31 Oct 2010

Australia's Anglican leader fights sex abuse statute plan

The Australian - June 19, 2009

Primate Phillip Aspinall fights sex abuse statute plan

by Michael McKenna

AUSTRALIA'S Anglican leader, Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, is set to oppose moves by his clergy for the church to abandon the well-used time-limit defence blocking child sex victims from suing for abuse in their schools and parishes.

Dr Aspinall, the Primate of Australia's Anglican Church, will face a motion tomorrow at Queensland's synod of 400 clergy and laity demanding the church set a nationwide precedent and voluntarily exempt child victims from laws that require they launch legal action by the time they turn 21.

Most of Australia's churches and schools have blamed their insurance companies for forcing them to employ the time-limit defence, which has prevented all but a handful of "historical" victims, who are able to provide otherwise new evidence, from being allowed to go to court and seek compensation. Dr Aspinall, who this week released an Anglican report on abuse saying more needed to be done to help victims, yesterday told The Australian he was not convinced that the church should pass the motion.

If passed, the Anglican Church would have to cover a court-imposed compensation order from its resources, rather than relying on an insurance payout.

"It is complicated and causing real tension," Dr Aspinall said.

"I will listen carefully to the debate. But I am not actually convinced insurance companies should be let off the hook."

In January, The Australian revealed that Dr Aspinall had been lobbying the Queensland government to set a nationwide precedent by removing the time-limit provisions from legislation, which would prevent insurance companies using it as a way to block an ensuing trial and any possible payout to victims of child abuse.

"The rights of child sexual abuse victims should not be undermined because they have not brought their case forward in a given time," Dr Aspinall said at the time.

"It can take victims many years before they confront the abuse that has happened to them and seek healing and justice."

While Dr Aspinall went public about his lobbying for the legislative changes, the church was planning an appeal to reverse a rare Queensland Supreme Court decision last year to waive the statute of time limits for a victim of abuse at a Brisbane Anglican school, which had paved the way for his $3.7 million compensation claim to go to trial.

This week, the Anglican Church was successful in the Court of Appeal, crushing the victim's chances of suing for his years of abuse at the hands of a teacher between 1981 and 1983.

The victim had claimed that the teacher, Gregory Robert Knight, who was sent to jail in 2005 for three years over more than 20 charges of indecently dealing with the student, had earlier been thrown out of two schools for abuse, and that the Anglican headmaster at the victim's school had been warned about the history of improper behaviour before hiring him.

The victim's solicitor, Roger Singh, a partner at the Brisbane-based Shine Lawyers, said that his client, who is a general practitioner, was struggling to deal with the decision.

Mr Singh said Dr Aspinall was publicly moving to remove the time-limit provisions while the church's insurer was blocking his client's "day in court" with the same technicality.

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