Historical Sexual Abuse – disclosure of circumstances or reasons for the incident

SDA v Corporation of the Synod of the Diocese of Rockhampton [2021] QCA 172

The appellant was a former resident of a children’s home of the respondent. The appellant alleged he was sexually abused by Reverend M. The appellant requested disclosure under s.27(1)(b) of the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (PIPA) of complaints made relating to M by other residents. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and request.

The request for information was:

“… all information about a report, complaint, warning, concern or investigation regarding any act
of sexual or physical abuse on a child committed or alleged to have been committed by [M] at
[the Home] between 18 December 1963 and 10 January 1975.” [40].

It was for a period of 10 years before the appellant was a resident of the home.

Section 27(1)(b) provides inter alia that on request, the respondent must provide “information that is in the respondent’s possession about the circumstances of, or the reasons for the incident“.

The plurality of the court held that:

The information is not limited by whether the prior incidents sought to be disclosed had a causative effect on the incident alleged [5].

In circumstances where the “information” was made many years after the alleged abuse, was not information “about the circumstances of, or reasons for” the alleged sexual abuse [15]. Hence, on the evidence in the appellant’s matter, “the only potential candidate for the information of that description comprises the statements made about M in the complaints” [16].

The “circumstances of” and “reasons for” is to be construed by reference to the notice of claim [26].

Information about prior complaints “is capable of being regarded as information about the reasons for” the alleged abuse. Accordingly, it may “bear upon” the alleged sexual abuse [31] and the “circumstances of” M being in a position of authority [33].

David Cormack

Brisbane Barrister and Mediator

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