Examination of Witnesses (Questions 960-967)
MR PHIL FRAMPTON, MR MATTHEW BYRNE, TERESA REYNOLDS AND KATHRYN STONE
TUESDAY 25 JUNE 2002
960. I think that is common ground, yes. I was looking for a way round. Mr Garsden, as he told us, is managing 700-800 of these claims. They are not going to be settled in court but through negotiations after a long and painful period for all concerned and a very expensive one. The proceeds are not, necessarily, going to end up in the pockets of victims, they are going into the pockets of lawyers and insurance companies.
(Mr Frampton) One of the problems I have is that a lot of our people cannot take cases, or are not prepared to, because, unlike some of the people who have come here to report, they do not have £200,000 to spend on a civil case. Therefore, a lot of issues are not being brought up because people do not qualify for Legal Aid, and if you take that away completely you will not have many cases.
961. I think the evidence we have received is that most of these people, for one reason or another, do qualify for Legal Aid.
(Mr Frampton) Most of them. These people, care leavers, are lecturers, social workers, and low-paid workers as well, who do not qualify for Legal Aid. Some of the people you are talking about, the reason why they have come forward is because they do qualify for Legal Aid. So, effectively, you are putting a gag on those particular people.
962. No, we are saying there is an alternative route. It might not lead you to so much money but the advantage is it is quicker and less traumatic, and that is via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
(Mr Frampton) We looked into this with our pro-bono lawyers, Lovells, and we considered that as far as care leavers were concerned it was too much of a back-door issue and the issues were not as clear there as they are in the court, because people want some feeling of strengthnot isolation, not pushed away in a little corner. All right, you have one case for eight years, but that is the extreme, he said. It is like pulling on an extreme to say something to justify an action against impoverished care leavers. What I would simply argue to you is why is this specifically against care leavers, victims of people in care?
963. It would not be.
(Mr Frampton) You would say this is for all child abuse cases?
964. Mr Garsden was telling us, and he said it was partly as a result of his intervention, that Legal Aid was available for this type of personal injury case. We are saying, and I am asking, why should we not therefore take away this discrimination in favour, if you like, of this type of case?
(Mr Frampton) Because it would be a signal that Parliament does not care about care leavers and they are not prepared to give support. They need more positive discrimination. They need more care leavers brought into the system at different levels. They do not need Parliament pushing things back even further.
965. The point I am trying to get my head round is this: witnesses speaking on behalf of the victimsand you are the second or third set so farall say how traumatic it is, and I think everybody can understand why it would be. That leads you to one question: why do they fight to stretch all this out over five to seven years when there might be a way of reducing it, say, to one year? The answer a sceptic might come up with is that it is all about money, although you assure us it is not. Is the answer no?
(Mr Frampton) Yes. When people go to court they go to courtit is the lawyers who, effectively, put it around money issues, because they say "Listen, we might not be able to win this. Shall we battle this one in court? We might lose it, and then you might have to pay this that and the other". Eventually it is "Well, at least they have said sorry by settling it out of court". It is a policy, effectively.
(Mr Byrne) A civil action should punish those who allowed abuse to continue unchecked. We talk about the taxpayers paying for Legal Aid; taxpayers, in some cases, paid to employ staff to abuse children. That is more abhorrent to me. Giving a little bit of Legal Aid to help somebody redress the balance and to use the system that we have here, is something - yes, let us shorten the system, let us make it more streamlined, let us make it more inclusive and see how compensation can punish those systems that recruited and (should have) supervised individuals who abused children. Let us work at it from that point of view and not look at it as being a saving exercise, or looking at it from an Abney Garsden McDonald point of view. Let us look at it from a survivor's point of view, who genuinely wants to punish those who turned a blind eye, those people who had a supervisory responsibility over the staff that did that. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have many other ways of punishing these systems, apart from hitting them in the wallet, and the response to that has been that insurance companies have got involved and people are making money out of this situation, which is a little bit uncomfortable to deal with. I appreciate the motive for the question you are asking is about how can we make this easier. There has to be an easier way, but I do not think that excluding or putting barriers up does that. Maybe if you are talking about questioning the motivations for adults who have experienced child abuse, then bring them in, have a chat with them, see what they think, see what they are talking aboutthe masses that are currently going through Abney Garsden McDonald, who may all want to be engaged in this process. "How can we improve this system? It has taken you five years. It has taken you six years. What would you rather have happen?" In a lot of the cases that Fire in Ice work with, first of all it is seen as dirty money; secondly, it is seen as reliving it, reliving it and reliving it. You understand that completely, because you have experienced that. If we are looking at changing a system, then let us involve those who have been through it in that process, where we can inform it. Sitting here now under this questioning it is probably very difficult to do that.
966. That is the object of the exercise.
(Mr Byrne) Yes, but I am thinking about the process which is probably a bit wider than this. We are looking at questioning the whole civil action, where we eliminate insurance companies.
967. We do not eliminate insurance companies because they are the source of the compensation. It is the fact that homes have often disappeared a long time ago, businesses have gone, that this applies at all. This is taxpayers' money, after all, is it not?
(Mr Byrne) Yes.
(Ms Reynolds) I wanted to come in when you were asking what would be the advantages of retaining the route to civil damages. I can think of two. One is that if a care home, a local authority, think they are at risk of being sued for damages, then it may actually ensure that they put in policies and procedures to ensure that this sort of abuse does not happen. Having that threat hanging over them may actually stop this abuse happening in the first place, which is what everybody wants. The second thing is that the alternative route to criminal injuries compensation is not necessarily availableI have mentioned a couple of things in the evidence I have given about previous convictions, but one of the essential differences, I think, of going through a civil court is that the individual is regarded as equal in that contest, that it is a contest of equals. The experience of going to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and then through to the appeals process, which almost certainly these applicants would have to go through, is very much the victim going cap in hand and saying, "Please believe me" and "I deserve this compensation", having seen the process. So the actual experience would be different, and an abused person I think would experience a different process.
(Ms Stone) No one would want to see somebody being abused again by the system which is supposed to be providing justice for them, and if there is a better way of enabling people to receive compensation for crimes that have been committed against them, then let us have it. What I would not want to do, though, is to exclude people and prevent people, to create more barriers to justice for people. That is not what we want.
David Winnick: With respect, I think we have explored this.
Chairman: I think we have, yes. You have been extremely helpful and you have given us plenty to think about. Thank you very much for coming.