State government lawyers refused to acknowledge that sexual abuse suffered by Aboriginal girls at a western NSW foster home took place, despite the perpetrator having been convicted and jailed, the royal commission on child sexual abuse has heard.
But the Crown solicitor responsible for supervising the litigation denied there was a “rank hypocrisy” in demanding that victims reprove these allegations again when they sued the state for damages.
The commission is examining a range of issues surrounding the Bethcar children’s home at Brewarrina, a state-funded foster home where disadvantaged Aboriginal girls as young as two were repeatedly raped and assaulted in the 1970s and ’80s.
Among them is the tough, five-year legal strategy the NSW government engaged in when 15 of Bethcar’s victims sued it in 2008 over the abuse.
On Thursday, the commission heard that government lawyers refused to acknowledge that three of the victims had been assaulted despite one of the perpetrators, Colin Gibson, being convicted by a jury and handed two sentences of 18 and 12 years in jail.
This was another traumatic experience for the victims, who felt they were being accused of lying.
“Do you agree that there is … a rank hypocrisy where the state has indicted and convicted a person in respect of allegations of sexual abuse for the state to later, in civil proceedings, put those plaintiffs to proof?” counsel assisting the commission David Lloyd asked the solicitor responsible for overseeing the Crown’s case, Helen Allison.
“I don’t believe it’s hypocritical, I believe it shouldn’t have been done,” Ms Allison replied.
The commission heard that, during the legal battle, state government solicitors rigorously cross-examined one victim about domestic violence and Family Court proceedings that took place decades after the abuse, causing great distress to the victim.
Government solicitors also undertook a strategy of rigorously pursuing every technical legal point, including requiring each victim to provide an individual statement of claim and seeking to have some of the victims’ claims thrown out due to a lack of witnesses.
This was despite criticism from the District Court judge hearing the matter, Judge Brian Knox, who said it was a breach of the government’s own “model litigant” rules.
But on Thursday Ms Allison denied that the state had breached its obligations as a model litigant.
“Do you think it’s incumbent on the Crown, as a model litigant, to do what it can to avoid those sorts of matters?” commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked Ms Allison.
“No I don’t, your honour, I think the Crown is entitled to maintain its position in an adversarial system,” Ms Allison replied.
She also denied that a child sexual abuse claim was any different to a “garden variety” personal injury litigation.
Ms Allison said she had not looked at any correspondence in the case unless directed to do so, and could not remember being involved in any tactical decisions regarding how it should be conducted.
The hearing continues.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.Continue Reading →