'Landmark' win 'sends strong message,' lawyers for historical abuse survivors say

Western Australian District Court awards $1.3m to an abuse survivor

'Landmark' win 'sends strong message,' lawyers for historical abuse survivors say

The Western Australian District Court’s decision today to award $1.3m to abuse survivor John Lawrence sends a strong message to institutions, lawyers for abuse survivors have said.

Maurice Blackburn, which represents other abuse victims in WA, described the ruling as a “landmark” decision that paves the way for other victims of historical child sexual abuse to get justice. Lawrence was represented by Michael Magazanik, partner at Rightside Legal.

 “With this significant awarding of damages today, the West Australian courts have acknowledged the substantial impact of historical sexual abuse on individuals, regardless of an individual’s social or economic background,” said Gemma Taylor, WA head of abuse law at Maurice Blackburn.

Lawrence, who is now 75 years old, is the first child sex abuse survivor to testify about his ordeal under the Christian Brothers religious order, which operated the Clontarf and Castledare boys’ homes where he stayed in for eight years in the 1950s.

District Court Judge Mark Herron said the abuse experienced by Lawrence was degrading, insulting, and humiliating. Lawrence was severely physically abused, neglected, and intimidated while at the homes, the judge said.

The award is believed to be the largest ever ordered by a court against the religious order, exceeding the $1m awarded by a WA court to Paul Bradshaw, who was already dying at the time, for abuses he suffered from the religious order.

Today’s award also comes after WA last year canned time limits on historical sexual abuse cases in the jurisdiction’s courts.

 “It was particularly pleasing to see the court awarding historical damages against the Christian Brothers despite them appallingly seeking to rely on Mr Lawrence’s difficult childhood and educational history,” Taylor said. “This decision sends a strong message to institutions in Western Australia that it is now time to step up and do the right thing in properly compensating survivors or face the consequences,” she said.

Taylor described the decision as “a momentous outcome” for all abuse survivors in WA. Because of Lawrence’s courage, survivors should now have a much easier and fair process to seek financial compensation for past abuses, she said.

“Today’s decision will help to set the standard nationally for the informal settlement of historical child sexual abuse claims which will greatly assist other survivors,” Taylor said.

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