- The High Court recently found that the mere passage of time in and of itself does not provide a sufficient basis for courts to permanently stay certain child abuse claims.
- Solicitors acting for institutions should exercise great caution in advising on the merits of seeking permanent stays of child abuse damages claims.
- Clients should be encouraged to undertake early investigations in relation to allegations of child abuse, with a view to securing the available evidence as soon as possible.
In an instructive, albeit split, judgment in GLJ v The Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Lismore  HCA 32, the High Court (by majority) has made it clear that the abolition of statutory limitation periods applying to child abuse damages claims in NSW means the mere passage of time and the associated diminishment of available evidence does not provide a sufficient basis to have claims permanently stayed.
GLJ sued the Diocese claiming damages for personal injury caused by her sexual abuse in 1968 by then Diocese priest, Father Anderson.
The Diocese made an application pursuant to section 67 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW) seeking a permanent stay of the proceeding on the basis that any trial would be unfair and an abuse of process because all senior Diocese-associated persons (including Mr Anderson) capable of giving instructions and evidence in relation to GLJ’s allegations had died prior to them coming to light in 2019.
The High Court considered two issues:
- the applicable standard for the appellate review of a ‘permanent stay’ order of the type made by the NSW Court of Appeal; and
- whether GLJ’s proceeding constituted an abuse of process justifying a permanent stay of proceedings.