Faculty: Abuse survivors need expert advice before opting for redress scheme
A planned redress scheme for survivors of historical child abuse in care needs to be redrafted to remove an “inherently unfair” restriction, the Faculty of Advocates has suggested.
Under the current blueprint, applicants to the scheme must sign a waiver abandoning civil proceedings, and while they can recover legal fees involved in their claim, these fees do not include advice on whether the scheme or litigation would be better for them.
“To expect potential applicants to the redress scheme to evaluate, without legal advice, the merits or otherwise of accepting an award under the redress scheme rather than pursuing litigation, is inherently unfair to applicants,” the Faculty stated in its submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee.
The committee is taking views on the Redress for Survivors (Childhood Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, which provides for fixed payments to survivors of £10,000, £20,000, £40,000 or £80,000.
“A payment from the redress scheme might be lower than an award achieved via litigation in court…Expert legal advice is necessary if applicants are to reach an informed decision,” the Faculty said.
“Scottish Ministers have a stated objective of fairly and compassionately supporting those who have been harmed and respecting their right to justice. To enable them to make an informed choice potential applicants under the scheme need to have funded access to legal advice on the merits of applying to the scheme as opposed to pursuing civil litigation.”
The Faculty recommended that a clause dealing with the recovery of fees “is re-worded specifically to allow the recovery of legal fees in connection with legal advice and assistance on whether to pursue litigation as an alternative to making an application for a redress payment.”
In other comments, the Faculty suggested that residential care in fee-paying schools should be included in the places covered by the bill; that, as drafted, the bill seemed to preclude a panel hearing applications from determining whether abuse actually took place; and that the possibility of refusing payment to an applicant with criminal convictions should be removed, because “a person’s character or conduct after the abuse should have no bearing on any redress payment”.