UK govt defers scrapping limitation period for child abuse cases

An independent inquiry had previously recommended its immediate removal

UK govt defers scrapping limitation period for child abuse cases

While the UK Home Office has agreed to adopt key recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse last October 2022, the Inquiry’s recommendation to scrap the three-year limitation within which victims and survivors of child sex abuse cases can file civil claims has gone unheeded. Instead, the Home Office has opted to consult on the matter later this year.

Earlier this week, the UK Home Office published its response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s October 2022 report, which looked into the extent to which state and non-state institutions in England and Wales had discharged their duty to protect children from sexual abuse over the past seven years and recommended changes that would better uphold this goal.

Among other commitments, the government adopted three key recommendations made by the Inquiry:

  • To set up a redress scheme for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse after further engagement with victims, survivors, and authorities as to the details,
  • To provide timely and effective therapeutic support after eliciting views on how to undertake this and systemic changes to the relevant provisions, and
  • To introduce a mandatory reporting duty for those working with children in England to report child sexual abuse.

Still, campaigners expressed disappointment at the Home Office’s decision to consult on the Inquiry’s recommendation to remove the three-year limitation period for personal injury claims brought by victims of child abuse cases instead of immediately adopting it.

“We accept the critical issue this recommendation seeks to remedy, and we will consult on strengthening existing judicial guidance in child sexual abuse cases and set out options to reform limitation law in child sexual abuse cases,” the Home Office response said.

While recognising that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse could sometimes take “years, and in many cases decades, for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward and feel ready to disclose their trauma”, the Home Office pointed out that the current three-year limit provided for under England and Wales’ Limitation Act 1980 was not absolute, as it allowed for the court to ignore the time limit if deemed equitable.

Lawyers who supported immediate change argued that further consultation was unnecessary given the Inquiry’s express recommendation, the Law Society of England and Wales reported.

“The limitation period is a needless legal hurdle put in front of survivors, who are forced to endure the stress and uncertainty of justifying why they have not brought a claim sooner,” said Kim Harrison, executive committee member with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. “It is well established that survivors of [child] sexual abuse nearly always bring their claims late. They are a unique and particularly vulnerable category of claimant and this desperately needs to be recognised.”

In its report, the Inquiry explained that the current limitation period under England and Wales’ Limitation Act 1980 had been broadly crafted for all personal injury cases and was not designed with the needs of sexual abuse victims in mind. In reality, victims took an average time of 26 years to disclose sexual abuse, at which point they were generally told that their claims were deemed too late and forced to apply to the court for redress, bringing them farther away from relief and justice instead of closer to it.

The Inquiry also found that many defendant solicitors agreed that the three-year limitation period was a barrier to justice for victims and were broadly open to reform as long as it preserved the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Law Society of England and Wales said.

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