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Timebar in Historic Abuse Cases: A Roadblock for Justice?

Proceedings against a man accused of historic child sex abuses have been abandoned, after the accused successfully appealed a Sheriff’s decision to allow the Crown more time to prepare.

The 77 year old Appellant had been indicted following four alleged incidents said to have taken place when the Appellant was between 14 and 20 years of age. The alleged victims were his sister and sister-in-law, who were between 5 and 15 years of age at the respective times.

The Crown failed to secure evidence from a key witness timeously. The Sheriff subsequently adjourned proceedings in December 2016. However, the High Court of Justiciary ruled that the Sheriff had not taken account of the protracted case history, and that the fault for delay ‘lay squarely with the Crown’.

The fundamental purpose of the law is to secure just outcomes on a case by case basis. Procedural rules exist to facilitate the progress of delivering justice, and are not intended to present as impediments. However, in the present case, the High Court has arguably focused itself on the mechanical application of the law, rather than contemplate what we colloquially term ‘the bigger picture’. The Sheriff seemingly considered matters from this perspective, looking beyond the undeniable botching of proceedings on the part of the Crown (which duly played its role in 13 continued ‘first’ diets, or hearings, and 5 extensions of the 12 month time bar period for bringing proceedings!). In adjourning proceedings, the Sheriff stated with pragmatic frankness that it is futile to ‘…pore over the minutes and examine which party’s motion caused the delay…’.

Nonetheless, the High Court overturned the Sheriff’s decision, and it appears that no judgment will ever be made on whether the Appellant was guilty or innocent.

The present case draws a grim spotlight on the plight of victims of sexual abuse. Though criminal justice has failed the victims, it is possible that respite might be found under civil law. A 3 year time bar exists for victims seeking to raise civil actions for damages for historic abuse. However, ray of hope may shine on victims in the form of rumoured legislation by the Scottish Parliament, which would allow victims to re-raise claims for damages in respect of historic abuse, even if previous actions have failed.

One can only hope that Parliament is ever mindful of situations where victims of horrific abuse have been failed by a legal system which has, on occasion, failed to attain its mantle: Justice.

If you would like to discuss making a claim in respect of historic abuses suffered, please feel free to contact McCarthy Law on 0141 337 6678, or via e-mail: