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Following a five year inquiry and the 2017 release of the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse after, the issue of child sexual abuse in institutional settings gained extensive attention from the public, political representatives and legal commentators. The inquiry contributed to new understandings of the incidence and extent of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse in a range of institutional settings, including schools, hospitals, churches, sporting organisations, foster homes and other accommodation services. The debate on how the law may best respond to the abuse continues, with judicial attention to the now current law, and some political attention to law reform. There are many challenging issues associated with the legal redress of child abuse, including time limits for claims, liability for the criminal acts of others, the onus of proof, and the appropriate compensation regime.
This subject examines the relevant tort law in Australia and the challenges of its application to abuse situations, recent and proposed tort law reforms, and the recently implemented Australian ‘Redress Scheme’.
Bill Madden is a lawyer specialising in injury compensation including intentional torts and the overlays provided by statutory reform and statutory schemes. He is a regular writer and presenter on tort law topics.
Principal topics include:
- The challenges of historical abuse
- Findings from the Royal Commission and other inquiries
- Liability of the perpetrator – the legal framework
- Liability of the institution – the onus of proof, criminal acts, vicarious liability and non-delegable duty
- Challenges arising from limitation period changes
- The significance of mandatory reporting of abuse
- Damages issues in abuse claims
- Tort law reforms – limitations, the onus of proof and legal structures
- The National redress scheme
- Potential future reforms.
Note: This subject includes reference to material which some participants may find confronting or difficult at a personal level. Students may have differing views on some of these topics, but they do form part of the subject and may be discussed in class. Universities are neutral places for objective study and rational discussions. Any discussions on such topics in class must be respectful of differing views. The University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides free, confidential, short-term professional counselling to currently enrolled students and staff, as well as a range of workshops, mental health training, and helpful resources.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject should be able to:
- Examine and explain the challenges for the legal system provided by historical child abuse in institutional settings
- Analyse and explain the substantive tort law issues regarding compensation by institutions for abuse by employees and others
- Examine and explain the merits of compensation provision in tort law compared to statutory schemes
- Critically examine and explain current and forthcoming issues in the abuse compensation sphere.
Last updated: 10 November 2023