Victoria to close 'Ellis defence' legal loophole

Daniel Andrews yesterday (ABC Radio Melbourne)

The Victorian government has introduced new laws to quash a legal loophole preventing child abuse survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse. Source: Melbourne Catholic.

Under proposed new laws introduced to parliament yesterday, unincorporated associations – including religious institutions – would have to nominate an entity to pay damages awarded against them. If a religious organisation failed to nominate an entity, a court could order the unincorporated organisation’s associated trusts to be sued and used to pay compensation to victims.

Previously victims of abuse were unable to sue unincorporated entities in civil claims. A legal precedent was set in 2007 when the NSW Court of Appeal ruled that abuse survivor John Ellis could not sue the Church because it was not a legal entity.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart yesterday voiced his support for the new laws.

“I welcome today’s announcement by the Victorian government of its intention to introduce new laws allowing victims of child abuse to sue institutions which may be responsible for their abuse,” Archbishop Hart said in a statement.

“I remain committed to fair, reasonable and honest dealings with victims of child abuse and to always treating them with respect and dignity.”

Speaking with reporters, Premier Daniel Andrews said, “this deals with what is something that I think has re-traumatised victims and survivors for too long, something that has made a terrible set of circumstances even harder.”

Mr Andrews stressed that for too long “there's been this veil, this fiction, that in the case of, say, the Catholic Church where there is no legal entity that can be sued. We know, of course, that there are considerable, indeed enormous, resources that are available to the Catholic Church.”

The proposed law reforms implement key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the 2013 Betrayal of Trust Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, which both suggested that this legal precedent be addressed.

Speaking to ABC Radio, Truth Justice and Healing Council chief Francis Sullivan also welcomed the legislation.

“This is a very positive thing,” Mr Sullivan said. “This is a proper step forward as a pathway for people who want to seek damages for what's happened to them in abuse cases in institutions like the Catholic Church.”


Archbishop Hart voices support for repeal of Ellis defence (Melbourne Catholic)

Archbishop Hart’s full statement (Melbourne Catholic)


Church sex victims poised to sue after legal loophole's closure (The Age)

Victims feel cheated by abuse compensation cuts (The Australian)

"Utterly disgusting and insulting," says abuse survivor (The Courier)

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