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Government proposals aim to ease path for child sex abuse victims seeking civil claims

Government proposals aim to ease path for child sex abuse victims seeking civil claims


The UK government unveils plans to simplify and reduce trauma for child sexual abuse victims pursuing historic claims through civil courts

The UK government has announced proposals aimed at facilitating the process for victims of child sexual abuse to pursue historic claims through civil courts, unveiled on May 15, 2024. Spearheaded by the Ministry of Justice and Lord Bellamy KC, the plans seek to address the challenges faced by victims in bringing forward claims due to existing legal hurdles.

Currently, child sexual abuse claims must be filed within three years of the claimant turning 18, unless the court grants an extension. However, victims often encounter difficulties in providing evidence to justify an extension, compelling them to relive their traumatic experiences before cases reach the court. As a result, many historic cases cannot progress due to insufficient evidence.

The proposed changes aim to reverse the burden of proof, shifting the responsibility onto defendants to demonstrate that a fair trial is not feasible. This shift is intended to streamline the judicial process and alleviate the burden on survivors, while still safeguarding defendants' rights to a fair trial. Justice Minister Lord Bellamy emphasised the importance of striking a balance between protecting victims' interests and ensuring defendants' rights.

The consultation follows a commitment to explore reforms in response to recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in 2022. It addresses concerns raised by the IICSA regarding the rejection of claims due to time limitations, acknowledging the significant delay victims face in disclosing their abuse.

Furthermore, the government is considering codifying Court of Appeal guidance on factors to consider when extending time limitations into statute. This move aims to ensure consistency in the treatment of extension applications across cases.

While the government does not advocate for the complete removal of limitation periods, it seeks wider views on this option. Limitation periods serve to balance the rights of claimants and defendants, acknowledging the challenges associated with establishing facts over time.

Overall, the proposed reforms reflect the government's commitment to enhancing access to justice for child sexual abuse victims while maintaining fairness in the legal process.