A Victorian man sexually abused by a priest has hailed it a “great day” for survivors, after the announcement of reforms allowing victims an avenue to overturn unfair compensation claims.
Under the Andrews government reforms, yet to go before parliament, courts will be able to set aside a previous deed of release or judgment, which victims had to sign in order to receive compensation.
The deeds meant victims had to forgo their right to sue, and in many cases, survivors received inadequate compensation or were not given appropriate legal advice before signing.
“It’s a great day,” Ballarat child sexual abuse survivor Phil Nagle told 3AW, after Friday’s announcement.
“They need to right these wrongs.”
Mr Nagle was assaulted when he was a nine-year-old student at a Christian Brothers’ school and received $26,000 in compensation from the Catholic church.
“I very much felt bullied into it,” he said, of being forced to sign a deed to receive the money.
Reforms will not be limited to only sexual abuse and will include other forms of child abuse where a deed of release was signed, Attorney-General Jill Hennessy says.
“Many victim survivors were pushed into these agreements without proper legal advice so it’s important we give them an avenue to overturn these often unfair compensation orders,” she said.
“Survivors of institutional abuse have already had to endure years of suffering and we’re doing everything we can to support them, and to make sure they have access to the compensation they deserve.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found child sexual abuse victims took an average of 22 years to report abuse, due to feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and significant power imbalances between them and their offenders.
By the time they start considering court action, the short limitation periods which had previously applied meant they either had to take the compensation offered or receive no assistance.
Under the reforms, courts will be able to consider any amounts paid under a previous judgement or settlement agreement when awarding damages or costs.
Lawyers who have represented survivors welcomed the changes, saying they are a significant step in helping victims get justice.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Dimi Ioannou said the reforms would bring Victoria into line with Queensland and WA by ensuring victims receive fair and adequate compensation.
“We welcome this announcement that will help to enhance access to justice for survivors and continue to call on other states still yet to act on this reform to do so with urgency,” she said.
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