The ACT government's decision to introduce a bill to scrap the time limits restricting the ability of alleged survivors of child sexual abuse to seek compensation will finally bring the territory into step with NSW and Victoria.
Victoria scrapped its statute of limitations provisions a year ago and the NSW government's decision took effect on March 17. Neither jurisdiction has had its court system overwhelmed by a sudden flood of historic compensation cases.
Why the ACT government has taken so long to act remains a mystery. Its previous argument, that it was holding off on such action until it was determined whether or not other states or territories would commit to a national redress scheme for abuse survivors, does not compute.
NSW and Victoria were happy to abolish their statute of limitations provisions while simultaneously pushing for the scheme of redress.
By bowing to the obvious and acknowledging the terms of a redress scheme will take some time to finalise, Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, has belatedly put the needs of the victims – many of whom have been suffering the consequences of their abuse for decades – before political process.
The removal of any limitation period that applied to a claim for damages brought by anyone who suffered abuse in an institutional context while they were a child was a key recommendation of last year's interim report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The commission said such limitations should be removed "with retrospective effect" and regardless of whether or not a claim had been subject to a limitation period in the past.
The commission also called on state and territory governments to implement this recommendation "as soon as possible". It was that aspect the ACT government has had the most difficulty with.
The old saying "justice delayed is justice denied" has never been truer than when applied to the many cases of historical abuse committed by paedophiles such as Marist Brothers Kostka Chute and Gregory Sutton brought to light at local hearings by the royal commission two years ago.
Their actions have been linked to shattered lives, drug and alcohol abuse and suicides.
There is no statute of limitations on pain and suffering.
Given the willingness of the Catholic Church to rely on the time defence to block compensation claims in the past, the territory bill will reverse an obvious injustice.
And, if it follows the precedents set in NSW and Victoria, people who have had the door slammed shut in their faces previously will now have a second chance at justice.
While, as a general principle of law, matters may not be relitigated once they have been judged on their merits, the NSW legislation allows action to be brought on previously time-barred cases.
Hard experience has shown the surest way to make institutions at the centre of serial child sexual abuse allegations take action to prevent future cases is to hit them in the hip pocket. This can only help.
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