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Straitjacket Lawyers Who Threaten Volunteers

Thursday 21 Aug 2003 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Crime & Justice

It is time to reverse the recent law changes that tempt people into brooding over old grievances, like today's threats to sue the Salvation Army for alleged harsh treatment many years ago ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"Building a victim mindset is a Government pre-occupation. It is transforming New Zealand from a forward-looking, `can do' society into a nation of whining losers. Our law once reflected commonsense. Limitation periods discouraged crying over long ago spilt milk. However tragic it was for the victims, most claims expired six years after the injury, except where it would have unreasonable to expect action within that period," Mr Franks said.

"Judge-made law also made it clear that volunteers would rarely be held liable for unintentional hurt. Judges took into account the chilling effect of hindsight judgments. Threats to sue the Salvation Army show the wisdom of our earlier law.

· How do we avoid injustice long after it's possible to find the truth or fix the problem?

· Who will donate to charities if they think their money will go to lawyers and compensation, instead of helping people currently in need?

· What evidence is there that lawsuit money heals wounded minds in any event?

· Even if it pays for counselling, where is the evidence that stirring up the mind's sleeping dogs, and perhaps inventing "recovered memories, helps more than harms?

· Who will want to care for our most sad and disturbed individuals if, 20 years on, it could mean having to dredge the memory to rebut abuse allegations?

· Do we want Salvation Army leaders to spend their time minutely supervising and inspecting their volunteers, keeping back covering records, and avoiding risk?

"It is unclear whether criminal wrongdoing is alleged. If not, the Salvation Army will disappoint donors if it gives anything more than regret. Of course orphanage life was hard - there was severe discipline but, in those days, many families raised their children that way.

"The Salvation Army has said it will refer criminal allegations to the police - as it should. Criminal wrongdoing is by individuals, and they should answer for it. That doesn't mean current members and donors, who had nothing to do with it, should be demoralised and distracted by events from a different era.

"It's time to reject Labour's OSH credo - `blame the employer and down with personal responsibility'. It recreates feudal notions that servants are oxen for their masters, and masters should answer for the servants' actions. Vicarious liability has always been morally suspect.

"And let's be blunt. It's time to get the gold-digging incentive out of the misery business. ACC experience shows compensation for abuse allegations can generate dubious claims. Even honest people can unconsciously invent memories to justify claims when the incentive is there. Is it in their interests to foster damaging `memories'?

"Where does it end? Why should only the Salvation Army be liable for unhappy upbringings? Who will compensate non-orphans convinced they were damaged by unfeeling or harsh parents?

"Hundreds of street kids have been effectively abandoned by useless parents. Their non-families wouldn't have happened without social welfare grants. Will Labour compensate them in 20 years for being the predictable result of funding those unprepared and unsuitable to have children?

"Nobody wishes sadness or brutality on anybody. But our forebears were wise to think that lawsuits against well-meaning volunteers weren't the remedy. Absent criminality, their advice was to look to the future and get on with life," Mr Franks said.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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