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Bill gives compensation hope to WA child sex abuse victims

Child Sexual Abuse compensation

The Western Australian Parliament is edging closer to removing the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims, giving victims a greater chance of compensation and, it is hoped, some closure after many years of pain.

 

At the time of writing, the Parliament is within weeks, but more likely months of passing the Limitation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse Act) Bill 2015.  If passed, it will remove the previous six-year statute of limitations that applied to child sex abuse claims.  It is hoped the Private Member’s Bill, supported by the Coalition and Labor, will pass before Christmas, but doubt has been cast on whether it will be reached in time and if not, it will be put off until after the election early next year.

 

The Bill has significant implications for people with claims in progress or contemplating claims.  The potential impact on claims can be summarised as follows:

 

  1. Victims with current civil claims/actions

If you have a claim in progress and the defendant has already indicated they will not apply the statute of limitations, you can confidently proceed with your claim.  If the defendant is applying the limitation point, you may be better off delaying your claim until the Bill is passed. Alternatively, you can raise the Bill’s likely passing with the defendant and see if they change their mind.

 

  1. Victims who have a claim in progress with church/charity internal redress schemes

 

If you are in the middle of an internal redress process with another church or institution, you should be able to use the Bill as a negotiating tool to get a higher award.  However, this would only be the case where the internal redress process does not have a maximum payout figure.  There are internal redress schemes in WA, similar to the Melbourne Response, in that the victim makes submissions and provides evidence to an independent panel that makes a recommendation to the Church for a financial payment with a maximum payment available.  Chances are that an institution that runs an internal redress scheme with a maximum payout will be forced to review that scheme and the payout once the Bill passes.  If you proceed and finalise your entitlement prior to the scheme review, you should only do so if the institution guarantees you will be able to apply for a top-up payment if the maximum payout under the scheme is increased after review.  If the institution cannot guarantee this you may be better off delaying the resolution of your complaint until the Bill is passed and the scheme is reviewed.

Child sexual abuse, compensation, redress

A new Bill in WA would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims.

 

  1. Victims contemplating legal action

If you are contemplating legal proceedings or lodging a complaint through an institution’s internal redress scheme, you would be better off waiting until some clarity emerges as to when the Bill is likely to pass.

 

The impact of the end of the limitation date in WA will be far greater than the rest of the country. In other states and territories, victims could apply for an extension of time to pursue their claim under certain circumstances whereas in WA, the legislation did not allow for extensions.  Many WA victims, particularly those who were in state care, have never been compensated.  Furthermore, the average compensation or financial redress payment obtainable from churches has traditionally been significantly less than that available for the same level of abuse and impact in other states because of the existence of the limitation period. It was this inequity in awards for victims between states and territories that prompted the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to recommend the introduction of a national redress scheme as well as significant civil litigation reform, including removal of the limitation period.  The period’s removal in WA evens up the playing field and gives victims the opportunity to obtain compensation comparable with the rest of the country.

 

If you are a victim of the institutional child sexual abuse that occurred in WA, now is the time to seek legal advice on your options going forward.  Furthermore, if you are an abuse victim who has previously resolved a compensation claim or received financial redress through an institution’s internal scheme, you should seek advice about your prospects of receiving a top-up payment.

For further information or assistance contact Mal Byrne or your nearest TGB office.

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