Government Response to IICSA Recommendations
On Monday this week the Government published their response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The Inquiry, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay published its final report in October last year after seven years of investigation which included examining over four million pieces of evidence and hearing more than 6000 individual stories from victims and survivors through the Truth Project. In the concluding report the Inquiry set out 20 recommendations designed to help better protect children from abuse.
In the response announced this week the Government have commented on each of these recommendations however, they have not accepted them in full and have announced a number of further consultations and a call for evidence. This is despite the vast amount of evidence already heard by the Inquiry.
One of the key recommendations of the Inquiry was the introduction of mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. The Inquiry recommends that legislation be introduced placing certain individuals under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse where they receive a disclosure of abuse from a child or perpetrator, witness a child being sexually abused or observe recognised indictors of child sexual abuse. Whilst the Government has accepted this recommendation and agreed to implement a mandatory reporting regime, which I am pleased to see, they have said that the detail will be informed by a full public consultation beginning with a call for evidence. It has already been seven months since the publication of the report and the delays in the publication of the Government response are frustrating. After such extensive evidence gathering already it is perhaps questionable why a further call to evidence is needed as the issues are already well documented. As such I hope that the call for evidence and consultation is dealt with promptly and without further delay.
The Inquiry also recommended that specialist therapeutic support be made available for child victims of sexual abuse. Having worked representing survivors of abuse for many years I can see how important it is for victims and survivors of abuse to have access to the right support – and sadly I have also seen how difficult it can be to access the support. As such I am pleased to see that the Government have said that they will do their utmost to ensure access to high quality support for victims and survivors of abuse regardless of where or when the abuse occurred however, again no clear recommendations have been made and instead, they have indicated that further views will be obtained during the further consultation on victims’ redress.
The Inquiry also made a number of recommendations regarding victims’ redress including a significant recommendation to remove the limitation period for personal injury claims brought by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. As it stands the time limit to bring a claim is three years from the date of incident, or where the abuse took place when under the age of 18, three years from the victim or survivor’s 18th birthday meaning the time limit expires on the individual’s 21st birthday. This is particularly difficult for victims and survivors of abuse as it can often take many years to disclose the horrific and traumatic abuse they have suffered and the impact it has had, meaning that once they are able to so their cases are out of time. In their response the Government recognises that the courts do currently have discretion to disapply the time limit and allow cases to proceed, which they do. However, the time limit barrier undoubtedly makes it harder, and at times impossible for victims and survivors of abuse to achieve redress through the civil courts. As such, the Inquiry recommended that the time limit be removed and instead the burden fall on defendants to show that a fair trial is not possible. Whilst the Government has acknowledged the issue that the Inquiry’s recommendation seeks to remedy instead of taking action to remove this barrier now, they have again said they intend on consulting on strengthening judicial guidance on these cases later this year.
In addition to the recommendation regarding limitation, the Inquiry also recommended the introduction of a national redress scheme for victims and survivors of abuse. In making this recommendation the Inquiry set out a number of the core elements of the scheme including stating that the scheme should be funded by central and local Government with voluntary contributions sought from non-state institutions, that it remains open for 5 years and that the application process must be accessible and straightforward as well as sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of victims and survivors of abuse. The Government has accepted that a scheme is needed but has said that the detail of the scheme needs to be fully considered following extensive engagement and including with victims and survivors, third sector organisations, local authorities and lawyers.
In reply to the Government’s response, the Chair of the Inquiry and the Inquiry’s victim and survivors consultative panel issued a statement expressing their disappointment and concern stating:
“After taking evidence from 725 witnesses during 325 days of public hearings, hearing from over 6000 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse during our truth project and producing 52 reports, we published a concluding report in October last year which including 20 recommendations. These recommendations were a carefully considered set of measures, designed to complement each other to provide a comprehensive world-class framework for the protection of children. We are deeply disappointed that the Government has not accepted the full page of recommendations made in the final report. In some instances, the Government has stated that a number of them will be subject to consultations, despite the extensive research and evidence taking that the Inquiry carried out over seven years.”
Most concerningly they stated that, “The package announced by the Government today will not provide the protection from sexual abuse our children deserve. We ask the Government to reconsider and accept and enact all our recommendations in full.”
I am pleased to see that the Government has recognised the hugely devasting impact that abuse can have, and the history of children not being believed or taken seriously when they had tried to report the abuse. However, whilst it is positive that recommendations have been accepted it is disappointing that they have felt it necessary to announce further consultations and investigations given the body of evidence that the Inquiry heard. What is needed is action, and the sooner the recommendations are implemented the sooner that we can move towards better protecting children from abuse.