Law Firm Offers Free Advice on Sex-Abuse Claims

By Jewel Topsfield (the Age)
July 28, 2011

Prominent human rights lawyer George Newhouse has offered to give free legal advice to alleged victims of sexual abuse at Yeshivah College over whether they can sue for damages.

Mr Newhouse and Shine Lawyers - who have acted for dozens of people in high-profile sex abuse cases against the Anglican Church - have assembled an expert team to work with the alleged victims in the Jewish community.

Mr Newhouse said the legal team was separate from any criminal proceedings that might arise.

''The most common avenue is for a civil case to be brought against the perpetrator and the perpetrator's employer for damages for assault, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence,'' he said.

Police are investigating alleged assaults at Yeshivah College in St Kilda East, including claims against former Jewish studies teacher David Kramer, who fled Australia in the early 1990s after parents complained he had sexually abused boys.

Yeshivah College, which did not report the complaints to police, was accused of covering up the scandal.

Mr Newhouse said the most important issue in bringing a civil claim was that strict time limits applied. ''Often well-meaning people do nothing while they await the outcomes of criminal action,'' he said.

''Later when they decide to make a claim, they discover they have a time limitation problem.''

Mr Newhouse represented Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon, who was awarded about $4.5 million in compensation in 2006, after she was unlawfully removed to the Philippines when an immigration officer wrongly presumed she was a sex slave and an illegal immigrant.

He said he asked Shine Lawyers to help with the Yeshivah allegations because they had been involved in prosecuting civil cases for sexual assaults at schools including Brisbane Grammar School, St Paul's School and Brisbane Boys College. In 2001, Shine Lawyers acted for a former schoolgirl at Toowoomba Preparatory School who was abused by a boarding house master.

The case led to a record $834,000 payout and the resignation of former governor-general Peter Hollingworth, who was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane at the time.

Shine Lawyers partner Stephen Roche said his experience of sex abuse cases suggested the patterns of behaviour were usually quite similar. ''For example, in many cases there is usually a denial by the institution that it had any knowledge of any impropriety,'' he said.

''Of course, the onus is on the victim to prove that the school or institution knew, or ought to have known, that the abuse was occurring. In some cases they knew and did nothing. In many cases they ought to have known and chose to ignore the obvious signs.''

Jewish community leader Manny Waks, who was allegedly abused while a student at Yeshivah College, said his mind was focused solely on any criminal case that would result in an arrest.

''My primary motives in going public about this is to obtain justice for the victims, including for those who are still hesitating to go to the police,'' Mr Waks said. He welcomed any support that a law firm would be willing to offer victims and their families.