ROYAL COMMISSION: Evidence being delivered to the panel of commissioners.
ROYAL COMMISSION: Evidence being delivered to the panel of commissioners. Contributed

Lawyers call for legislation change for sexual crime victims

A LAW firm that represented survivors at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses Into Child Sexual Abuse is urging NSW to follow Victoria's lead on overturning a legal loophole.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Danielle De Paoli said Victoria passed legislation to remove the Ellis defence, a strategy commonly used by unincorporated organisations to avoid being sued.

Based on a 2007 NSW Court Of Appeal decision involving John Ellis who was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970's, the defence essentially protects the Catholic Church from liability to be sued because it is not a legal entity.

"The unfair loophole continues to prevent survivors from suing some organisations for abuse suffered," Ms De Paoli said.

"For too long the Catholic Church has been hiding behind the Ellis defence and these new laws in Victoria are a significant and positive step in helping child abuse survivors access justice.

"Despite well-documented abuse occurring within countless Catholic Church owned, affiliated and operated organisations, survivors have been forced to seek compensation directly from the diocese or congregation concerned while the broader church remains at arm's length.

"This is unacceptable.

"After all that has been exposed by the Royal Commission the Catholic Church must be held to account.

"NSW has recently taken the significant step of joining the national redress scheme which is welcome and it must now also act to remedy the archaic use of the Ellis defence."

Under the Victorian reforms unincorporated organisations including religious institutions have the opportunity to nominate a legal entity with sufficient assets for child abuse survivors to sue.

If an organisation does not comply the laws give courts the power to appoint the unincorporated organisation's associated trusts to be sued and pay compensation to victims.

Western Australia recently passed similar legislation and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is calling for all states and territories to bring legislation into line.

Last year's findings from the Royal Commission showed Lismore Diocese had the fourth largest number of all offending priests in the country with 13.9 per cent accused of being perpetrators in the period 1950 to 2010 .