BY PENELOPE DEBELLE
Sometime in 2008 Adelaide lawyer Peter Humphries had a call from a Melbourne lawyer who was acting for the Catholic Church. Humphries was representing families whose disabled children were abused on the bus s special school. The lawyer was coming to Adelaide and wanted to meet. It seemed a good sign.
“I somewhat foolishly thought this indicated that we could have a discussion and maybe sort something out because by that time these claims were six or seven years old,” says Humphries.
The lawyer told Humphries that he was instructed by the Catholic Insurance Office to take every legal point in court, including the statute of limitations. Disappointed, Humphries told him to go ahead because in South Australia a plaintiff with a disability had a 30-year window in which to bring a proceeding. It signalled to him that in the eyes of the Catholic Church, more than a decade after the release of their Towards Healing protocols, the suffering of victims was still coming a poor second.
As a partner at Duncan Basheer Hannon, Humphries has been at the cutting edge of the institutional calling to account that in the past 15 years has swept like a tidal wave through the South Australian branches of the Anglican and Catholic Church, and the Salvation Army. Yet he is not a social campaigner, far from it. Almost by accident, this ordinary working lawyer fell into a line of work that has assumed significance because of its scale and subject matter.
“It just fell to us,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I was any sort of crusader. The work has found us through a series of events.” This personal injury lawyer has become the public voice of the system’s underdogs who have typically sought remedy elsewhere and failed.