A victim of one of Australia’s most notorious paedophile priests has commenced proceedings against law firm Slater and Gordon. Stephen (who has requested his last name not be used) claims the law firm negligently advised him on the limits of his compensation claim against the Catholic Church. Stephen was paid out $75,000 for horrific sexual abuse under the National Redress Scheme, along with an apology from archbishop Denis Hart. However, as outlined in his Statement of Claim, had Stephen commenced common law proceedings he may have been entitled to between $1,000,000 to $5,000,000. This case highlights the various options available to victims and the necessity of obtaining clear legal advice throughout.
Stephen was sexually assaulted and raped by priest Michael Glennon, who also was a karate instructor and football coach at St Monica’s Primary School in Moonee Ponds in Melbourne in the mid-1970s. Glennon died in Ararat Prison in 2014 while serving a 10-year sentence for a string of child sex offences committed between 1973 and 1991, but had previously been incarcerated on four other occasions for clerical abuse.
In 2016, Stephen outlined horrific details of his encounter with Glennon after seeking legal representation from Slater and Gordon. These included a graphic rape account against a tree at the age of 12.
What is the Redress Scheme?
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made a number of recommendations including that a redress scheme be set up by the Australian Government. The National Redress Scheme began in July 2018. Survivors of child sexual abuse that took place in an institution can apply. However, payments are now capped at $150,000, growing from $70,000 during Stephen’s period. Survivors are required to sign a deed of settlement waiving their right to take civil action. Victims received an average payout of $36,100, according to church figures provided to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Despite having more risks, there are no caps to the amount that can be claimed in common law claims.
Slater and Gordon have stated they will aggressively defend the case, which could have implications for more than 320 victims of clerical abuse, who received about $10 million from the church’s compensation scheme set up in 1996 by George Pell.
Stephen said he had been urged by a managing clerk at Slater and Gordon to pursue compensation under the Scheme, rather than launching civil proceedings against the church. Historic sexual abuse cases are often complex and the current legislation gives survivors a range of options. This case highlights the need for law firms to allow the client to make their own decisions, with clear advice in relation to where their options may lead.