Thousands of people abused by those they lived with may never gain legal redress for their suffering despite a law change brought about to end 40 years of injustice, a leading lawyer has warned.
The Government is finally overturning the ‘same roof rule’ law which has been in place since 1964 and has prevented victims of violent crimes carried out before 1979 receiving compensation if the perpetrator lived with them.
It is estimated that at least 4,000 people have been denied damages through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) – a Government-run scheme established 55 years ago to help innocent victims of crime receive the support and compensation needed to get their life back on track – because of the law.
Victims of attacks and abuse by people they lived with were initially excluded from being able to seek financial recompense to prevent the perpetrators benefiting from the CICA award.
This law was changed on October 1, 1979, but only retrospectively. That law is now being overturned and those affected could now reapply for compensation.
Abuse survivors need to know law is now on their side
Despite this, experienced abuse claims lawyer Malcolm Johnson, of Hudgell Solicitors, says many survivors will still not be aware that the law is finally on their side.
He said: “Many survivors have lived with the effects of this abuse, and felt the impact of this legal injustice, for more than four decades. It is important they now know the law is working in their favour.
“We are not talking about minor cases of abuse here. A lot of the people affected have endured unimaginable levels of pain and suffering through no fault of their own.
“Given this positive change in the law, the sad thing is that many people – possibly thousands – will not be aware of the change and, after more than four or five decades, may not know they are entitled to damages for the abuse they endured.
“Most people won’t be aware that it was the ‘same roof’ law which prevented them from being awarded damages. There is a danger that this change in law could lead to many victims missing out again and not applying.
“We are talking about the majority of people who are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, many of whom may not only have lived for decades with the trauma of what happened to them, but also a feeling that the legal system did not help to support them.
“Should they never realise that the law has finally, and quite rightfully, recognised their suffering, it would be a tragic outcome.”
Victims can apply for compensation even with minimal evidence
Mr Johnson, who helped set up the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, is urging anyone who may have been affected in this way to come forward and seek the justice they deserve – even if they don’t have any evidence of the abuse.
He explained: “People often don’t come forward because they do not think they will have sufficient evidence to prove or back up their abuse allegations, especially if there were no criminal hearings or convictions. However, we can tap into a variety of sources, some of which date back years, to help verify what went on.
“These include personal records which are held by Social Services, records of police investigations, the health service or a GP. Sometimes people have reported ‘psychological’ problems and this in itself is an indication of the abuse they suffered. If someone was convicted of abuse years later, we can also use this as evidence.”
Those affected include people who were abused prior to 1979 by a mother, father, step-parent, grand-parent or another family member who shared the same accommodation.
However, Mr Johnson says many who applied directly to the CICA themselves must also now be made aware of the matter.
Mr Johnson added: “Our specialist lawyers have long monitored the legal position with regards to this law given our extensive work in handling CICA claims, leading to the landmark Court of Appeal ruling last June which agreed the law discriminated against victims prior to 1979.
“Young children who were abused didn’t have the option of leaving or the chance to escape, and those people can now, late in adult life, seek justice.
“Sadly, I don’t imagine the CICA will be contacting people directly.
“Unfortunately, these people have never had access to the justice they deserve, but now that the law has changed, I would urge anyone who has suffered in this way to come forward.
“Whilst I understand that nothing can erase or heal the events which happened in the past, bringing a case is something which can give closure to many people, as it is official recognition from the legal system of their suffering.”