Judge orders school to mediate on paedophile compensation
One of Australia's top schools has been told by a judge to be "sensible" and negotiate compensation to four old boys who were sexually abused by a former teacher.
Tough-talking Supreme Court judge Justice Peter Garling wryly awarded Trinity Grammar "three gold stars" after being told it had done all it could in the case despite it taking two years with seven mentions in the courtroom but being no nearer a trial.
The top flight school, which charges fees up to $34,770 a year, told the court that despite joining the National Redress Scheme set up in the wake of the child sex abuse royal commission and meant to compensate victims without an admission of negligence, it had not offered any of the men a settlement of money.
The school was arguing in court for a permanent stay of the second of the cases brought by an old boy known as PM, claiming it could not fairly defend itself because more than 40 years had passed and headmasters had died.
The paedophile teacher, Neil Futcher - called Futcher the Butcher by pupils - is serving an 18-year sentence after being convicted of 22 child sex abuse offences including eight counts of buggery.
He had also taught at Sydney Grammar School and was a boarding master at Knox Grammar School.
The Daily Telegraph last year revealed that parents of current Trinity Grammar pupils had slammed the school for spending about $1 million in legal fees fighting the civil claims brought by the four boys instead of settling.
Now Justice Garling has told both sides to "sit down and resolve it, go away and stop paying lawyers".
"Why don't you and your client (Trinity Grammar) come to a sensible arrangement with these plaintiffs?" Justice Garling told the school's lawyers at the recent court hearing.
"Under the rules of the National Redress Scheme these plaintiffs can recover from your client; correct? What are we all doing here spending legal fees?"
Trinity Grammar has denied responsibility for Futcher's abuse, arguing it took place on school camps and during other extra-curricular activities but despite civil fight by the old boys, the question of responsibility has never been heard.
Last year the school won an appeal for a permanent stay of the proceedings involving the first old boy to bring a case, Rob Anderson.
Lawyers for Mr Anderson, who attended Trinity from 1969 to 1976, have lodged an application to the High Court for special leave to appeal the decision and have the case tried.
The school wants to postpone the case of PM until the outcome of the High Court case which Justice Garling said could run into 2021.
The judge said that either the school deserved to have its reputation cleared or PM deserved to have his claim determined quickly so as to avoid further harm and damage.
"The fact is this particular case has now been on foot for very close to two years and literally nothing has happened," Justice Garling said.
"The parties haven't mediated; they have not sat in the same room to attempt to resolve the claims.
"Through one method or another, the probability is that (PM) would be entitled to recover some monetary compensation from (the school)."
Justice Garling ordered both side to mediate and return to court on April 3.