Legal irresponsibility and institutional responses to child sex abuse

Federation Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Law in Context, 2016, 34 (2), pp. 79 - 99
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The current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has demonstrated serious long-term failures to prevent and adequately respond to child sexual abuse by institutions. Rather than regarding the law as a system of responsibility, this article argues that it can be read instead as organising irresponsibility, drawing upon Scott Veitch’s ideas in Law and Irresponsibility. His key argument is that legal institutions operate as much to deflect responsibility for harms suffered as to acknowledge them. This article focuses on the ways in which the criminal justice system is complicit in organising irresponsibility for systemic failures through an analysis of the Royal Commission Case Study No 6: The responses of a primary school and the Toowoomba Catholic Education Office to the Conduct of Gerald Byrnes. Through concrete examples, this article analyses the ways in which criminal law organises irresponsibility through the individuation of responsibility and the emphasis upon subjective culpability. These practices ensure irresponsibility for actors for systemic failures.
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