Petitioning UK Prime Minister Theresa May MP


Reflections UK  wants a change in the law for survivors of childhood abuse, who wish to pursue legal action against their abusers, without them being turned away because of the time limit. Survivors have to deal with the shame and aftermath of the abuse. It can destroy everything about who we are or were meant to be and we can be left feeling worthless. To be able to have the choice to take legal action against our abusers, is an important factor in our healing. In England and Wales, most personal injury claims attract a limitation period of three years from the date of accrual of the cause of action, although the three-year period does not start to run until the claimant turns 18. However, many child abuse claims are brought as historic or “non-recent” cases: although the abuse occurred in childhood, the action is brought many years—in some cases decades—after the alleged abuse. So, to what extent should the time limits in child abuse claims mirror those in other forms of personal injury litigation? Should victims of child abuse be treated differently and more sympathetically in relation to time limits than other classes of injured litigant? There are a number of reasons why many abuse claims relate to events which occurred many years, often decades earlier. One of the features of child abuse is that it is accompanied by secrecy and pressure on the victim to remain silent; indeed victims often experience threats of harm if they speak out. Until relatively recently, children who reported abuse were frequently not believed and having reported the abuse once to a social worker or other person in authority, did not do so again. Indeed many victims only disclose childhood abuse when they become aware, e.g. from press coverage, that others have been abused by the same perpetrator, and conclude that they are now likely to be believed. Reporting abuse is particularly difficult as victims are often ashamed and embarrassed by the circumstances of the abuse. It is only more recently, as a result of publicity around “celebrity” cases, that the social climate has become more receptive to allegations of abuse.  Even with that greater openness, shame, embarrassment and fear remain significant obstacles to disclosure. As many child abuse claims are brought as historic or “non-recent” cases, to what extent should the time limits in these claims mirror those in other forms of personal injury litigation? From the date of the abuse—in other words, the same time limit as in any other type of personal injury claim. But because time does not run against a child, in child abuse cases the three-year clock effectively starts ticking when the claimant turns 18 and therefore the claim will need to be issued at court before the age of 21. In practice this is far too short a time limit for most claims, as victims frequently delay for far longer before coming forward. However, the claimant who is “out of time” can ask the court to exercise its discretion under s 33 of LA 1980 to allow a late claim. In Scotland, just as in England, the law currently allows the courts to exercise an equitable discretion to permit a case to proceed after the expiry of the primary limitation period. In practice, and in ( | 8 April 2016 personal injury LEGAL UPDATE 11) contrast to England, this discretion has invariably been exercised in a manner which has prevented the vast majority of cases from proceeding. Due to this less sympathetic approach by the courts to the exercise of discretion, it has been more difficult for abuse victims to pursue civil claims in Scotland than it has been England. This anomaly has been the subject of considerable criticism. In May 2015, after much campaigning in Scotland, the Scottish government announced an intention to abolish entirely the time limit for civil actions in cases of historic child abuse. In March 2016, it announced formal legislative proposals to abolish the three year limitation period for personal injury actions where the person raising the action was a child, i.e. under the age of 18, at the time the injury was caused and where the act or omission to which the injuries were attributable constituted “abuse”.  Under the proposed Bill, which will now be presented to the Scottish Parliament, “abuse” will be defined to include sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. The removal of the limitation period will apply whether the abuse occurred before or after commencement of the new provisions and regardless of whether the case has been raised previously. The Scottish Bill recognises the reality that traditional time limits applicable to ordinary personal injury cases are unsuitable for abuse cases. It equally recognises that the claimant still needs to prove his or her case. If the evidence is available to substantiate the claim, then the matter can proceed; if the evidence is not available, then it cannot.  But that question should be answered by examining the substantive evidence in the case, not by applying an artificial time limit.  We demand the same action for the rest of the UK. Signed Esther Baker – Co-Chair/Political & Media Advisor, Reflections UK Sharon Evans – CEO, Dot Com Children’s Foundation/Education Advisor, Reflections UK Jennie Grace – Co-chair/National Co-ordinator, Reflections UK Catherine Higgins – Fundraiser, Reflections UK Jacky Hughes – Co-Chair /Secretary, Reflections UK Richard Scorer – Lawyer, Head of Abuse Team, Slater & Gordon Lawyers/Legal Advisor, Reflections UK Graham Peter Wilmer MBE – Founder, The Lantern Project/Police Liaison Advisor, Reflections UK Chukka Umunna – MP for Streatham   See Richard Scorer’s published article – 10 LEGAL UPDATE personal injury 8 April 2016 Follow us on twitter @reflectionsuk3 Visit our website at  Email
This petition will be delivered to:

  • UK Prime Minister
    Theresa May MP

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