abolished in July 2018) which effectively prevented people suing the church as an institution.

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews could help by pumping extra money into the legal system, survivors and their representatives say.

This would enable courts to hire more judges and staff to deal with the increase in abuse settlement cases.

The court system’s current delays are “traumatising” says Melbourne lawyer Judy Courtin.

They “need to be addressed at a government level to prevent further premature deaths and more suicides,” she says.

She has had recent experience of some people’s response to these delays: her firm has had three survivors die in about four months while they waited for justice.

Some abuse victims say they have been warned they may have to wait up to 15 months for a trial date.

Others have learnt that long-awaited reforms allowing them to challenge unfair compensation payments they previously accepted will also take time, because they still have to apply to the courts to set aside their deed-of-release.

These deeds were agreements that forced victims to sign away their rights to take further legal action.

The courts will now have to decide if those deeds should be set aside or not.

The government has confirmed its latest budget already includes $128.9 million to increase capacity in the courts.

The funds include a new Supreme Court judge, two new County Court judges and 18 new magistrates.

“Survivors of institutional abuse have already had to endure years of suffering and we’re doing everything we can to support them,” the Attorney-General says.


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