Legal Barriers To Sue For Child Sex Abuse To Be Cleared Under NSW Laws

Thousands of survivors of child sex abuse will be able to sue institutions for under new NSW laws.

Long-standing legal barriers which have prevented child sex abuse survivors from suing institutions which failed to keep them safe will be removed following the introduction of new civil litigation laws in NSW Parliament.

On Wednesday state Attorney General Mark Speakman said the reforms stem from Royal Commission recommendations, and will include the removal of the 'Ellis defence' which enabled certain institutions to avoid liability.

The widely discredited "Ellis defence" arose in 2006 when John Ellis, a former altar boy and abuse survivor was unable to sue the Catholic Church after the institution successfully argued it's assets were held in a trust and was protected from legal action.

Under the laws being introduced into parliament today institutions who cannot nominate a defendant will be appointed a trustee to be sued.

John Ellis with Mark Speakman in June 2018. Image: AAP

“Overhauling the civil litigation system is an historic milestone for survivors, making it easier for them to pursue compensation for child abuse," Speakman said on Wednesday.

"Nothing can erase the devastation survivors have suffered, but these changes will help ensure institutions are more effectively held to account."

Under the state reforms vicarious liability will be extended to include non-employees including volunteers or religious officers.

A new statutory duty of care will also implemented on all relevant institutions, meaning an organisation will be liable for child abuse unless it can prove it took all "reasonable precautions" to prevent it.

On Wednesday the Catholic Church in NSW told ten daily it supports the reforms which will make it easier for child abuse survivors to access the civil justice system.

"Since last year, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has been consulting with the state government about civil litigation and criminal justice law reform," the statement said.

The Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP said the NSW dioceses have had "comprehensive child safeguarding practices and protocols in place to ensure the safety of children" for several years.

“I am also optimistic our current discussions with the government will result in all NSW dioceses having legal entities that provide certainty, transparency and permanence, along with the financial ability to meet the claims of clerical sexual abuse survivors,” Fisher said.

“We are committed to the prevention of child abuse and the healing of survivors and will continue to work with the government in the area of legislative reform.”

CEO of Care Leavers Australasia Network Leonie Sheedy, told ten daily the reforms were long overdue.

"It's very pleasing that the NSW government has put in place this new legislation that will allow people who have suffered abuse in Orphanages, Children's Homes and Foster Care to get justice," Sheedy said.

On Wednesday the Attorney-General said that the reforms follow extensive consultation with survivor groups, religious institutions, the insurance industry and the legal profession.

“NSW was the first state to pass laws to enable the establishment of the National Redress Scheme and to introduce a comprehensive criminal justice response to the Royal Commission," Speakman said.

Featured Image: Reuters