Victoria ends statutory time limit on historical child sex abuse cases

STATUTORY time limits blocking historical child sex abuse cases from going to court in Victoria are to be removed.

Attorney-General Robert Clark says the government will remove provisions that can block a victim of child abuse taking legal action.

“We don’t want any organisation to be able to use time limits or other impediments in the legislation in order to hide behind those to avoid liabilities,” Mr Clark told reporters on Thursday.

He said the government would overhaul the Limitations of Actions Act.

“We are going to go through each and every one of the provisions of the Limitations of Actions Act to work out where they should be removed, amended or otherwise modified,” Mr Clark said.

This may lead to more historic child abuse cases coming before the courts, but Mr Clark said the changes were not retrospective in that it would not “open up liability that was not there in the first place”.

“We’re going to go through each and every one of those limitations to ensure that they cannot be inappropriately used and so the law can take its course,” he said.

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse called for the lifting of the statute of limitations on criminal child abuse.

Premier Denis Napthine said the government would make it easier for victims of abuse to access civil remedies by removing inappropriate time limitations and impediments that restrict their access to the civil judicial system.

“We as a government are committed to ensuring organisations cannot hide behind statutory time limits in order to avoid the liability they have for harm they have caused to victims of child abuse,” he told reporters on Thursday.

The government has already created offences for people who fail to report suspected child sexual abuse, as well as for people holding a position of responsibility who fail to protect a child when they know someone in their organisation poses a risk.

“We have taken immediate action to prohibit grooming while also introducing criminal offences for people who fail to provide relevant information to police if they know or believe a child has been abused,” Dr Napthine said.

“We want to protect children.” He said there were some circumstances, particularly where there is family violence, where there needed to be “some understanding” that women could be creating more risk for themselves and the child by reporting abuse.

There is an exemption for those situations, he said.

The government will also establish a scheme requiring centralised reporting of abuse allegations to the Commission for Children and Young People.

It will introduce minimum child safety standards for organisations with direct and regular contact with children, so they adopt preventative measures to minimise the risk of abuse. The standards will be mandatory for organisations that have a high degree of responsibility for children.

All schools must also adopt a policy for responding to child abuse allegations.

Working with children checks will also be expanded to include religious ministers with children in their organisation, or who otherwise come into contact with children as part of their duties. The government has allocated $10 million to strengthen child protection measures in the state, with the funds largely going to the commission.

Dr Napthine said the measures would build on significant work already done, including a new grooming offence. AAP

Source: Victorian government response to parliamentary committee inquiry into handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations.