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Financial redress scheme for victims of historic child abuse - Stage 1 Committee report published

Pamela Stevenson, Partner highlights a small number of the issues that the Committee considered and reported on.

Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill – Stage 1 committee report published

As outlined in our earlier articles, (September 2019, March 2020 and August 2020) the Scottish Government has committed to a statutory financial redress scheme for survivors of in-care child abuse in the form proposed in the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill.

The Education and Skills Committee has now considered the Bill at Stage 1 and published its Stage 1 report as part of the normal parliamentary process to reflect the evidence heard by the Committee. The report is lengthy and this article highlights a small number of the issues that the Committee considered and reported on.

Some observations and recommendations of the Committee in the Stage 1 report:

  • The definition of ‘abuse’, in particular in relation to corporal punishment; the Scottish Government should revisit this part of the Bill to reassure victims/survivors that the excessive use of corporal punishment will be taken into account and also suggested that thought should be given to how to communicate this information so that victims/survivors are not inadvertently deterred from applying under the scheme.
  • Whilst there was a need to clearly define who could apply to the scheme, there should be scope for Redress Scotland to consider some cases on an exceptional basis where, apart from the requirement to have been placed in care by the state, victims/survivors would otherwise have been eligible for redress. The Committee was mindful of the fact that historically parents placing children in voluntary care was much more common.
  • Waiver & 'Fair and Meaningful' Contributions; there were some fundamental issues with the Bill's waiver provisions and the way in which 'fair and meaningful' contributions to the scheme by care providers are calculated.
  • Apologises and non-financial redress;
    • Non-financial redress often extends far beyond the provision of emotional support and a meaningful apology and is something that should be tailored to victims'/survivors' individual needs; the Scottish Government should reflect on the type of support that has been offered to victims/survivors by other redress schemes with a view to replicating examples of good practice in a Scottish context.
    • Any apology offered to a victim/survivor should be meaningful and offered at an appropriately senior level of an organisation and the language of that apology should be both dignified and respectful and should demonstrate accountability for the abuse experienced and, where possible, should reflect the victim's/survivor's own needs, in terms of what would help them find closure.
    • That training and guidance on meaningful apologies should be provided by the Scottish Government to care providers to ensure that all victims/survivors receive a meaningful apology that is tailored to their personal circumstances and needs. The provision of this training and guidance should not be conditional on organisations making a 'fair and meaningful' contribution to the redress scheme.
  • That various different ‘qualifying dates’ in relation to different aspects of the Bill be revisited with a view to there being some greater alignment between them.
  • The roll of insurers in the scheme? Given the voluntary nature of the redress scheme the Committee heard no evidence to suggest that insurance companies will contribute to the scheme on behalf of policyholders meaning that the care providers themselves are likely to have to meet the full costs of contributions from their own funds. The Scottish Government should revisit this key element of the Bill.
  • The Bill provides support to victims/survivors to access their records; care provider records systems should be reviewed prior to the redress scheme commencing to ensure that accessing care records and any other documents that might be required to support an application under the scheme are available to make the process as stress free as possible for victims/survivors.
  • There should be a statutory obligation in the Bill which would require the Scottish Government to undertake a review whether to extend the scheme after the first four years.

Overall conclusions of the Committee on the general principles of the Bill:

  • The Committee welcomed:
    • The general principles of the Bill and in particular its commitment to ensuring effective redress and remedy to abuse victims/survivors and acknowledged that victims/survivors had been fighting for redress for many years and that the scheme is designed to provide an accessible alternative to civil litigation. For victims/survivors who were abused prior to 1964 the scheme will provide a means of accessing reparation for their abuse where previously there was none;
    • The efforts that have been made by the Scottish Government to work with victim/survivor communities to shape many aspects of the Bill and hoped that this engagement will continue as the Bill progresses.
  • The redress scheme will not provide the solution all victims/survivors are seeking and that some victims/survivors may still wish to pursue a different route. Also, some survivors will be unable to benefit from the scheme due to the way in which they found themselves in care.
  • Whilst there are some fundamental issues with the Bill's waiver provisions and the way in which 'fair and meaningful' contributions to the scheme are calculated, the Bill provides a straightforward, easy to access scheme and that will play a vital role in helping victims/survivors obtain the redress and remedy to which they are entitled.
  • The Committee commended the general principles of the Bill to the Scottish Parliament, recommended that they be agreed and looked forward to considering the Bill at Stage 2.

The next stage in the parliamentary process is the debate of the Committee’s Stage 1 report and conclusions which will take place on 17 December 2020 whereafter the Committee will consider the Bill again at Stage 2.

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