Court of Appeal ruling means survivors of institutionalised abuse can seek further damages

The Courier

December 21, 2020

By Greg Gliddon

SURVIVORS of child sexual abuse in Ballarat have welcomed a landmark court decision that will allow a Victorian man to to overturn a settlement with the church.

On Friday, the Catholic Church failed in its bid to overturn a landmark court decision meaning it can be sued by the survivor, despite him having accepted a compensation of $32,500 in 1996.

The Victorian Court of Appeal judges said it was not enough given the wrong done to him

“It is, in our view, very plainly just and reasonable to set aside the (1996) deed. Indeed, it would positively be unjust and unreasonable not to do so,” they found.

This means the survivor can press ahead with suing the church for abuse inflicted by now-dead Warragul priest Daniel Hourigan between 1977 and 1980.

It’s a judgement which could set a precedent for many survivors in abuse in Ballarat.

Phil Nagle, a pupil at St Alipius from 1974-76, who hung new ribbons on the school fence at the weekend, said many people had simply taken money that was offered at the time.

“It was all very unfair and low, insignificant settlements and didn’t fit the crime that were committed against the victims,” he said.

“Once the Ellis defence was lifted, the judges have decided to review theses ‘deeds of release’ and have realised they were unjust.

“Rightside Legal got the deed of release overturned. All these extra cases are now like time bombs as every single one signed pre the Ellis defence can be reviewed.

“They’ve done a terrific job and now this sets the precedence for a lot of appeals.”

Mr Nagle said he himself had accepted a settlement without legal representation in the 1990s.

“I had no legal representation at the time of my deed, this guy had all the legal representation, and so for him to get such a result, it’s brilliant,” he said.

“I signed a deed of release in 1998. After the parliamentary enquiry in Ballarat, the church came to me again, and offered me some more money, so I accepted it at the time.”

The decision means the survivor can press ahead with suing the church for abuse inflicted by now-dead Warragul priest Daniel Hourigan between 1977 and 1980. A Supreme Court trial date had been set down for November but this was vacated because of the church’s appeal.

Rightside Legal Senior associate Laird Macdonald hopes the trial can go ahead in early 2021. “The church went to the highest court in Victoria trying to justify a pittance it paid to a man whose life was ripped to shreds by a pedophile priest,” Senior associate Laird Macdonald said.

In a statement, the Diocese of Sale said it would consider the court’s findings. The church would have to go to the High Court to lodge another appeal.

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– with AAP

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