As a lawyer who was sexually abused as a child and who later testified against his abuser, Blaine has seen different facets of the criminal justice system.
‘It’s either extraordinary bravery or perhaps ignorance of just how bad it potentially could be until they get into the witness box and they’re cross-examined,’ he said of sexual abuse victims who go to court against their attacker.
When a television program revived Blaine’s memories of abuse at the hands of a priest on three occasions in a church sacristy in the 1980s, he decided that the experience that had been carefully ‘compartmentalised away’ should be exposed.
Still in ‘a state of shock’ after watching the show, Blaine contacted police about his attacker – but being also ‘anxious and paranoid’ did not want to make a formal complaint about the genital touching and oral sex performed on him by the priest. He had been too scared to tell anyone as a boy of 11 or 12.
‘I’d never told anybody about what happened to me and I didn’t know that there was anyone else.’
The process that followed was agonisingly slow.
Through his legal work ‘I had, I guess, developed an insight into the process and the experience, and it was one that I, in some way to my own shame, hadn’t really appreciated or empathised … really understanding how it affects witnesses who were victims going through that process’.
As the years between charges being laid and the start of Blaine’s trial dragged on, he became anxious about his reputation and how others would perceive him as a victim of child sexual abuse. He also worried that the priest would be acquitted, and how that would reflect on him professionally.
‘Talking about it publicly – I mean that’s a big thing, let alone being questioned and called into question during cross-examination by the defence.’
But his experience, although mired in perhaps unnecessary ‘delay’, was largely positive. The police were ‘very, very professional’ and did not contaminate the process during the lengthy pre-trial period when witnesses ‘fell away’ because they ‘couldn’t keep going with it’.
And the defence barrister was thorough but ‘gentle’ and tested Blaine’s allegations without ‘being necessarily and unnecessarily aggressive’ and re-traumatising him.
Blaine discussed with the Commissioner the relationship between perpetrator and victim in general crimes, for instance a bank (and its insurer) and a robber as opposed to a personally ‘invasive’ crime such as sexual assault where the investment of the victim in the legal process is entirely different.
Often the adversarial culture of the legal system meant the aim of cross-examination was to tear down the credibility of a witness in order to protect a client’s interest which is ‘not really testing the case, it’s just trying to destroy the witness’.
Blaine said that to change the culture of older lawyers who have spent decades working in that system would be ‘incredibly difficult’.
‘I guess you need to identify those agents of change who are senior enough that they’ve got the authority to drag other people [lawyers and judges] with them’, Blaine said.
While ‘some delay was inevitable’ once the final charges were laid in his case, a magistrate then added to it by allowing multiple adjournment applications for matters including ‘discussions’ which, it was argued, might have ‘shortened’ the process but ultimately did not.
When the matter did reach trial, the result was an odd mixture of conviction and acquittal. This was despite the evidence being based on the same facts: the jury either believed him or disbelieved the priest.
Nonetheless, Blaine still has confidence in the jury system. He acknowledges that ‘no system is going to be perfect and there are always going to be the casualties.
‘I think the reality is someone has got to make a decision … so whether it’s a jury of 12 or three judges, different people are going to perceive facts differently. They just are.’
Blaine received counselling for about 18 months after going to the police but has not needed it since the ‘disruption’ of the years it took for the trial to start.
Before going to the police his health had not been acutely affected.
‘I mean it affected who I was as a person, my personality, the way I perceived things, I guess, how I felt about myself. But that didn’t stop me from being basically a well-functioning person.’ He acknowledged, too, that with other people who have suffered similar abuse, ‘it destroys them’.
For Blaine it had ‘been a remarkable experience interacting with the Commission’. He wasn’t sure whether its success was a function of good funding, leadership, culture or a combination of all three.
It was worth ‘thinking hard’ about the lessons that it could recommend to government to fix other public institutions.
The Catholic Church could also take heed as ‘that silence, that lack of reaching out, goes a long way to driving victims to pursue them’, Blaine warned.
‘The power of sorry is completely undervalued. It’s a great balm.’
Blaine criticised the Church’s selection of commercial litigators who took the same approach to victims whether they were representing BHP or big insurers or the Church because ‘they are working in an amoral universe’.
Archbishop Pell, Blaine felt, took legal advice but should have taken moral choice.