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New SA reform could mean increased justice for victims of child sexual assault

Victims of child sexual abuse in South Australia are hopeful that new law reform will pass this week, meaning they will be able to pursue legal matters against organisations.

user iconLauren Croft 17 November 2021 Politics
SA Parliament
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New South Australian laws to help institutional child abuse survivors seek justice could be passed this week in Parliament, in reform recommended by the royal commission more than six years ago.

Under the Civil Liability (Institutional Child Abuse Liability) Amendment Bill, unincorporated organisations in South Australia will no longer be able to rely on a legal technicality – known as the “Ellis defence” – to avoid being sued for historical child abuse.

Maurice Blackburn associate Ric Traini is hopeful the new reform will pass and urged the government to prioritise its passage through Parliament.


“This proposed law is a long overdue but welcome step that would close an unfair loophole preventing survivors in South Australia from suing some organisations for the abuse they suffered. Unfortunately, South Australia is the last major state to implement this important reform, with other states having already removed this longstanding barrier to compensation some years ago,” he said.

“Survivors in South Australia have waited long enough for the state to end this injustice. The government needs to act with urgency to ensure the bill is implemented through Parliament before the end of this year.

“If the bill languishes in Parliament until next year, it will leave affected survivors in legal limbo, forcing them to endure further unnecessary delays in their bid to seek justice for the abuse they suffered.”

This news follows an announcement last week from NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, who said new reform to support survivors of child sexual abuse would hold institutions to better account and allow victims to seek the compensation they deserve.

The Civil Liability Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2021 means courts will be able to set aside unfair historic settlement agreements for victims of sexual and serious physical abuse and allow victims to claim the compensation they deserve.

In South Australia, the Ellis defence is based on a 2007 court decision in a case by survivor John Ellis against the Catholic Church. The defence essentially protects an unincorporated organisation from being sued because they are not a legal entity.

“Survivors of historical abuse in South Australia have faced great difficulty in seeking justice while offending organisations have hidden behind the Ellis defence to avoid paying compensation,” Mr Traini added.

“We urge the South Australian government to ensure it doesn’t lag behind other states in improving access to justice for survivors of historical child abuse.”