Legislative changes removing time bars on abuse claims

2017 is ending with a raft of allegations of sexual abuse across newspapers and the media – most notably in high-profile sectors like politics and the entertainment industry. But behind the headlines lies a large volume of potential claimants who, for decades, felt they could not report the abuse and would not succeed in litigation. 2018 is likely to see many of those victims choosing to come forward.

In Scotland, there are two key drivers behind this change. First, new legislation has removed the time bar defence for abuse occurring after September 1964. An action can now be raised regardless of delays, provided a fair trial is still possible. Second, the costs regime is changing. Qualified one-way cost shifting will increase access to justice, reduce the risk to claimants and broaden the exposure of insurers.

Across the UK, the potential for claims is increasing as the courts have widened the scope of vicarious liability. Once limited to the employer-employee relationship, it now encompasses relationships akin to employment and, more recently, scenarios in which an entity has some control over a sub-contractor – and even a local authority for a foster-parent. Across sectors such as education, charity and local authority, we can expect significantly increased claims levels this coming year.