Vulnerable survivors of sexual and physical abuse inside NSW state prisons are being denied legal representation and access to justice, following NSW Government-run prisons’ decisions to shut their doors and ban communication with civil litigation lawyers.
Institutional abuse lawyers representing victims at Cessnock and Shortland Correctional Centres have been told they cannot meet with abuse survivors inside the prisons at all, including via video link or telephone.
Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Ciara White, who has lodged complaints with the NSW Ombudsman, said there would be devastating consequences to silencing victims who are now set to face delays to already complex and challenging historical legal claims.
“These are people who are incarcerated, they are victims of horrific sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and some have been waiting 20-50 years to have their voices heard and finally access justice,” Ms White said.
“This decision by the prisons to block access to legal support is effectively silencing victims and means an already lengthy claims process will be further delayed and hampered by bureaucracy. Victims are being denied legal representation and advice. Their legal claims have come to a standstill and they are facing more undue stress and uncertainty needlessly.”
Ms White said the public health restrictions due to COVID should not prevent communication with a lawyer via video link or telephone.
“Some of these claims are in the court phase and need to be progressed urgently.
We would have expected a more pragmatic and logical response from Corrective Services NSW but instead there has been a complete lack of transparency and no timeframe or solution provided,” she said.
“We didn’t see this type of response in other jurisdictions during COVID lockdowns, so we have to conclude that the decision is being driven by other priorities.”