Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Judge calls for abuse law change

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Civil damages cases must be brought within three years.

A senior judge has called for a change in the law which prevents victims of childhood abuse bringing a case for damages to the civil courts.

Currently, all damages cases must be brought within three years.

But Lord McEwan said that the rule meant a generation of abused children could have been failed by the law.

He ruled that the case of woman who claims to have been abused by a police officer 33 years ago could go to a full hearing despite it being time-barred.

A woman, known only as A, has alleged that the abuse began in 1975 when she was aged seven. The man she accused was convicted of abuse, but was later acquitted at the Court of Appeal in 2003.

I also think in a case like this it is quite proper for her to want to vindicate herself against the defender
Lord McEwan

The conviction was quashed because of misdirection by the trial judge.

Woman A then launched a 100,000 damages action, even although the three-year time bar had expired.

She claims she suffered serious mental trauma and that her mind had been "locked off to the abuse".

Several cases alleging childhood abuse have fallen at the time bar hurdle in the Scottish courts.

But giving his ruling on woman A's case at the Court of Session, Lord McEwan said it could go ahead.

He said that when the legislation was drafted it could not have contemplated a case involving "blanking out of abuse, recovered memory and other symptoms".

The judge expressed his hope that the law would be reformed soon.

He added: "I have an uneasy feeling that the legislation and the strict way the courts have interpreted it, has failed a generation of children who've been abused and whose attempts to seek a fair remedy have become mired in the legal system."

Lord McEwan was told that the woman wished her allegations to be vindicated in court.

She admitted that her damages action, which is contested, was raised outwith the three-year time scale allowed for the bringing of such a case.

But her lawyers argued that the judge should use the discretionary powers available to him under the legislation to allow it to proceed.

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