Fears over move to scrap time bar for child abuse claims

Lifting a time bar to allow child abuse survivors to sue for damages will lead to spurious claims and put a substantial financial demand on local authorities, it has been warned.

The Scottish Government is consulting on moves to lift the legal time bar for child abuse damages claims. Picture: Neil Hanna

Responding to a Scottish Government consultation on lifting the three-year limit on bringing civil cases, leading insurers and defence lawyers said the plans would place a huge burden on the courts and prevent organisations from “closing their files” on events of the past.

Under the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, survivors of abuse dating back to 1964 will be able to set aside the three-year time bar which is said to prevent victims from seeking civil damages.

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But in a submission to Holyrood’s justice committee, the Association of British Insurers said it had “significant concerns” about the legislation which would prevent public authorities closing their files and disposing of records.

In its response, insurance firm Zurich said: “We consider that it is also important to preserve the rights of the defender not to be exposed indefinitely to the threat of litigation or to a trial where they may not be able to defend themselves because of the lapse of time.

“The rights of the pursuer and the defender should be balanced, whilst remaining sympathetic to the pursuer’s claim.

“The bill will create a significant practical and financial burden upon the resources of the court system, defenders and the insurance industry.”

The Forum of Insurance Lawyers said “injustice in the form of dishonest claims” could not be ruled out, while the Glasgow Bar Association said there was no need for the new law due to a provision in the existing legislation which already allows the court to set aside the time bar.

But there was support for the legislation in submissions from Police Scotland, Victim Support Scotland and Aberdeen City Council, the only local authority which has so far responded.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Cases would only proceed to court on the basis of robust and compelling evidence.

“Having listened to the views of survivors of childhood abuse, we are legislating to remove the time bar preventing civil action to be taken after the limitation period has expired, which is usually the survivor’s 19th birthday.

“We feel that the law should recognise the reasons why people do not come forward until many years after the event, even where there was knowledge of what had happened.”