The high court has refused a victim of child sexual abuse leave to appeal in his bid to reopen a compensation claim against Brisbane grammar school.
The victim, codenamed TRG, wanted the school to set aside a deed of release to allow him to renegotiate his damages claim for abuse by paedophile Kevin Lynch, who worked at the school from 1973 to 1988.
In refusing leave to appeal, Justice Gageler said the Queensland court of appeal had made no arguable error of principle in its judgment of the case.
“We are not satisfied that there is any arguable error of principle in the reasoning of the court of appeal,” he said. “The application reduces to a challenge to a finding of fact in respect of which there was no difference between the primary judge and the unanimous court of appeal.”
Other victims of Lynch said the decision was disastrous.
“This is a blow of finality. Whatever hope came out of the royal commission has been extinguished,” former student Jon Fihelly said.
“TRG has been ordered to pay the school’s legal costs. It’s absurd. You couldn’t imagine anything worse. His lifetime of torment will now continue,” he said.
Fihelly, who was also abused by Lynch, called on the Queensland government to review 2016 legislation that gave victims the right to challenge settlements made many years ago.
“The Queensland government needs to step in and make institutions look after victims morally – that was the point of the royal commission and the government’s law reform,” he said.
“This outcome is not what the Queensland government intended when they changed the law in 2016. They need to help TRG now.”
Beyond Abuse spokesperson Steve Fisher said the high court decision was very sad for TRG and Queensland survivors of abuse trapped in what they believed were unjust settlements.
But the outcome would have been worse if the appeal been heard and lost, because victims in other states might also been affected, he said.
“We are relieved that the high court has chosen to not reduce the rights of victims in other states, particularly Victoria and Western Australia.”
Fisher said the Queensland attorney general, Shannon Fentiman, understood the plight of victims who were trapped in deeds of release and therefore unable to obtain compensation at levels that would be considered fair in similar cases today.
Fentiman said earlier in the week: “Any further action around legislation will be considered following the high court decision, which I will be monitoring closely.”
Fisher welcomed that commitment.
Brisbane grammar school and TRG’s lawyers have been contacted for comment.