A consultation paper launched by the federal child sex abuse royal commission looks at who is a proper defendant when it comes to being sued.
Source:
30 Jan 2015 - 10:01 AM  UPDATED 30 Jan 2015 - 10:56 AM

The child sexual abuse royal commission suggests it may be appropriate to amend state and territory laws so the property trusts of churches and religious bodies can be sued for abuse.

In a consultation paper on redress and civil litigation launched on Friday the commission looks at who is a proper defendant when it comes to being sued.

Last year it heard one of the most famous cases in this sphere when it examined the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney's legal response to abuse survivor John Ellis.

Mr Ellis failed in his attempt to sue the diocesan trust when a court ruled it could not be held liable.

Cardinal George Pell defended the finding as confirming an existing law and since then church entities use the Ellis defence to deter abuse victims from going to court.

In its paper the commission says: "In considering options for reform, it seems reasonably clear that the difficulties for survivors in identifying a correct defendant when they are dealing with unincorporated religious bodies should be addressed.

"It may be appropriate for state and territory legislation to be amended to provide that any liability of the religion or religious body that a statutory property trust is associated with for institutional child sexual abuse can be met from the assets of the trust and that the trust is a proper defendant to any litigation involving claims of child sexual abuse for which the religion or religious body is alleged to be liable."

An alternative is for some religions or denominations to solve the problem in different ways, such as by providing a nominal defendant that is to be a proper defendant to any claims of child sexual abuse, it says.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council which represents the Catholic Church at the commission has proposed this approach.

The Victorian state inquiry into child abuse recommended changing the law on how the Catholic Church is incorporated and in NSW, Greens MP David Shoebridge will present a bill recommending the same thing.