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Church wants abuse reporting laws changed

AAP logoAAP 20/11/2016 Megan Neil

The Catholic Church wants nationally consistent criminal laws covering reporting child sexual abuse, but does not believe institutions should be held criminally liable.

The child abuse royal commission is examining the criminal liability of third parties in reporting abuse as part of a broader criminal justice inquiry that will be the subject of a public hearing in Sydney from November 28.

The Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council argues there should be a new, nationally consistent criminal law relating to the reporting of child sexual abuse.

TJHC chief executive Francis Sullivan said the states do not have the same laws in this area.

"If we're going to have safety for children across the country then those safety nets and those safety procedures in law need to be consistent," Mr Sullivan told AAP.

"Whatever law we end up with, it needs to be very, very clear about what the responsibilities are of individuals when they receive information that they reasonably believe is about a child being abused."

The TJHC says the law should require a person who has information leading them to form a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed against a child to disclose that to the police, unless they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so.

A reasonable excuse could include where someone already believes the allegation has been reported to the police, its submission to the royal commission said.

The TJHC backs Victoria's 2014 introduction of a targeted provision for reporting child sex abuse to police, however Mr Sullivan said there is a flaw in that it does not require reporting if the victim is aged over 16 when the information is provided.

The concern is that children may be at risk if the perpetrator is still alive, he said.

The church argues it would not be appropriate to attach criminal liability to institutions in which child sexual abuse occurs.

"Our position, though, is not saying that organisations get off scot-free," Mr Sullivan said.

He said the church believed that in civil law there needed to be a reversal of the onus of proof so institutions have to show they were not negligent in looking after children.

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