These three sections however have potentially huge implications both for the survivors themselves and also for the individuals and authorities who may be about to become defenders. It has been reported that there are hundreds of cases waiting in the wings.
What the Bill does is to remove the three year limitation period which would prevent actions for damages for personal injuries being raised where childhood abuse has taken place. The abuse may have been sexual, physical or emotional. A "child" is defined as an individual under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse. This means that anyone who has been abused since 1964, can bring an action against their abuser and potentially the abuser's employer in certain circumstances. There are technical legal reasons why claims earlier than 1964 are not possible.
This Bill stands outside the arrangements in place for consideration of abuse of children in care by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. The Inquiry's remit is to look at potential abuse of children within its remit back to 1945 but this Bill will only affect those abused after 1964 albeit it will apply to a wider group of survivors.
This may look as if it will open the litigation floodgates and perhaps it will. However it is worth remembering that litigants will still have to prove that they were the victims of abuse and to succeed in obtaining damages they will have to establish harm or loss. Proof may be difficult depending on what records are still available. Many public bodies have record destruction policies which may mean records from decades ago are legally and actually no longer in existence. Institutions and organisations may have come and gone. People, whether perpetrators, witnesses or the fellow abused may no longer be around or may be difficult to trace.
The Bill sets out circumstances where an action cannot be brought. This will be a matter for the Court where it is satisfied it would not be possible for a fair hearing to take place or where particular prejudice may occur to a defender, again making an action unfair. It remains to be seen how this will be decided in practice.
The Justice Committee has now issued a call for evidence and Stage 1 of the Bill is to be completed by 28th April 2017. It is unlikely therefore that the Bill will be passed before autumn 2017 at the earliest.
This may be a small Bill but to those it will impact it has the potential to be very important. It is no doubt only the first Bill in what is likely to be a very important session of the Scottish Parliament with complex legislation completing the implementation of the Scotland Acts 2012 and 2016. We will see tax and social security legislation introduced for a start. Legislative competence to set the Scottish rate of income tax was transferred from Westminster to Holyrood on St Andrew's Day, 30th November 2016. The year 2017/18 will be the first year it is to be applied. Nothing stands still.
If the UK Government Art 50 timetable for leaving the EU by March 2019 is realised we can also expect both EU and domestic constitutional legislation. The Scottish Government will also be carrying on the day job of governing Scotland with all the legislation that will require. All in all this fifth Session may be starting with a small Bill, but it has the potential to be very interesting and challenging for the Parliament and its committees as well as those who think of ourselves as legislation geeks.