Over the last couple of weeks I have been involved in three separate initiatives all of which could spell change to the way in which we deal with claims on behalf of the victims of historic sexual abuse.
Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
Last week I was invited for the second time to take part in a seminar with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). In addition to the four panel members various experts in CICA claims on behalf of abuse victims were invited to discuss the present state of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and how well it compensated those who have suffered sexual abuse.
We discussed many interesting issues. One of the big difficulties with the scheme at present is that it does not recognise certain types of abuse where there is no element of coercion or violence. The scheme is set up to compensate victims of violence and therefore does not take into account online grooming or relationships that may be deemed “consensual” despite an age gap. It does not recognise the terrible injury that could be caused to someone by revenge pornography. It does not seem to be keeping pace with developments in technology.
We also discussed the problems with funding and the complexities of the time limits that apply to these claims.
Dame Alexis Jay and the panel listened with interest to the delegates discussions and it was wholly unfortunate that the CICA themselves declined the invitation to attend.
Having taken part in two separate seminars I feel sure that the IICSA are looking closely at both the Civil Justice System and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and will be making proposals in the long term as to how these schemes can either be replaced or amended to better serve the interests of the victims of abuse.
Proposed Changes to Protocol
I also attended a meeting last week with Master McCloud and various firms/insurance companies who deal in the area of historic sexual abuse.
Master McCloud is an eminent and experienced Judge with expertise in historic abuse cases. She has drawn together a committee of many leading solicitors to look at how these claims are initially dealt with. Protocols have been prepared which will govern these claims in the same way as the Personal Injury Protocol deals with Personal Injury actions. Many of the ideas that I have seen will improve the way in which these claims are handled. A two-stage process involving an initial notification letter and then a full Letter of Claim once records are obtained is eminently sensible and something I have been pressing Defendants to do for a number of years. Other more radical proposals aim to see that abuse victims have immediate access to the treatment they so often need from appropriately qualified psychiatrists. This protocol is presently in its infancy but it will undoubtedly improve the way in which we work if it is eventually adopted by the Judiciary.
In February I prepared a paper for submission to Mr Justice Jackson in relation to fixed costs. Many other lawyers including the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers produced similar papers. The general theme was the same. Fixed costs should not apply to abuse claims. If fixed costs are brought in it will decimate this area of work. Victims will find it incredibly difficult to access justice. Abuse claims are not suitable for Claimants in person. They are complex and expensive cases often involving research of documents going back many decades. Social Services records often have to be obtained and considered and these alone can run to tens of thousands of pages.
Representations have therefore been put to Mr Justice Jackson such that he must very carefully consider the extent to which changes to the fixed cost regime impact upon the victims of abuse and their access to justice. He would do well to talk to Dame Alexis Jay and Master McCloud to present a coordinated view to how these changes may impact on abuse victims.
We are in a time of change. The Civil Justice system generally is constantly being reviewed and all areas of the work we do on behalf of abuse victims is currently under scrutiny. From what I have seen during the last month the proposed changes will be positive as long as the fixed cost regime is not allowed to impact on the quality of representation available to the victims of historic abuse.
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