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Published: 23 September 2015
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

Melbourne Response found to be insufficiently independent

The report relating to Case Study number 16, which examined the responses of the Catholic Church namely through their Melbourne response process, was released last week alongside the commissioners final report regarding Redress and Civil Litigation. Unsurprisingly, the report found what so many survivors already knew to be true; Melbourne Response was not sufficiently independent of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Whilst professed by the church to have three separate arms; Independent Commissioner, Carelink and Compensation Panel, the report notes that the lines between these arms were often blurred. Often this occurred by the Independent Commissioner himself getting involved in Carelink issues, in particular in relation to Medicare, counselling and other payments. 

Further, conflict and confidentiality issues arose as a result of the engagement of the same instructing solicitor to advise both the Independent Commissioner and the Archdiocese. Confidentiality and conflict issues arose when information obtained by the Independent Commissioner in the course of the Melbourne Response process was then sought for use in defending a civil claim for compensation.

The Commissioners have been clear in their recommendations outlined in their final report on Redress and Civil Litigation that the lawyers and/or persons appointed to be responsible for the administration of any redress scheme must be separate from the institution to ensure independence and fairness.

Further, the Commissioners formally accepted evidence given by survivors of abuse that as a result of discussions with the Independent Commissioner they felt discouraged from reporting their abuse to police. In particular, Independent Commissioner, Mr O’Callahan QC is quoted as saying ‘there would not appear to be much point in taking the matter to police’ and advising that if the survivor were to take the matter to police the Melbourne Response process would have to be halted so as not to interfere with a police investigation. 

The findings of the Commissioners, although not surprising, will provide comfort to some who found the Melbourne Response to be a re-traumatising experience. It is encouraging to see recommendations made in the report regarding Redress and Civil Litigation which if adopted will allow those who have previously settled claims, through Melbourne Response or otherwise, to have their claims revisited.

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