News & Current Affairs

By Aulich


We must not fail in our duty to get decent compensation for victims of institutional abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was a watershed moment in highlighting the widespread abuse of children in care over many decades.

With the inquiry’s broad-reaching recommendations, including directions around appropriate redress and civil litigation for victims, it seemed restitution was finally in sight for those abused while in the care of institutions responsible for their safety and welfare.

But revelations by the media such as the ABC Four Corners Hiding Behind Tombstones program earlier this year show we still have a long way to go. In fact, the program demonstrated that institutions use extraordinary legal tactics to have cases thrown out of court.

The recent High Court decision in a case referred to as “GLJ” now ensures that a stay (or stop) of proceedings because the alleged perpetrator or witnesses have died is by no means a lay down misere for a defendant. This means the court will ordinarily hear the matter even though the defence (institutions) are in some cases unable to call witnesses to refute claims from alleged victims.

Six years after the Royal Commission’s final report was released, that so many victims still don’t have a voice is a travesty. For many, the abuse they suffered in religious organisations, children’s homes, orphanages, youth detention centres and other institutions has altered the course of their lives.

The inquiry heard evidence from almost 8,000 witnesses and received 1344 written accounts of alleged abuse in 3489 institutions. Most survivors (63.6%) were male and aged between 10 and 14 when first abused.

More than one in 10 of the survivors who gave evidence were in prison at the time they gave evidence.

Those who’ve ended up in jail as a result of a life gone off the rails following systemic abuse are among those least likely to know where to start to seek compensation. A poor relationship with authority figures, limited financial means and social networks, and educational disadvantage can severely impact their chances of getting so much as an apology for the horrors visited on them, let alone the compensation they deserve.

A new industry has seemingly sprung up in the wake of the inquiry’s recommendations, with a multitude of law firms advertising services to help these victims. Many of these firms are offering great support. Many are not.

The latter are simply taking a ‘cookie cutter’ type approach more akin to a property conveyance than meeting their obligation to thoroughly understand their client, their individual circumstances and to carefully consider how to effectively obtain compensation that is proper and able to be accessed quickly.

A legal process as complicated and nuanced as dealing with abuse that in some instances occurred many decades ago requires an advocate who is prepared to fight the fight, not just seek the fastest route to some money, which may be a fraction of what could have been available to the victim with a bit more care and attention paid to the matter.

Those jailed for committing crime are among the least likely to elicit sympathy from the public for their plight. But what we mustn’t forget is that there are many in our prisons who are genuine victims of crimes perpetrated against them when they were at their most vulnerable – children and young adults with no means of protecting themselves.

The number of inmates who gave harrowing evidence to the Royal Commission of their systematic abuse is evidence of this.

The duty of care owed to them was breached, and we cannot afford to fail in our quest for compensation. The legal fraternity has an obligation to seek fair and genuine redress for all victims, regardless of their circumstances.

If you are a victim of institutional child abuse, or know somebody who was, contact us at or call 02 6279 4222