Law academic calls for Ombudsman to oversee sex abuse claims

Date: 25/10/2002

A law expert from the University of Western Sydney is calling for a National Ombudsperson to watch over all inquiries into sexual abuse cases, following the exoneration of Archbishop Pell.

Associate Professor Tom Altobelli says Pell's case has shaken public confidence in sexual abuse investigation because the inquiry was not "transparent and publicly accountable".

"The inquiry cleared Archbishop Pell of any misconduct but it also found that the accuser was speaking honestly from an actual recollection when giving evidence. The accuser now claims to have been vindicated.

"How can the public be satisfied with a process that allows the accused to be exonerated but the accuser to feel vindicated? If the accuser was in fact sexually abused, was it by another person, and what steps will be taken to pursue that person?

"The inquiry also heard evidence that another child was molested. Were there other victims and how will they be helped? The public has the right to know that the inquiry, whilst exonerating one person, is not covering up the actions of another," Associate Professor Altobelli says.

According to Associate Professor Altobelli, a National Ombudsperson would act as a neutral independent watchdog to protect and balance genuine public and private interests in sexual abuse cases.

"Organisations must recognise that the public has an interest in how they deal with these allegations and that this interest may be greater than the private interests of the organisation, accuser and accused.

"On the other hand, the public needs to recognise that in many cases, until an accusation has been verified, the parties have a legitimate but nonetheless limited right to privacy and confidentiality.

"The Ombudsperson would make sure that the investigative and determinative processes used are rigorous and protect all victims.

"Under this system, all the benefits of protocols such as Towards Healing are preserved, particularly the emphasis on healing, reconciliation and restoration, but the public interest is protected as all the material and evidence presented would be reviewed by the National Ombudsperson.

"Each year, the Ombudsperson would report publicly about the inquiries reviewed and actions taken, and this report would have an important educative and thus preventative function."

Media contact:
Mikael Kjaerbye
UWS Media Manager
Mob 0405 356 021