Survivors' lawyer says abuse inquiry moving too slow

Lawyer Sonja Cooper is worried the Royal Commission of Inquiry into state care abuse is taking too long to get started. Photo: RNZ
Lawyer Sonja Cooper is worried the Royal Commission of Inquiry into state care abuse is taking too long to get started. Photo: RNZ
A lawyer who represents state abuse survivors fears the Royal Commission of Inquiry might not start hearing evidence for months, leaving her clients feeling anxious and frustrated.

The government expanded its inquiry into the abuse of children in state care to include those in the care of religious institutions late last year, but the inquiry's still not up and running.

Last week, the commissioners received their warrants to act officially for the Royal Commission and they are now in the process of planning how the inquiry will run.

The inquiry's terms of reference, released last year, stated the commission may start hearing evidence from 3 January (last Thursday), but it's yet to decide when evidence from survivors will be heard.

Sonja Cooper, a lawyer representing many people with claims of abuse in state care, said it is likely the inquiry won't start hearing evidence until April.

"Having said that, even that might be too early and we may find again that it's not till June or July that that's realistic," Ms Cooper said.

The commission still has a lot of work to do to determine how the inquiry will be run, Ms Cooper said.

"How it's going to support people to give evidence, what the hearings are going to look like. Is it going to be evidence taken formally? Are there going to be informal hearings? How are people going to be supported to do that? Is there going to be cross examination? I think those are all the things that are still being worked out."

The fine-tuning will take some time, but the delay is making some of her clients suspicious, she added.

"You know the longer... people have to wait for it to be formally up and running, the more disenfranchised and the more disenchanted some people will feel and will actually start to worry that it's not going to ever do anything," Ms Cooper said.

The government expanded the inquiry late last year, following public pressure, to include children in the care of religious institutions.

Steve Goodlass was abused by Marist Brother teacher Patrick Bignell in the 1980s.

He plans on giving evidence to the inquiry, but said survivors are in the dark about the next steps.

"I thought things would've been clarified by now as to how you would proceed. I jumped on the Royal Commission website the other day just to sort of see where things are at and there's stuff-all information on there. Really, what they're trying to urge you to do is join up, or to pre-register to a process I know nothing about," he said.

The first interim report, focussing on state care, is due by the end of 2020.

A final report detailing the Royal Commission's findings and any recommendations is due to be submitted to the Governor-General in January 2023.

But that time frame has left some survivors feeling stuck, Mr Goodlass said.

"Supposedly, the 3rd of January (possible start date of the inquiry) well that's passed. Where do we go to from here? When's this all going to kick off? And then faith based, it's like probably another two years away, at least, if all goes well and things if don't go well longer, maybe three years," Mr Goodlass said.

A spokesperson for the commission said when it is ready, it will contact anyone who has pre-registered and will widely publicise how survivors can be involved.

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Tone Miller, Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Dunedin/Invercargill: 0211987878.

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