New abuse redress scheme ‘could prevent thousands of claims’

Cosla has warned of significant financial impact if time bar on civil actions lifted. Picture: John Devlin
Cosla has warned of significant financial impact if time bar on civil actions lifted. Picture: John Devlin
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A national redress scheme for survivors of historical child abuse could prevent local authorities being inundated with potentially thousands of compensation claims, it has been argued.

Council umbrella organisation Cosla said there was likely to be a “significant financial impact” on its members from the introduction of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Scotland Bill, which will set aside the three-year time bar on bringing civil actions.

A key question raised by this legislation is the potential volume of cases that could be brought

COSLA

Cosla said a financial redress scheme similar to one used in Jersey would safeguard councils while also protecting victims from “no win, no fee” lawyers looking to profit from the legislation.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee are currently hearing evidence on the proposed legislation, which has widespread political support.

The financial memorandum accompanying the bill has estimated that around 2,000 people could make claims once the legislation is introduced, while Police Scotland has put the figure at 5,000.

Cosla said it supported the intention of the legislation and said removing the barrier to justice for survivors would be a “positive move”.

But in a submission to the justice committee, it added: “Despite our strong support for the legislation, we recognise that there will be a potentially significant impact on local authorities – both financial and practical.

“A key question raised by this legislation is the potential volume of cases that could be brought. This is a very difficult to quantify, particularly due to the sensitive nature of the claims.”

The organisation called on the Scottish Government to explore a redress scheme similar to one which operated in Jersey and allowed those abused while in the care of the state to claim damages up to £60,000.

It added: “While any similar Scottish scheme would have to be developed specifically for Scotland, there are undoubtedly lessons which could be learned from the Jersey scheme to refine into a possible scheme for survivors of historical child abuse in Scotland. The potential benefits of such a model are worthy of exploration: victims would be safeguarded from the potential ‘no win, no fee’ culture which it is foreseeable might develop around these claims; organisations, including local authorities, would still face an undoubted administrative burden, but not the same level of legal costs involved in court proceedings.”

While there is widespread support for the legislation, the Association of British Insurers has previously expressed “significant concerns” about the implications for local authorities which provided residential care.

The Faculty of Advocates has argued there is no need for the new laws as the current legislation already allows judges to use their discretion to set the time bar aside.

In a letter to Holyrood’s education committee earlier this month, education secretary John Swinney said analysis of the responses to a three-month public consultation, which is due to begin shortly, would inform the Scottish Government’s final decision on redress.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to consulting with survivor groups and other relevant parties, including Cosla, to fully explore the issue of financial redress.

“The forthcoming consultation on redress must be focussed on the needs of survivors and will also involve engagement with service providers.”