After Scotland recognised the need for a different and more sympathetic approach towards the 3-year time limit for abuse victims to come forward in 2015, the abuse team at Simpson Millar LLP Solicitors are calling for changes to be made to the law in the rest of the UK.
Abuse claims come under the umbrella term of Personal Injury Claim as survivors are seeking compensation for the physical and mental harm caused by the abuse as a result, cases must be brought forward within the first three years following the event that led to the personal injury. If the event occurred as a child, as in child abuse cases, the three years begin at the age of 18.
But with research suggesting abuse victims tend not to come forward due to the very nature of abuse, is it fair they are treated the same as any other personal injury case?
There are many reasons why abuse survivors need a different approach to time limits to other personal injury claimants. Abuse is often surrounded by an air of secrecy and a huge amount of pressure is put on the survivor to stay silent; there are often threats of harm if they speak out. There are commonly feelings of shame, fear and confusion for children who have suffered abuse. These types of feelings are usually followed by years’ worth of silence.
It is only in more recent years that when a child reports abuse they are taken seriously. If a child comes forward with an allegation and is not believed, they are highly unlikely to report anything again. Disclosure usually occurs when the survivor realises other victims from the same abuser have come forward and have been believed.
One of the biggest issues with the current time limit is that after years of feeling a pressured silence and/or not being believed, they are rejected by the courts on the basis of a time limit. As a result, they are unable to seek justice for events that have affected survivors for their whole lives.
Sadly, because of current law in England and Wales, there have been occurrences of systematic destroying of evidence that would have helped claimants bring forward a case that is beyond the three-year time limit. Abuse survivors can bring allegations forward and it is up to the court’s discretion as to whether they waive the time limitation.
More recently, Barnardos was accused of purposefully destroying documents that provided evidence of care workers who abused children in their care spanning a 30 year period. A more sympathetic law for abuse survivors would not only allow for a delay in bringing cases forward, it would deter organisations from this sort of activity.
Scotland Leading The Way
Scotland has now officially recognised the issues with time limits on abuse cases and has made huge changes to the law, inciting a more sympathetic approach to claims. They have introduced a bill to remove the three-year time limit and allow claims to be brought without restrictions of time.
This freedom does not guarantee success in any case and claimants are still expected to bring forward strong cases and prove claims with as much evidence as possible.
Numbers of abuse cases being brought forward have risen significantly since the 1990s onwards. The Scottish law now recognises the reality that traditional time limits to ordinary personal injury cases are unsuitable for abuse cases.
Whilst the Scottish law could be seen as a radical change, it is seen by child abuse solicitors as a sensible and welcome step forward. To ensure consistency and fairness, similar legislation is hoped to be adopted by England and Wales in the near future but sadly, not without campaigns from specialist abuse lawyers.