New Zealand Historic Claims Stagnating
Justice Goddard Appointed to UK Abuse Inquiry – But New Zealand Historic Claims Stagnating
Cooper Legal, a law firm representing hundreds of people abused as children in Social Welfare care, congratulates Dame Lowell Goddard on her appointment to head the United Kingdom Inquiry into claims of child abuse in State and Church-run institutions.
Dame Goddard has a long history of advising on issues of human rights, including being an expert advisor to the United Nations Subcommittee on Torture. She is eminently qualified to head the Inquiry.
In contrast, Sonja Cooper, principal of Cooper Legal, says that hundreds of claims of abuse of children who were in New Zealand Social Welfare care are stagnating – overpowering Court resources and being subject to settlement processes which are inconsistent, biased and harmful to the wellbeing of the people they are intended to serve. Claims are dealt with by the Historic Claims Team (HCT) which is run by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).
“The HCT does not have the statutory powers of the UK Inquiry”, says Ms Cooper. “It is not independent or impartial, and turns a blind eye to what was, and remains, a system where children were subjected to systemic physical and sexual abuse”.
Ms Cooper says the HCT makes promises to abuse victims that MSD fails to keep – especially promises that their claims will be dealt with quickly. “Despite some clients filing claims nearly a decade ago, and settlement offers being made on their behalf up to three years ago, these people are still waiting for a response from MSD. Our clients are dying or committing suicide in the meantime.”
Ms Cooper says the HCT interviewers also tell abuse victims that they believe the victim’s accounts of physical or sexual abuse – only for MSD to write to the victim later, telling them that their allegations of abuse are not accepted. “It is hard for a victim to accept that one part of Government can apologise for abuse perpetrated on them, and another part of Government deny that it ever happened” says Ms Cooper.
While a few claims are settled with MSD every year, many more claims notified to MSD go unanswered.
“While our most qualified judge heads overseas to head a full-scale inquiry into similar claims, New Zealand abuse victims face years of waiting for acknowledgment, apology and compensation from MSD, which irreparably harmed them while they were in its care” Ms Cooper says.