MSPs Approve Scrapping Of Time Bar On Child Abuse Legal Action

22 June 2017, 17:48

scottish parliament

Holyrood has passed ''historic'' legislation that will scrap the time limit for victims of childhood abuse to sue for damages.

MSPs unanimously backed a Scottish Government Bill to remove the current three-year time bar to seek civil damages in court cases arising from childhood abuse on or after September 26, 1964.

Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing hailed the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Bill as an ''important milestone'' as she paid tribute to survivors of abuse.

''I thank them for their bravery and persistence for bringing to our attention the plight and injustices they have suffered and for not giving up their fight to set these injustices right,'' she said.

''I am humbled by the courage they have shown, not only in campaigning for this legislative change but also in coming forward and sharing their experiences.''

Ms Ewing said the provisions in the Bill are ''justified and are proportionate'' and should be seen as part of a package of support for victims, including a £13.5 million in-care survivors support fund and the ongoing independent inquiry into the abuse of children in care.

''This range of measures, along with the passing of this Bill, will make a significant difference for survivors,'' she said.

Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell also paid tribute to victims as he apologised on behalf of his party for the ''very grave failings of the past''.

He said: ''For many, today represents a historic day, not only in the life of this Parliament but for our society as a whole. Today we have an opportunity to right a historic wrong.

''While this legislation is no panacea, there can be no denying the significance, both real and symbolic, that changing the law will bring. For far too long survivors and victims of abuse have been denied justice.''

He cautioned the Bill should be the ''start, not the end'' of a journey and urged ministers to reflect on what further steps could be taken to support survivors.

''I would ask the Government to keep an ever watchful eye on how the changes we are making today will work in practice and how they will be funded,'' he said.

''Let us make sure that those who have campaigned so hard and those who have waited so long are not let down for a second time.''

The Government has estimated the change in the law will result in about 2,200 claims in the courts initially, but Holyrood's Justice Committee heard evidence suggesting the numbers could be much higher, prompting concerns about the impact of the legislation on the courts system and local councils.

Labour MSP Claire Baker said the Government needs to ensure sufficient resources are available, noting the burden on some local authorities could be greater than others.

''It is clear from the evidence to the committee that while there are anticipated costs of legal defence and action, there will be more significant costs involved in successful claims,'' she said.

''We have to recognise that insurance may be available in some cases but that is not always going to be the case.''

Green MSP John Finnie said some may see the Bill as presenting a ''commercial challenge'', while Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton said the legislation would have ''wide-ranging implications for people who have lived in the shadow of an appalling thing''.

Lindsay Bruce, a senior lawyer in the historic abuse unit at Thompsons Solicitors, which represents many survivors of historical abuse, said: ''This is a very big day for the survivors. We are actually pretty emotional about this.

''Everyone that I have spoken with is very pleased the Scottish Parliament has delivered on their promise to pass this legislation.

''Now begins the process of fighting for justice for survivors through the court process. We're now calling on every organisation facing claims to deal with them fairly, quickly and with compassion.

''We hope that will be the case but if it is not we won't hesitate to use the power of this new law to make sure that survivors who have been ignored for so long get the justice they deserve.''