The day after Australian-born entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted of a dozen indecent assaults; Slater & Gordon say at least twelve more people alleging abuse have come forward.
The 84 year old was convicted in the UK crown court this week of 12 sex charges against women, most while they were underage. He is due to be sentenced tomorrow.
The Crown Prosecution Service has not decided if it will take further criminal action against Harris given his age, but Slater & Gordon say they will be considering the new cases for civil proceedings.
Harris is just one of a string of equally horrific and high profile cases that the law firm has been involved with, which includes representing 176 of the victims of dead UK TV personality and accused rapist and paedophile Jimmy Savile.
Slater & Gordon are now campaigning for mandatory reporting of child abuse both in the UK and at home in Australia.
One of the firms leading family lawyers, Heather McKinnon, told Australasian Lawyer
that fixing Australia’s systemic flaws in the system of child protection is an absolute imperative.
She says law firms should have a responsibility and a role to play in campaigning about poignant and societal issues such as child abuse.
“Because the victims are the most marginalised in the world – children. If we’ve got any role as lawyers it’s to protect the vulnerable,” she says. “We’ve also got to be grown up enough to say we’re part of the system.”
Slater & Gordon is heavily involved in Australia’s ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which began more than 18 months ago.
Last month, Hayden Stephens, a Slater & Gordon lawyer who was involved in the high profile class action against the Christian Brothers representing the boys who alleged abuse in the 1990s, delivered scathing evidence about the process and the treatment of the victims at one of the hearings.
McKinnon says that as one of the largest family law practices in Australia, it makes sense that Slater & Gordon is at the forefront of class actions in the country. With the recent Savile and Harris cases this has extended into the UK as well.
“In the case of the current discussions about Rolf Harris, if there are 30-40 victims it’s much more appropriate for them to band together and not have to keep repeating evidence. That’s where class actions come to the fore,” she says.
Based on her own professional experience and Australian statistics, she says it’s evident that mandatory reporting of child abuse in Australia has not worked in the way that it should, and countless children that deserved protection have been let down.
“In each state there are different levels [of mandatory reporting]. In New South Wales for many years we’ve had a category of professional people that have to report,” she says. “The issue that is now being debated is whether every member of the public should be required to report [suspicions of abuse].”
But mandatory reporting alone simply can’t change the fact that the whole area of child protection in Australia is under-resourced, McKinnon says. She says only once the Royal Commission releases its report can we start addressing and fixing the problems.
“Why can’t we get a system that works. There have been a lot of cases in New South Wales in the past few years where many of the child victims who were murdered were already known to authorities.”
The Royal Commission was scheduled to conclude in December of 2015; however the commission has sought an extension to December of 2017 and $104 million dollars to cover the extra work.