Scottish Parliament Justice Committee backs lifting time limitation on child abuse damages
The committee has concluded the benefits outweigh the concerns, although notes there are issues for organisations potentially facing large payouts for historic abuse
Scottish Parliament - Image credit: Holyrood
The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has endorsed the principle of removing the time bar for childhood abuse actions, arguing that the benefits of enhancing access to justice for survivors should outweigh the concerns expressed about the changes.
However, it has also concluded that some aspects of the bill need further consideration to strike the right balance.
The committee backed the aims of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Bill, which would lift the time limit of three years on civil claims for damages relating to child abuse.
But it also said the proposed changes need to be carefully implemented to address the likely impacts on the finances and resources of bodies that face historic claims and requests for information.
Lifting the time limit would have serious implications for a number of organisations including local authorities, churches and charities, with victims of abuse able to claim damages for events that may have happened decades before – even if none of the people allegedly involved still work for the organisation.
The burden of proof is also lower in a civil case and there could be difficulties in producing evidence in cases dating back decades, particularly if the alleged abuser is no longer alive or organisations have gone through significant changes in the intervening period.
The impact of the bill on survivors, who will need extensive support and guidance throughout any claim process, is also highlighted in the committee’s report.
In addition, the committee is urging the Scottish Government to consider solutions for people who suffered abuse before 1964, who are not covered in this bill.
The report also raises the issue of evidence given to the committee of potential legal ramifications of re-hearing previously raised cases and recommends the Scottish Government consider how this will work in practice.
Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP said: “The Justice Committee is happy to endorse the general principles of this bill.
“It became clear to us that the time bar had created a barrier to access to justice for cases involving historic childhood abuse. The bill will help remove that barrier and give survivors a voice.
“That said, our evidence sessions raised serious questions in a number of areas that the committee considers the Government must take on board before the final bill is put to Parliament.
“In particular, the committee asks the Government to address concerns around ensuring affected organisations have the resources they need, and how those survivors who won’t be covered by this bill may still find a remedy.”
The stage one debate on the bill is expected to be held on Thursday 27 April.
The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill will allow survivors of child abuse to pursue civil claims with no time limit on cases
The first vote on the repeal bill is expected to take place by the end of the year
A motion to appoint lawyer Daren Fitzhenry will be put before the Scottish Parliament
The actions are a response to the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime