Timebar. It sounds dull and lawyerly. And in many ways it is. The legal theory goes that it is about making the law on claiming compensation fair. Words like “equitable” are often used. In short, the law holds that wrongdoers shouldn’t have the threat of compensation hanging over their heads for ever. A victim should have a reasonable period of time to make a claim. But, if they wait too long to enforce that right by bringing court proceedings forward, then the right is lost for ever.
Hmmm. To be honest, it doesn’t sit that comfortably with me on any level. In a nutshell, the law doesn’t deny that they wrongdoer did something wrong; something that ought to result in them paying fair compensation. It simply gives them a get out of gaol card. And that’s where I have real problem. This isn’t a game. This is real people. Real victims. Real victims of wrongs whose lives have been damaged by somebody else.
So, I’m very sceptical that the law on timebar can ever be described fair or just or equitable. That is no more glaring than in relation to victims of historic abuse.
I was therefore very pleased to see that one of the first things that the Scottish Government did when it was reinstalled after the recent election was to publish a paper to correct the brutally unfair timebar rules for victims of historic abuse.
This was true to the promises made by the First Minister in the lead up to the Scottish election. It’s affirmed that the current law was unjustifiable and it has to be changed by statute. The government paper included a draft Bill. The Bill is extremely short and is therefore very easy to take forward; and yet its impact as a force for good to provide justice for victims is immeasurable. All that is needed now is for the Scottish Government to take the matter forward into its first legislative programme and indeed prioritise the Bill within that legislative programme. Morally, it is incontrovertible, politically it is unarguable; the Tories may even vote in its favour. Practically, the Bill is very short and will therefore require only the most basic of scrutiny by the Justice Committee.
It is a Bill that could be on the Statute Book within 12 months. In my opinion there is absolutely no reason why the Bill should not form part of our law within that period.
We all know the phrase that justice delayed is justice denied. In the context of historical abuse, that is not correct. For as long as the Scottish Parliament delay in bringing forward legislation there is absolutely no justice for the victims at all.
We are in a strange parallel universe where the Conservatives are the official opposition in the Scottish Parliament. They were elected as the “Ruth Davidson is dead nice and will never give up on the Union party” but as an opposition they are the Tories. That has made history.
It is time to make real history. The Scottish Government must make their Bill to support victims of historical abuse a legislative priority. That will force the Tories to take a stand. We will then see (as well it ought to be) if the Bill will be the first to be passed by the Scottish Parliament unanimously under the opposition of the Tories.
Too many years have passed. Too many people continue to suffer. Every victim of historical abuse deserves fair and just recompense. That cannot begin until the Bill has passed and as a lawyer representing victims of historical abuse I demand that the Scottish Government act and they act immediately.
Blog by Patrick McGuire, Partner