Leader comment: Time to end bar that denies victims justice

If recent child abuse scandals have shown one thing to be demonstrably true, it's that many victims will take years before feeling ready to come forward.

Nazareth House convent in Cardonald on Paisley Rd West, Glasgow. Former residents of the Nazareth House childrens home were told allegations of abuse dating from the 1960s and 70s were made too late. Picture Robert Perry

But while the passage of time may go some way toward repairing the damage caused, it does not lessen the need the justice.

One of the greatest injustices of the Jimmy Savile affair was that his crimes came to light after his death, leaving survivors to pursue institutions such as the BBC and the NHS for some form of accountability.

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In a system which often appears weighted against the victims of historical abuse, the current three-year time bar on raising civil actions is a further insult to injury.

As part of its commitment to righting the wrongs suffered by abuse survivors over many decades, the Scottish Government is legislating to have the time-bar set aside.

Under the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, adults with claims dating back to 1964 will be able to seek redress through the courts.

But in a series of submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, insurers and lawyers are raising issues with the plan.

No doubt troubled by the prospect of potentially thousands of claims being made against their clients, the Association of British Insurers said it had “significant concerns”.

Quoting from a Scottish Law Commission paper, it said businesses, public authorities and insurance companies should be able to “close their files and dispose of records” without worrying about potential claims.

It seems those who once had a duty of care have the right to closure even if those who experienced abuse do not.

But while the concerns of the insurance industry are perhaps to be expected, the Scottish Government will be more worried about the array of legal opinion opposed to the new legislation.

The Faculty of Advocates has previously said the three-year limitation should remain and only be waived on a case-by-case basis.

The Glasgow Bar Association has now added its voice, calling the new legislation “unnecessary”.

Citing the example of a woman awarded large damages for a claim brought seven years after abuse at the hands of her uncle had ended, the GBA said existing legislation already allowed the time bar to be set aside.

But while there are cases where this has indeed taken place, there are many more where justice was denied, including when former residents of the Nazareth House children’s home were told allegations of abuse dating from the 1960s and 70s were made too late.

For that reason the Scottish Government is right to press ahead with its reforms.

However, it must consider again extending the new legislation past 1964, something it claims to be unable to do because of the law of prescription.

Survivors of historical abuse are indeed a special case, but one should not be treated differently from another simply because of when their experience took place.