Legal milestone for child abuse victims

End to automatic time-bar against civil actions for childhood abuse.

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.

Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing, 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.

“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.”

Welcoming the introduction of the Act, Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS at the University of Strathclyde, said:

“The abolishment of the time bar is the result of many years of successful campaigning by survivors. It is a welcome addition to the package of effective reparation as outlined in the Action Plan on Justice for victims of Historic Abuse of Children in Care.”


The removal of the three-year civil time-bar forms part of the Scottish Government’s wide-ranging commitments to supporting adult survivors of in-care abuse, in response to the ‘InterAction’ process which brought together survivors and care providers and reported in 2014.

Ministers established an independent public inquiry into the abuse of children in care in Scotland, which formally began work in October 2015. Find out more on the Inquiry website.

Scotland is also one of the few countries in the world that has dedicated funding for support services for adult survivors of in-care child abuse. Future Pathways co-ordinates access to and delivers resources, integrated care and support for those who were abused in care, backed with Scottish Government funding of £13.5 million over five years. You can find out more on the Future Pathways website.

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 will apply to civil legal actions for damages resulting from child abuse, including in non-institutional settings, since 26 September 1964.  As Ministers indicated to Parliament during the passage of the legislation,  it has not been possible to remove the different time-bar rule applicable to cases of abuse which occurred prior to 26 September 1964.  Future Pathways has been ensuring that the processes for providing support to older survivors is prioritised.

Celcis is currently undertaking a public consultation into a potential financial compensation/redress scheme for survivors of in-care child abuse. The consultation started on 4 September and is open until 17 November 2017. Get further information, including how to respond to the consultation on the Celcis website.


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