AUSTRALIA’S criminal justice system is “almost entirely incapable” of dealing with people who protected child sex offenders, a Hunter champion of children “thrown to the wolves” will tell the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday.
“Every reasonable person in our community expects that concealing such terrible crimes is itself a crime, yet not a single person in this country has ever been convicted of knowing a pedophile in their institution was destroying the lives of innocent children,” Peter Gogarty will tell a public hearing into how the criminal justice system responds to child sexual abuse cases.
He will call for new laws across the country to prosecute people responsible for covering up child sex crimes in institutions. It comes in the wake of damning evidence to the royal commission since 2013 from church, school and other institutional leaders who failed to report serious historic abuse allegations to authorities including police.
Mr Gogarty played a key role in the establishment of NSW Police Strike Force Lantle after the Newcastle Herald handed Catholic Church documents to police in 2010 showing senior Australian clergy knowledge of child sex offences by paedophile priest Denis McAlinden over decades.
The investigation led to the charging of a senior Catholic clergyman in an on-going case, only the third such charge in Australia, and all three initiated in the Hunter. The first case against priest Tom Brennan was discontinued in 2012 on his death, and the second was dismissed.
Mr Gogarty, who was sexually abused by the late Catholic child sex offender priest Jim Fletcher, said it was not enough for people in authority to be forced to admit to the royal commission that they had failed to report abuse allegations.
“For me possibly the most critical issue is that the powerful and influential people who knew this was happening do not get away with just a short term experience of public humiliation. Concealing the abuse of a child is morally repugnant, yet our criminal justice system is almost entirely incapable of making people accountable for that staggering failure,” he said.
“One of the incredibly important things the royal commission has done is bear witness to the terrible suffering of child abuse survivors. But if it is to have its rightful place in Australian history it must achieve two things - the establishment of a system which guarantees that no Australian child ever has to suffer this horror again, and to ensure that everyone who either perpetrated this abuse or who knowingly let it happen, is brought to account.”
The public hearing in Sydney from Monday into Australia’s criminal justice system follows the release in September of a 700-page report commissioned by the royal commission, and extensive research and roundtables across the country involving victims’ support groups, police, state prosecuting agencies and the legal profession.
The criminal justice report found that while all Australian states have laws requiring some professional groups to be mandatory reporters of child sex offences, only NSW has an existing law allowing for charges to be laid against people – with exceptions for some professional groups – for failing to report serious child sex offences to authorities including police. Victoria passed a new law in 2014 of failing to disclose a child sex offence.
The criminal justice report found child sex abuse raised the “difficult issue” of whether a moral duty to protect children from sexual abuse should become a legal obligation punishable under the criminal law.
It found that there might be good reasons for imposing a legal obligation because children had fewer opportunities and less ability to protect themselves, “leaving them particularly in need of the active assistance and protection of adults”.
In one of 70 submissions made in response to the criminal justice report, NSW Judge Peter Berman, SC, supported creation of a specific law for reporting child sexual abuse offences, in addition to the existing general reporting obligation under the NSW Crimes Act, to educate the community.
“For too long many people aware of child sexual abuse offences have preferred to say nothing,” Judge Berman wrote.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance criticised the “dearth of prosecutions” in Australia against people who had failed to disclose serious institutional child sex offences in the past, in its submission to the royal commission.
In his submission Mr Gogarty said “People in positions of authority threw children to the wolves in order to protect and advance their own careers and safeguard the reputation of their institution”.
“It is inconceivable that they can have done so and suffer no consequences.”
Mr Gogarty said it was “humbling, daunting, exciting and anxiety-inducing” to be giving evidence at the royal commission.
“Everything I have done for the past 15 years has led me to this. If my own experiences are to mean anything, then I must be part of the solution,” he said.
“This is the key to me feeling better about myself. It is the itch that I must scratch.
“Our politicians have no trouble enacting almost overnight legislation against so-called outlaw bikie gangs and thugs. If necessary, I am prepared to beg those same politicians to enact laws to protect the silent victims in our community and to bring child abusers and their enablers to account.”