Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)
MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
440. Is that per client or per group?
(Mr Garsden) Per client.
441. So how many might there be in a group?
(Mr Garsden) It varies.
442. Give me some examples.
(Mr Garsden) It varies between 10 and 70.
443. So split the difference and say 50, 50 times 5, so the limit might be a quarter of a million.
(Mr Garsden) That is over a three, four, five year period.
444. I understand that.
(Mr Garsden) Some of these cases started in 1995 and they still have not settled.
(Mr Garsden) The only way to run a successful personal injury department is the way in which the general personal injury market works, which is that you are paid when you win and you are paid a much higher rate than you are paid on legal aid, and that is the way legal aid works. The difference is, in the general personal injury market the turnover is far higher and you are being paid at a much higher hourly rate. It is the cash flow problem that I am experiencing.
446. You seem to be suggesting you are running a vocation service here.
(Mr Garsden) Do I?
447. The amounts of money you are saying are being generated and the staff you have, it is interesting how that tallies with your web page where you talk about "generating increasing work, investment in the future" and so on.
(Mr Garsden) That is what we are doing. We are investing in staff. When you are investing in staff, you are not investing in profit, you are using such little profit there is to invest in computers, desks, a huge professional indemnity premium which we never use, and all the other consequent expenses which go with a rapidly expanding business. Many businesses which expand as rapidly as mine has have gone under because they cannot cope with the increasing demands on capital reserves. We have had to move premises. Whether you believe me or not, I promise you the last eight years have been the toughest and the most psychologically-damaging of my professional career.
448. But you are telling the Committee that virtually your entire business concentrates on this one narrow aspect of legal work?
(Mr Garsden) Yes, it does.
449. You need a constant production line and stream of complainants in order to keep that going?
(Mr Garsden) Presumably, yes, the same as any legal business.
(Ms Swaine) Can it be taken in the context of any firm which runs a personal injury department, or perhaps any legal firm running any department at all? There will be ups and downs over a period of so many decades according to which area is most likely to be producing clients, according to which area is most likely to be not doing so well. There was a big dip in the conveyancing market when the rules on conveyancing changed. I do not know anything about Mr Garsden's business as such but
450. Ms Swaine, your practice does not deal virtually 100 per cent with this one narrow field of
(Ms Swaine) No, it does not, but as a matter of fact
451. That is the difference, is it not?
(Ms Swaine)my particular practice, Leigh Day & Co, deals almost entirely with personal injury claims, so although we are not just looking at this specific area we are similarly blighted by changes in things like conditional fee agreements or the Legal Aid Fund, and we would respond accordingly. You have not actually put the point I think you were trying to make about business, and I am sure there is not any insinuation that business is being generated inappropriately, but if somebody becomes very well known in a particular field in a market where there are not that many people providing a direct service, they are going to be the person to whom people flock for help and advice. That must be so.
452. I am grateful for clarification.
(Mr Garsden) Thank you for that, that is very true. If I could add one further point. I think the insinuation is that there is something perhaps a little unprofessional about the way I operate which I respond to very vigorously, because it is an insult to my professional integrity and quite wrong to say so. What you have to ask me is how much time, how much of my waking time, I spend doing charitable work. I can promise you for the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers last year, because we recorded it, I spent 750 hours doing pro bono charitable work for professional organisations. I have also set up two other charities. One is called Citizens' Advocacy in Macclesfield, which deals with the rights of people with learning disabilities, and I helped set up that charity because I believe in the subject matter. I have also helped set up a charity called Abuse Watch, the website of which I notice you have not quoted from, which is a charity which lobbied Parliament for changes in sex offender legislation and was prominent in bringing about the sex offenders register in 1998. That is the sort of person I am. I do an awful lot of pro bono work, so I resent any sort of insinuation that I am anything less than professional. It is discourteous and rude.
453. Forgive us for pressing these points. I realise it is a little tacky to talk about money but we are not actually relying on allegations made by other witnesses, although there have been some, we are dealing with your own website. I have in front of meI think it has come from your website but you can correct me if I am wrongan item headed "Most Enterprising Firm of the Year and Litigation Team of the Year entry", which then goes on to spell out the details of the entry.
(Mr Garsden) Yes. We did not win.
454. Exactly. It does seem extraordinary that even the entry is written out over the course of several pages when you did not actually win.
(Mr Garsden) There is justification for you.
455. It is written in rather provocative terms. This is from the application"Employees: a rise in staff of 1000 per cent since 1997. Building: We have moved from a small high street office to a large three-storey building and expansion continues. Media Exposure: Mr Garsden . . . has made numerous appearances on national and local television discussing the subject of child abuse . . ." and so on. That is where this idea comes from, however unfair it is, that possibly there is a rabbit away somewhere.
(Mr Garsden) I am very proud of the success I have achieved, but it has brought with it personal casualty. I do not think there is any doubt about that.
456. You are the author of your website, are you?
(Mr Garsden) I am.
457. There is an article here dated 25 April 2000 which saysand it is only a small point"Peter Garsden is the guest of the day on the Nicky Campbell show on Radio 5. He . . .", Nicky Campbell, ". . . normally interviews stars like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer." What are we to make of that?
(Mr Garsden) What actually happened on that programme was I sat around a table with a lot of experienced journalists and told them how damaging it is to do this type of work and watched them fill up and be much more empathetic than, quite frankly, the people around this table.
458. I have no complaint about you appearing on Radio 5, some of us have even appeared on Radio 5, but we do not write it up on our websites.
(Mr Garsden) I have looked at several of your websites
459. I do not have one, so that saved you some time.
(Mr Garsden) I know but certain members of the Committee do, and I have certainly looked at one of them, and I am looking at her right now. That is certainly market orientated and boasts of how successful she is. She even had, this particular member of the Committee, a national launch of the website because it was a good marketing opportunity. Fair is fair, this is an equal and level playing field and most Members of Parliament have websites and I have looked at most of yours.