Legal Barriers Removed for Seeking Compensation for Sexual Abuse in the ACT
On 2 August 2016, the ACT Legislative Assembly introduced the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (No 2) [ACT] (The Bill). The Bill mainly applies to institutionalised sexual abuse victims and removes limitation periods from the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 and the Limitation Act 1985 that apply to claims for damages brought by survivors of child sexual abuse in an institutional context.
Background to the Bill
The Bill implements the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ("The Royal Commission") on statutory limitation periods that provide for time limits within which civil litigation can be initiated by survivors of child sexual abuse by amending the Limitation Act.
The Royal Commission’s recommendations which are implemented by this Bill are that:
- state and territory governments should introduce legislation to remove any limitation period that applies to a claim for damages brought by a person where that claim is founded on the personal injury of the person resulting from sexual abuse of the person in an institutional context when the person is or was a child (Recommendation 85);
- state and territory governments should ensure that the limitation period is removed with retrospective effect and regardless of whether or not a claim was subject to a limitation period in the past (Recommendation 86);
- state and territory governments should expressly preserve the relevant courts’ existing jurisdictions and powers so that any jurisdiction or power to stay proceedings is not affected by the removal of the limitation period (Recommendation 87); and
- state and territory governments should implement these recommendations to remove limitation periods as soon as possible, even if that requires that they be implemented before the Royal Commission’s recommendations in relation to the duty of institutions and identifying a proper defendant are implemented (Recommendation 88).
Through extensive consultation, the Royal Commission has concluded that “limitation periods are a significant, sometimes insurmountable, barrier to survivors [of child sexual abuse] pursuing civil litigation” for damages for their injury and loss.
Amendments in the Bill
- removes limitation periods from the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 and the Limitation Act 1985 that apply to claims for damages brought by survivors of child sexual abuse in an institutional context;
- amends the Supreme Court Act 1933 to clarify that section 68N and 68O apply on the day the section commenced; and also
- amends the Victims of Crime Act 1994 to increase the victims services levy from $40 to $50 on commencement, and from $50 to $60 from 1 July 2017.
The Bill, if passed, will apply retrospectively, and the Bill will allow more victims to seek redress and justice through civil proceedings and the resulting litigation will promote greater understanding of the circumstances and conditions that have lead to abuse and greater community awareness of this as a societal issue, helping to remove the stigma and encouraging other victims to come forward.
Mr Simon Corbell said, in a media release, that, once passed, the reforms would apply immediately, correlating with other recent amendments to implement a reportable conduct scheme that is subject to oversight by the ACT Ombudsman:
“Together, we are sending a strong signal that institutions will not be able to hide or cover up allegations or instances of child sexual abuse and should encourage survivors to come forward.”
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Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (No 2) [ACT] and secondary materials as reproduced in TimeBase LawOne