ELEVEN Victorians abused by jailed paedophile Christian brother, Robert Charles Best, have lodged joint claims in the Victorian County Court in the first of several looming and large legal actions aimed at forcing the Catholic Church to compensate victims.
The move is the largest legal action of its type in Victoria and, if it succeeds, will put intense pressure on the Christian Brothers to pay victims compensation that could total millions of dollars.
The 11 claims against Best — who was a teacher at Warrnambool CBC from 1989 to 1994, and had himself been a student there — are set to be followed by a series of other legal actions, with dozens more victims preparing to launch court cases or applications seeking compensation for the suffering they endured as a result of abuse by Christian brothers or Catholic priests.
Yesterday’s claims were lodged under provisions of the Victorian Sentencing Act which enables a victim to ask the judge who sentenced their abuser to consider whether that offender should pay them compensation.
Each of the 11 applications asks the judge to weigh up their ‘‘pain and suffering, past and future medical and like expenses (and) past and future loss of earnings’’ in deciding if, and how much, should be paid to them.
Last August, Judge Roy Punshon sentenced Best to almost 15 years’ jail after he was convicted of abusing the 11 men when they were aged between eight and 11.
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Punshon described the impact of his offending as ‘‘very considerable’’.
“You have caused a great deal of human damage and misery. The statements (of victims) as a whole are a salutary and powerful reminder of the devastating and long-lasting effect that sexual offending against children can have,’’ the judge said.
The abuse occurred when the men were all students at schools Best taught at in Ballarat, Geelong and Box Hill between 1969 and 1988.
While the Christian Brothers organisation isn’t legally required to pay any compensation that Best may be ordered to hand over, the fact that it funded his lengthy legal defence will place the organisation under pressure to do so.
Last night, the Christian Brothers organisation declined to comment.
The Catholic Church has faced criticism over the way it has avoided legal liability in connection to abuse carried out by its clergy, whom the church argues are not employees.
However, the Catholic Church does have an internal process involving a panel of church-appointed experts who decide if a victim is entitled to compensation.
The lawyer for the 11 victims, Dr Vivian Waller, said that last night’s action was about seeking justice for the lifetime of suffering of victims and their families.
‘‘It’s important that these victims are compensated for the pain and suffering and disruption to their lives caused by Best, who was both a teacher and principal at St Alipius and abused his power in both positions,’’ Dr Waller said.
She also said further legal action was likely that will show that offending at St Alipius at the time Best was a teacher was carried out by several other teachers in a systemic and overt manner.