New laws to mark end of abuse 'black hole'

·2-min read

A legal "black hole" that prevented some institutional abuse survivors accessing justice is set to close following changes to state legislation, a law firm says.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate John Rule on Wednesday said amendments to the Limitations of Actions Act, which come into effect this week, meant some unjust settlements made between institutions and survivors could be set aside.

He said some of his clients would now be able to launch court actions against at-fault institutions which signed them up to "dodgy" settlements while the so-called Ellis defence remained in force.

"For too long, at fault institutions have hidden behind unfair deeds of release, using them to avoid paying proper compensation to sexual abuse survivors," Mr Rule said in a statement.

"We commend the (Victorian government) for taking action to close the legal 'black hole' period that had blocked some survivors from seeking justice through the courts."

Mr Rule said the legislative amendments meant survivors who signed deeds up to July 1, 2018, when the Ellis defence was abolished in Victoria, would be able to apply to set unfair deeds aside and, if successful, pursue entitlements through the courts.

The Ellis defence arose from a case in 2006 when a former altar boy and abuse survivor, John Ellis, tried to sue the Catholic Church.

The church won that battle by arguing it didn't legally exist as its assets were held in a trust that was protected from legal action.

Victoria in 2018 passed laws to abolish the Ellis defence, which had prevented child sexual abuse survivors from suing organisations like the Catholic Church.

"All child abuse survivors deserve equal rights to take legal action and seek redress, and these laws correct an unfair loophole that prevented many survivors from being able to sue the organisations responsible for their abuse," then attorney-general Martin Pakula said at the time.