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The Scottish Government has recently lifted the three-year time limit on making compensation claims for child abuse. Previously, victims were only able to make a claim within three years of the abuse taking place, meaning that most historic child abuse claims were time-barred. Now this is no longer the case.

This change in the law has serious implications for councils, charities, churches, schools and other organisations. This abuse claimed for could be emotional as well as physical or sexual, and could also comprise neglect or ‘omission’.

Already, there are reports of pursuer firms having numerous claims waiting to be raised, and organisations and their insurers may face claims dating as far back as 1964. COSLA, which represents councils around Scotland, has said,

We support the people seeking justice for these horrific crimes in the past and will do all that we can to help them seek justice.

Local authorities have already paid out an estimated £1.5 million over the past decade for claims relating to child abuse. This will almost certainly rise, as a result not only of the new Act but also of the changing public climate around reporting abuse.

For example, according to Police Scotland, there were 66,120 child sexual abuse incidents reported in 2012; in 2015, there were 113,291 cases reported, many of them historic.

Given local authorities and other organisations’ possible exposure to these cases, discussions are taking place about the possibility of a compulsory protocol for handling historic child abuse claims in Scotland. This could mitigate the costs for those paying compensation, and also reduce the numbers of abuse cases going to court.

In the meantime, it’s important to get up to speed with the new legislation and what it means for your organisation.

Who may claim under the new law

The new Act – the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 1917 – opens the door to historic claims, but still applies some restrictions on who may claim. To do so, claims have to relate to:

  • abuse inflicted on children aged under 18 at the time it occurred
  • abuse carried out on or after 26 September 1964.

Victims will not be able to claim if they have already claimed, and been paid, some compensation for their abuse. However, if they claimed compensation, but had their claim rejected by the abuser, their insurers or the courts because of the old three-year time limit, they may be able to raise another claim under the new legislation.

Evidence and record-keeping

Whilst organisations and their insurers may be concerned about the possibility of claims dating back five decades, it’s important to realise that the changes to the law on limitation will not necessarily allow all cases raised by pursuers to proceed. The time restriction may be removed, but in historic cases particularly, there may be insufficient evidence available for claimants to prove the other parts of their cases.

With all cases, the success of a claim will often hinge on the records held by the organisation concerned or by other individuals, including the claimant. For this reason, it is more important than ever to pay attention to this area – even perhaps trying to gather or salvage records from years gone by.

In addition, organisations will have to pay attention to their future record-keeping in this area – keeping records of any complaints received and investigated, and showing that the correct procedures were followed.

With no time bars on claims, they may have to keep employee records for longer than they do currently, and will probably need to seek expert advice on the data protection ramifications around this.

What to do if you face a claim

If you receive a claim for historic (or recent) child abuse, it’s important to act calmly, and seek expert advice as soon as possible. Rushed responses can create legal and reputational risks, and this area is highly complex and sensitive.    

Our specialist child abuse and historic claims team at Lindsays has extensive experience of helping charities and public sector organisations  with group actions and individual claims relating to historical child abuse. We can take you through every stage of the process, and advise on possible defences or strategies for settling a claim.

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