Today (20 October 2022) heralded the long-awaited publication of the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).   It is a report that has been a long time in the making, having been over 7 years since the Inquiry began; and did not disappoint with a document spanning over 450 pages.

Having been heavily involved in the Inquiry, I was invited to a preview of the report in London before it was released, which contains wide ranging proposals some of which will impact on our clients. There are 3 main areas of interest:

The removal of the 3 year limitation period in relation to historic abuse claims

Limitation is invariably a problem for claimants in historic abuse actions. The present rules provide for the exercise of discretion where a claimant can show good reasons for the delay in bringing the claim, that the delay is not excessive and that a fair trial is possible.

Under IICSA’s proposal there would no longer be a 3-year period in which you must bring a claim, but the defendant could still successfully rely on a limitation defence if it could show that a fair trial was not possible – for example if the abuser was dead.

In reality, removal of limitation will not create a big change.  It has been done in Scotland and defendants still rely on limitation defences to defeat claims. I suspect it will simply strengthen the claimant’s bargaining position when we try and negotiate settlement of these difficult cases.

Changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICA)

There are 3 changes proposed to the CICA scheme.

  • Victims of online abuse would be brought within the scheme.

It is hard to see how this will work. An essential component of the CICA scheme is that a crime of violence should have been committed. If claims are allowed for online grooming or revenge porn, where does this leave other victims of online crime such as identity fraud?

  • Unspent convictions would be disregarded.

This is entirely fair. Many abuse victims are drawn into crime to fund drink and drugs – sadly they often resort to such inappropriate coping mechanisms. This can result in petty crime to fund these habits and it has always seemed unfair that this should invalidate any claim – they would not engage in such activity were it not for the impact of the abuse.

  • A proposal that the time limit for submitting a claim be extended to 7 years.

Again, this will have little practical effect as the vast majority of clients are already well outside this 7-year period.

Redress Scheme

At present victims have two routes to explore, either a civil claim or a claim to the CICA.  The IICSA enquiry suggest a third option – a statutory redress scheme open for a 5-year period.

The scheme does have limits. The Inquiry proposes a two-tier award, but admit damages will be “modest”.  The scheme will only apply to victims of institutional abuse and seems to be aimed at children in care. Damages awarded in other forums (civil claims and CICA claims) must be deducted.

I have tried to imagine scenarios where the statutory redress scheme proposed may be used in preference to a civil claim or CICA claim and it is difficult to envisage many.  Perhaps the possibility of a claimant who has not reported the abuse to the police, but has other supportive evidence;  or possibly someone who was abused before 1964 when the CICA scheme began.

I suspect that this redress scheme will simply be a safety net for victims should their CICA or civil claims fail for some reason.

Overall Summary

A well-intentioned report aimed to help abuse victims, but unlikely to make much significant difference to claimants

Personally, I would have preferred to see much more emphasis on funding the existing CICA scheme so that claims are dealt with more efficiently and ensuring more funding for psychiatric services, especially Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).  In both cases delays of over a year are simply unacceptable.

Farleys has a team of experienced specialists in abuse claims who keep up to date with changes in the law and redress schemes. If you would like to discuss any upcoming or proposed changes and how they might impact a potential claim with the team in confidence, please call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430, contact us by email, or use the online chat below.