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Victims of horrific sexual abuse will finally be able to take legal action against unincorporated institutions, following the State Government’s decision to close a loophole which previously protected an institution’s assets.

Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Nick Hart said many organisations, including churches and institutions, who once relied on the fact they were not incorporated or registered to escape liability, would no longer be able to dodge providing compensation to abuse survivors thanks to the changes.

“This may mean that potentially hundreds of people may come forward, who were previously told they could not make a claim because the institution was not a registered legal entity,” Mr Hart said.

“An institution will now be required to nominate a proper defendant, so victims can go after the head institution such as the Catholic Church. If they fail to nominate one, the court will appoint one. Institutions can access associated trusts to satisfy liability or judgement for a claim.

“The change will reverse the Ellis defence, which once protected church assets from abuse claims and prevented a lot of people coming forward.

“This was a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse.”

Mr Hart said Queensland survivors of abuse would now be entitled to the same level of compensation to victims in Victoria and NSW, where the statute of limitations had previously been dropped.

The changes being introduced will include a new statutory duty to ensure institutions take all reasonable steps to prevent child sex abuse and serious physical abuse of a child under the care, control or authority of an institution.

In 2016, the Queensland Government removed the statutory time limitation restricting victims of institutional sexual abuse from beginning civil action later than three years after they turned 18. This will now be extended to people who have experienced physical and psychological abuse.

“Many people have experienced both sexual and physical abuse but have been told for a very long time now they were unable to claim for physical abuse. In a way, this made it seem as though the abuse wasn’t real or enough to acknowledge,” Mr Hart said.

“A lot of people are expected to come forward who have been seriously abused who were told they didn’t have the right to do so before.”

The changes took effect on 2 March 2020.


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