IT IS more than 15 years since the late Newcastle District Court Judge Ralph Coolahan had a heated exchange with a lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions in a case involving a Newcastle Anglican priest.
The charges were child sex allegations against the priest dating back 26 years. The alleged victims – two brothers aged 38 and 36 – were in the court.
Judge Coolahan lashed the DPP’s handling of aspects of the case as a “disgrace”, a “complete disgrace” and a “farce”, and said it was “just ridiculous” the brothers had “waited 20 years” after they turned 18 before reporting allegations to police.
His comments make disturbing reading given what we know after more than three years of evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse. They are also disturbing given what judges should, and would, have known about disclosures by alleged victims even back in 2001, when the Newcastle Anglican priest case was heard by Judge Coolahan, and eventually dropped.
Even then judges had to give directions to juries in cases where there were delays of years between alleged child sex offences, and disclosures by alleged victims. Which is why prominent child sexual abuse lawyer Dr Judy Courtin described Judge Coolahan’s comments as “appalling”.
The case of the Anglican priest, known as CKC, will be raised again at the royal commission when it resumes a hearing into Newcastle Anglican diocese from Wednesday, after an earlier hearing in Newcastle was told CKC is expected to face a fresh trial.
A lawyer for one of the alleged victims is expected to raise the devastating impact of the 2001 court case, and Judge Coolahan’s comments, when the hearing resumes.
In a major speech in 2015 royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan broke ground by showing how judges, over 300 years of legal history, had viewed long delays between sexual assaults, and the reporting of those assaults, as a sign victims were lying. Those views, based on nothing but the judges’ beliefs about “ordinary human behaviour”, were wrong.
As Justice McClellan noted in his speech, “Delay in complaint is in fact typical rather than unusual”.
The Newcastle Anglican public hearing has already exposed a culture that supported child sex offenders. It has also raised disturbing questions about how the diocese conducted court cases against clergy.