A public consultation in Scotland is seeking input on whether the three-year limitation period on historical child abuse should be lifted for survivors who want to make later claims for personal damages. While the premise is a good one - to allow abuse survivors the right to make a claim beyond the current three-year window - there are concerns over the details of how this will be achieved and implemented.
The public inquiry was first announced by Scottish education secretary Angela Constance in December 2014. It came in response to requests made over many years by survivors of abuse who seek an investigation into historical crimes against children. For all intents and purposes, this is a consultation and legislative change that most would agree is entirely necessary - the primary level on which to criticise isn't its premise, but rather how long it's taken for the discussion to come about.
Focusing on cases of child abuse in a care setting, the consultation runs until 18 September 2015. The mains aims are to have historic abuse acknowledged and meaningful apologies given, and to give survivors of historic abuse access to justice, effective remedies and reparation. A major proposed action is that the three-year limitation period should be removed for historical childhood abuse that took place after 26 September 1964. It all seems like very little in response to some really nasty crimes against some of Scotland's most vulnerable children, but better late than never, right?
Christine Sands, Head of the Child Abuse Department at Yorkshire law firm Jordans Solicitors has spoken out in a blogpost about the obstacles current law places on victims of historical child abuse. "Often the abuse itself is a responsible for [victims'] failure to come forward sooner with their civil claim," she says. "Exempting victims of historical child abuse from the Limitation Act, in carefully defined circumstances, would promote consistency and certainty for those considering making such a difficult claim."
I completely agree with Sands's perspective. Those who have suffered childhood abuse, particularly in the context of a care setting, cannot be expected to always come forward within three years - a seemingly arbitrary time period that feels rather like it's been plucked out of thin air. The legal framework at present just doesn't consider the practicalities of what are often incredibly delicate situations. I hope that by the end of the consultation period, this will have been adequately acknowledged and that the best action for moving forward will quickly be implemented.
The Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children In Scotland (CELIS) believes that choosing a single date based on the years of introduction of past legislation is one of the most potentially problematic factors. It argues that "while taking account of the potential to conflict with current investigations of allegations of abuse, the Chair of the Inquiry should have the discretion to include cases of abuse up until the announcement of the Inquiry." In essence, CELIS want to make sure that cases aren't missed out simply because they don't fit a bureaucratic framework, which is fundamentally important in this sensitive area.
Overall, it's clear that this change in legislation is long overdue, and despite practical concerns about how to revise the law, the Scottish government's extensive consultations with NGOs, charities and companies with a solid understanding of historical child abuse is laudable. We can only hope that everything goes through smoothly in Scotland from this point, and that the rest of the UK will be quick to follow suit.
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