Apologies in child abuse cases – do they work?

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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I was reading about a new law in Scotland, the Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016 which was passed by the Holyrood Parliament on the 19th January 2016.

Under this Act, a Defendant can make an apology, without admitting liability and without that apology being used in subsequent legal proceedings. England and Wales has no such equivalent law.

For some years, victims of child abuse have been pressing for public institutions to give apologies for their failure to protect children from physical and sexual abuse. However institutions are generally backed by insurance companies, who forbid their insured from making any kind of apology, even when the claims brought against them are settled. There is anecdotal evidence of solicitors obtaining apologies, and in fact I obtained such an apology for a client following a round table meeting, which was attended by representatives of the institution. There is considerable evidence that the making of an apology can be highly effective in addressing the key needs of the people to whom they are made.

There are also precedents for the 2016 Act in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Apologising for injuring another person is an act of morality, and sometimes is worth more to the injured person than an offer of compensation.

I am about to attend a meeting of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers to discuss the Association’s approach to the Goddard Inquiry. Perhaps this is something the Association can take forward. 

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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