In Prince Alfred College Inc v ADC  HCA 37, the High Court of Australia has unanimously decided that a victim of child sex abuse in the 1960s should not have been granted an extension of time to issue proceedings in the Supreme Court of South Australia in 2008.
This decision relates to South Australian legislation (the Limitation of Actions Act 1936), but it is an important reminder of the judicial discretion with respect to extending limitation periods in all Australian jurisdictions. Of particular relevance to this decision was:
- The significant prejudice to Prince Alfred College (PAC) due to the absence or death of critical witnesses and the loss of documentary evidence, particularly in determining whether the school could be found vicariously liable for the acts of its employee; and
- The victim’s decision in 1997 not to commence proceedings against PAC and the victim’s earlier financial settlements with the school.
Whilst the High Court’s decision in Prince Alfred College Inc v ADC can to some extent be confined to its individual facts, it provides an important reminder to all parties involved in litigation that the judiciary still possesses a broad discretion with respect to limitation periods, and that time-based defences can be a potent tool for defendants in certain circumstances. It is an all too rare instance of the key element of prejudice being triggered by the liability trail having gone cold, as opposed to deficiencies in medical records and the like.
This blog was co-authored by DLA Piper partner Kieran O’Brien and DLA Piper solicitor Tim Brown.