Time-bar on civil actions for childhood abuse abolished

Annabelle Ewing

A long-standing barrier to survivors of childhood abuse being able to take civil legal action pursuing damages has been abolished.The commencement of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 means survivors of child abuse no longer face the time-bar that requires personal injury actions for civil damages to be made within three years of the related incident.

Legal affairs minister Annabelle Ewing (pictured), who took the legislation through Parliament, said the move was an important part of wider Scottish government action to support survivors of childhood abuse.

Ms Ewing said: “Child abuse is the most horrific betrayal of our young people and, even where such crimes were committed decades ago, we will do all we can to help survivors get the justice they deserve.

“Police Scotland and the Crown continue to work tirelessly to bring perpetrators to justice through our criminal courts. And, while it may not be the right way forward for all, survivors may now be considering the option of accessing justice through the civil courts.”

She added: “This legal milestone would not have happened but for the courage of many adult survivors whose persistence and dedication have shone a light on the dark realities of child abuse. Through their brave testimonies they have made clear the great hurt and damage caused by the very individuals and institutions who should have cared for them.

“Alongside our national survivor support fund, the establishment of the independent public Inquiry into in-care childhood abuse, and the current consultation on a potential financial redress scheme, this removal of the civil time-bar underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring Scotland is beginning to make amends for the grave failings of the past.”

Jenny Dickson, a partner at Morton Fraser specialising in personal injury law, said: “The 2017 Act is unusual in that the changes which it makes have retrospective effect. This means that the three year limitation period will no longer apply regardless of when the abuse occurred with the exception of cases where the events occurred prior to 26 September 1964.

“In addition, it may also be possible for a person who has previously raised an action to raise a new action if one of two conditions are met. The first is that previous action was disposed of by the court on the basis of the three year limitation period. The second is where the previous action was disposed of by way of a settlement.”