Law firm appointed

SHINE Lawyers has been appointed to run a group action against Catholic College Sale’s St Patrick’s campus to seek compensation for alleged victims of child sexual abuse.

The action relates to alleged historical child sex and physical abuse offences at what was then St Patrick’s College, many of which are said to have occurred in the 1970s when the school housed boarders.

Since the Gippsland Times published details on April 17 about proposed legal action, 19 alleged victims have come forward and lead plaintiff ‘Michael’ has appointed the law firm.

The St Patrick’s case will be overseen by Shine Lawyers’ Lisa Flynn, who has temporarily relocated from Brisbane to run the case from the firm’s Melbourne office.

Ms Flynn heads Shine’s abuse law department as national special counsel, focusing on abuse claims, and has already begun interviewing alleged victims.

She will be assisted by Shine solicitor Nina Kaarsberg, and both solicitors will be in Sale today.

The case will proceed as a ‘group action’ rather than a ‘class action’.

In a class action everyone is deemed as having the same injury, and compensation is shared among applicants.

In a group action, everyone is assessed individually to determine compensation levels, but the defendant, or defendants, are the same.

The Catholic Bishop of Sale, Bishop Pat O’Regan, said the diocese was aware of ongoing publicity asserting legal action, regarding historic claims of abuse of students at Catholic College Sale’s St Patrick’s campus, was being considered.

“We still have no specific information about this matter, and so cannot comment other than to reiterate that there are processes in place through which victims of sexual abuse can register their complaints,” he said.

He said complainants’ legal representatives should make direct contact with the diocese so claims could be addressed within the proper framework.

The St Pat’s case is significant, as this is expected to be the first group action lawsuit in Victoria against the Catholic Church under impending changes to state government legislation, which are anticipated to pass in the Legislative Council within weeks.

Under the new laws, both individuals and class and group action parties will be able to sue the church’s highly valuable property trusts, and other such structures, that were previously ‘untouchable’.

As a result, collective compensation could run into millions of dollars.

Two St Patrick’s cases have already been prosecuted in the criminal system, with another case against a Marist Brother, alleging multiple victims, yet to go to trial.

Another criminal case was unable to proceed after the accused lay teacher died.

With at least 28 known reports of sexually and physically abused victims from St Pat’s reported to police, the group action is now at the ‘public notification’ stage, to encourage other St Pat’s victims to come forward.

‘Michael’ said he was delighted the action was proceeding.

“It’s fantastic for victims,” he said.

“As a fellow St Pat’s sexually and physically abused victim, I know firsthand the horrors and trauma that we’ve all been through.”

The public awareness campaign is one of the final steps to lodging the class action lawsuit in the Victorian Supreme Court.

The appointment of Shine Lawyers came just days before the announcement that Cardinal George Pell will be the most senior Catholic leader to face a jury after being committed to stand trial on multiple historic sexual assault charges.

These relate to alleged sexual offending in the 1970s in Ballarat, and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.

He is pleading not guilty to the charges. Shine Lawyers has 41 offices in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.

Former students and boarders of St Patrick’s College who wish to find out more information about the class action can email Shine Lawyers at lflynn@shine.com.au or phone 1800 751 407.

Alleged victims are asked to make contact with the law firm as soon as possible.

Victims, on a strictly confidential basis, are also being invited to email the volunteer class action manager will.waterside@outlook.com

People with information about child sexual abuse in an institutional context can also email the SANO Task Force sanotaskforce@police.vic.gov.au or phone the SANO Task Force on 1800 110 007.

To report a child at immediate risk or danger, phone 000 or a local police station.

Survivors & Mates Support Network (SAMSN) is a not-for-profit organisation working to increase public awareness of the effects that childhood sexual abuse can have on men in their adult lives.

For more information about SAMSN, visit www.samsn.org.au, which also has links to other related organisations.

Lifeline (phone 13 11 14) and Beyondblue (1300 22 4636) also offer support.

Bishop O’Regan said the diocese had in place a range of protocols to assist victims of abuse to make complaints, including contacting the diocese’s Professional Standards Office and the Towards Healing process established by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“We maintain strict confidentiality of each victim and will not engage in the public forum,” he said.