Human Rights Barrister Selected to Lead Dilworth Inquiry

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New Zealand’s leading human rights lawyer and advocate, Frances Joychild QC has been selected by the Dilworth Class Action group to lead the independent Inquiry into Historical Abuse at Dilworth School.

Rachael Reed QC who is acting on behalf of the Dilworth Class Action group said, “We are pleased to confirm Frances Joychild QC as Dilworth Class Action Group’s selection to head this Inquiry.

“Ms Joychild QC brings an incredible wealth of experience built over an outstanding career as a lawyer, and is a deeply respected advocate for the interests, rights, and wellbeing of New Zealanders. Notably, she has represented a group of Lake Alice survivors at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care and has conducted inquiries into sexual abuse. It is critical this Inquiry is conducted independently of Dilworth, whose failure to protect students permitted the abuse to occur.

“Survivors of sexual abuse and their families deserve to know the full truth about Dilworth’s role in allowing boys in its care to be sexually abused at Dilworth for more than four decades. This involves accessing and reviewing all records and questioning senior staff members, Trust Board members, past and present and any other affiliated organisation to fully understand what the School knew and what, if any, steps they took to cover it up.

“Ms Joychild QC has the skills and expertise to lead a robust inquiry and has no connection to Dilworth. Survivors and their families can be confident an inquiry led by Ms Joychild QC would be conducted independently to uncover the full extent of what was allowed to happen, and by whom,” said Ms Reed QC.

“We will be announcing the Group’s panel members for the Redress Programme shortly.”

In March, Dilworth released the draft terms of the Inquiry and proposed Redress Programme, seeking input from those affected by abuse, parents and families of survivors, and the wider Dilworth community.

Ms Reed QC added “We have already provided substantive feedback to Dilworth on the draft terms of inquiry and redress programme. However, we still have significant concerns, as do many of the survivors our clients represent. We will be providing further detailed feedback to the School on the amendments necessary to ensure the Inquiry and Redress Programme are truly best practice, survivor focused and comprehensive, but in summary:

  1. It is imperative that the Inquiry Head have investigatory powers to fully and comprehensively investigate the abuse and actions of the School. Without these powers, the Inquiry is reliant on Dilworth to provide it with all relevant information and is likely to be missing essential information that is held by other organisations.
  2. Dilworth should not be self-determining how much compensation each survivor is eligible to receive, this should be decided by an independent panel of experts.
  3. Dilworth have unilaterally limited their liability to each survivor to $200,000 – it is completely wrong and inappropriate that the School places their own value on the abuse which they were responsible for allowing to happen. $200,000 is also out of step with awards made through the Courts, comparable redress schemes and the guidance of the Royal Commission. This is particularly important to note, because the School is requiring Survivors to sign away their rights to bring legal proceedings if they accept a redress payment. We question how survivors can agree to sign away their legal rights when redress payments are capped at a maximum that is less than the likely awards that could be obtained through the Courts.

Ms Reed QC adds “While no amount of money could ever compensate for the lifelong harm and trauma survivors have suffered, a cap of $500,000 would likely to be regarded as meaningful acknowledgement for some of the harm Dilworth caused.

The cap needs to be at the $500,000 level so that redress is awarded to survivors takes into account (i) the role of School, including its actions to cover up the abuse, (ii) domestic and international Court awards for similar abuse including the significantly higher awards made in Australian courts in similar circumstances, and (iii) the rights of the survivors to compensation for breaches under the Human Rights Act, exemplary damages and compensatory damages at common law, and (iv) the lifelong harm survivors have suffered and that Dilworth has failed to address for decades.

“Dilworth must respect all the survivors of sexual abuse, their families and the Dilworth community and ensure this Inquiry is conducted properly. We look forward to receiving confirmation from Dilworth that Ms Joychild QC has been formally appointed to lead this Inquiry and has the scope to set the terms of reference and investigatory powers to ensure the full truth is uncovered,” said Ms Reed QC

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