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Child abuse time bar bill passes final stage

23 June 2017

The bill removing the three year limit for damages actions by survivors of childhood abuse has passed its final parliamentary stage without opposition.

Under the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, cases arising from childhood abuse on or after 26 September 1964 will no longer be subject to a plea of time bar.

During its passage the bill was amended to include neglect as a wrong for which victims might seek civil redress. 

Although some cases arise from before the 1964 date, previous legislation extinguishing such claims absolutely under the law of prescription will not be changed. 

Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, told MSPs: "Because of the nature of the law on prescription and human rights considerations, prescription will remain unchanged, and the [Justice Committee] agreed that that is the right approach. I am, however, aware that the issue of prescription has come as a great disappointment to many survivors, and I regret that that is not something that the bill is able to address."

Ms Ewing continued by pointing to ongoing work to develop a consultation on the provision of financial compensation which would include all in-care survivors within its scope. "That work is being taken forward by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland, in collaboration with the Interaction Action Plan Review Group, which includes survivor representatives. That work is in its early stages, with consultation expected to start later in the summer."

There was also the £2.5m in-care survivor support fund, now called Future Pathways, set up in October 2016, for which older adults had been identified as a priority group, along with people in distress. "Demand for support has been encouraging, with more survivors than initially anticipated coming forward", she announced.

During the preceding stage 3 debate, the Government successfully resisted a Conservative amendment that asked ministers to report back to the Parliament on resourcing the bill, in particular on whether local authorities without adequate insurance cover would have the resources to meet the expected additional claims. Ms Ewing argued that this would "derail" the bill until the report could be laid, to the prejudice of survivors.

Speaking after the vote, the minister commented: “While our police and prosecutors continue to pursue perpetrators even many years after their crimes, this bill will strengthen access to justice through the civil courts.

“It recognises the unique position of survivors of childhood abuse as children who were betrayed by those they should have been able to trust – reflecting the abhorrent nature of the abuse, the vulnerability of the child at the time, and the profound impact of abuse; an impact which lasts well into adulthood and which, itself, prevents people from coming forward.

“Survivors have been let down repeatedly: they were severely and fundamentally let down by their abuser and by the adults who were meant to protect them at the time. While raising a civil action may not be the right way forward for everyone, this bill widens the options available to survivors seeking redress.”


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