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RC Church using ‘aggressive tactics’ in relation to claims by abuse survivors, say lawyers

18 November 2022

iStock

PROMINENT Australian law firms have accused the Roman Catholic Church of using aggressive tactics in relation to claims by abuse survivors of deceased paedophile priests. According to recent press reports, the Church’s lawyers are arguing that, because an abuser is no longer alive, the Church is not able to respond properly to the allegations.

This argument led to a civil claim being permanently stayed in June, leading, it is claimed, to a change in the Church’s approach to similar claims. The High Court will this week hear an application for leave to appeal against this ruling.

One firm, handling the cases of more than 700 people who claim abuse, said that they were now frequently seeing calls for stays in these cases. Kim Price, a lawyer with the Melbourne law firm Arnold Thomas and Becker, is quoted as saying that they had “absolutely seen a change in the behaviour of defendants since these rulings were delivered, in particular the Catholic Church”. Defendants were seeking to stay claims on the basis that there could not be a fair trial, given the delay in the survivor coming forward.

All Australian states and territories, however, have removed the limitation period for bringing civil actions, given that, on average, complainants do not come forward for 20 years.

Mr Price has called on the Victorian government to restrict claims resulting from the time taken by survivors to come forward.

High Court grants leave to appeal. The Australian High Court has agreed to hear an appeal against a New South Wales court ruling that permanently stayed civil action against the RC Church on a sexual abuse claim.

The claimant argued that she had been sexually abused at the age of 14 by a priest who has since died. The New South Wales Court of Appeal ruled that the priest’s death meant that the Church could not properly defend the claim, or receive a fair trial.

The claimant’s lawyers’ submission to the High Court argued that the Church held extensive evidence about the priest’s abuse of other children, and said that they had other witnesses prepared to testify to the priest’s record.

No date has been set for the High Court to hear the appeal.

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