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GLJ V The Trustee of the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Lismore [2023] HCA 32

By 17 November 2023News & Articles
GLJ V The Trustee of the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Lismore [2023] HCA 32

Delivered 1 November 2023


A Court can award a permanent stay to a defendant who is unable to fairly defend a claim brought against them because of the unavailability of witnesses and/or documents due to the passage of time.

GLJ commenced proceedings in January 2020 against the Diocese for psychiatric injuries caused by alleged abuse by a priest in or about 1968 when she was 14 years old.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal granted the Diocese a permanent stay on the proceedings brought by GLJ because:-

  1. The Diocese did not become aware of GLJ’s allegations until 2019; and
  2. Almost all senior people who could provide the Diocese with instructions and/or given evidence at the trial had died, including Father Anderson (the alleged perpetrator of the sexual abuse), who died in 1974.

The Court of Appeal determined that there could not be a fair trial and ordered that the proceedings be permanently stayed.

GLJ appealed to the High Court of Australia.

The Decision of the High Court

The High Court of Australia allowed GLJ’s appeal, entitling her to proceed to a court trial and have her matter heard by a Court.

In making its decision, the High Court concluded that:

  1. A permanent stay order must be a last resort, when no other option is available and should only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
  2. The risk that a trial might be unfair is insufficient to warrant a stay of proceedings.
  3. In removing the statutory limitation period in relation to historical sexual abuse claims, the Parliament intended to prioritise the rights of victims, despite the potential challenges that these claims inherently bring, including fading of memories and loss of evidence over time.
  4. A plaintiff must still prove their claim at trial to the relevant standard of proof. Missing witnesses or evidence do not in themselves make a trial unfair.

Effect on Historical Sexual Abuse Claims

The decision of the High Court of Australia in GLJ is binding on all lower court in Australia.

The decision brings an end to an unreasonable legal tactic used by defendants in historical sexual abuse claims, ensuring that more survivors are able to pursue justice over the abuse perpetrated against them as innocent

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