Inquiry looks at failure to report abuse

Megan Neil

Making institutions criminally liable for failing to report child sexual abuse is likely to encourage reporting, the head of the child abuse royal commission says.

The royal commission is considering whether other states and territories should follow the lead of NSW and Victoria in having an offence relating to failure to report.

The issue of abuse being known to a responsible person in an institution but not reported to the authorities has been raised in number of its public hearings.

The criminal law does not generally impose a positive duty requiring a person to act, commission chair Justice Peter McClellan says.

"Failure to report abuse to the authorities may leave a child, or perhaps a number of children, exposed to abuse," he said in a speech to be screened at a National Council of Churches conference in Melbourne on Tuesday.

He said institutions may have a conflict between their duty to protect children and interest in protecting the institution's reputation.

"Imposing criminal liability for failure to report is likely to encourage reporting despite the damage this may inflict on the institution's reputation," Justice McClellan said.

In NSW it is an offence to conceal a serious indictable offence while Victoria has an offence of failure to disclose a child sexual offence.

The commission's decision on whether to recommend other jurisdictions follow their lead, and if so the appropriate terms of that offence, will be included in its criminal justice report to be handed to the federal government in August.

Justice McClellan said 127 prosecutions had been started as a result of the commission referring 2025 matters to the authorities, almost always the police.

"However, the volume of referrals is so great that it will take some time before all the matters are processed and prosecutions commenced."