Judge Ralph Coolahan described the charging of an Anglican priest with child sex offences "a disgrace"

By Joanne Mccarthy
Newcastle Herald
November 14, 2016

Heated: The late Judge Ralph Coolahan, who slammed the charging of an Anglican priest more than 20 years after alleged child sex offences as a "disgrace" .

NEWCASTLE District Court Judge Ralph Coolahan slammed the charging of an Anglican priest with child sex offences as a “disgrace”, and described the priest’s alleged victims as “ridiculous”, in a controversial 2001 court case under renewed investigation by NSW Police and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

A transcript of the court case under consideration by the royal commission shows the late Judge Coolahan questioned the laying of charges against the priest and told a 2001 Newcastle court hearing: “The fact that someone is brought to trial, 26 years after an alleged offence, is in itself a disgrace.”

Judge Coolahan questioned how old the two alleged victims were, noted that “when people turn 18 the law places upon them enormous responsibilities”, and criticised the 20-year delay between when they turned 18, and when they reported the alleged sexual abuse to police.

“So they’ve waited 20 years since they attained their majority? Well that’s just ridiculous. It is truly ridiculous,” Judge Coolahan told the court.

He criticised the handling of the case by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, describing aspects of it as a “disgrace”, a “complete disgrace”, and a “farce”.

The charges were eventually withdrawn. During a public hearing in Newcastle in August the royal commission heard there was now “considerable doubt” about the veracity of a diary tendered to the 2001 court hearing that was central to the dropping of the case against the priest known as CKC.

The royal commission was told there was likely to be a retrial. One of the alleged victims told the royal commission the court process had been “devastating”. The part-heard Newcastle Anglican public hearing, that resumes in Sydney on Wednesday, will hear further submissions from the alleged victim about the impact of Judge Coolahan’s comments.

The judge’s comments were made despite court proceedings against Hunter Catholic paedophile priest Vince Ryan in the 1990s, whose victims came forward more than two decades after his offending, and significant court cases by 2001 where victims had not disclosed offending for decades.

In a major speech in 2015 royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said statements by some judges revealed “ignorance”, and “delay in complaint is in fact typical rather than unusual”.

Lawyer and child sexual abuse researcher Dr Judy Courtin said the late Judge Coolahan’s comments were “appalling and extraordinary”, and he had “basically told the alleged victims they were liars in the court”.

Barrister and Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said the comments showed “just how out of touch judges can be” and “how the justice system has failed victims”. He expected “significant justice reforms” in the royal commission’s final report.


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