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It’s been one year since the doors were opened for child abuse survivors to have a second chance at receiving the financial support and justice they deserve. The Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 was announced on 14 June, allowing courts to set aside unjust judgements or settlements.

The Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response and Towards Healing schemes imposed caps on compensation in years gone by, often giving abuse survivors no choice but to accept totally inadequate settlements considering the horrors experienced in their childhoods. Settlements often required the survivor to sign a deed of release and confidentiality clause preventing them from speaking out or taking further legal action.

Some survivors have been able to reach out for legal support in the last 12 months to have these old deeds set aside or unfair orders overturned, and to pursue proper compensation for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse they experienced as children from the very people who were meant to care for them. The legislation allows the courts to set these judgements and settlements aside if it is just and reasonable to do so.

These victims were often in a position of great weakness when it came to negotiating settlements against large, wealthy, legally savvy institutions and organisations such as churches, private schools, foster care agencies, youth detention centres and the government.

The Victorian Government’s reform was a Royal Commission recommendation and is already improving the lives of victims, but there are many survivors out there who may not know that it’s possible to seek further compensation. No amount of money can right the wrongs or reverse the suffering they’ve experienced but it is certainly a positive step forward for those with mental health conditions who have been unable to work or pursue their dreams or simply live the sort of life they were entitled to live.

Expired time limits for bringing claims, limited access to evidence (even where such evidence was in the hands of institutions who had knowledge of ongoing abuse) and legal weaponry such as the infamous Ellis Defence all contributed to the power imbalance between survivors and the institutions, but we as a society will no longer be forced to tolerate this. The legislation is retrospective meaning all survivors can seek to review past compensation settlements or awards, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Further legislation is expected which would allow claimants who entered into deeds of settlement between 1 July 2015 and 1 July 2018 to also apply to have those deeds set aside if it is just and reasonable to do so.

In an ideal world, abuse would not occur at all but the best we can hope for today is that these historical injustices can be recognised with meaningful compensation and survivors’ voices can finally be heard.

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

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