Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Is there a new wave of abuse compensation claims?

This is the question I was asked by a researcher from BBC Wales who referred me to two articles on the BBC News website. She was wondering if things were changing because of all the publicity, and perhaps that local authorities would not be able to afford claims for massive damages akin to the American system. The answer to the question is simply that because of all the publicity more people are coming forward to the police wanting to prosecute their abusers, and to lawyers, wanting to pursue claims for abuse against either their abuser of his/her employer if appropriate.

The two articles I was referred to were "Lawyers seek US-style damages for abuse at public schools" which is an article sourced by some American Lawyers who have come over from the States, where damages are many times higher in value than in the UK, not just in the field of abuse, but also generally. This is for two reasons:-
  1. American Lawyers are paid a percentage of damages - as high as 40% in some cases on what is called a contingency fee basis - now legal in England since April 2013 but in a slightly different form - damage based agreements.
  2. Juries often assess damages - their view of how valuable a case is often tops to some degree what a conservative judge might think.
I do agree that United Kingdom damages are too low. When one considers that abuse is a life long period of suffering, then compensation of between £30,000 and £50,000 is to little. It equates to about a nice Starbucks coffee per day. The problem is that the ceiling for damages is scaled down from the most serious injuries, the figure for which is not high enough. The figures are set down by the Judicial Studies Board Guildelines. Even though a 10% increase was announced in April 2013, UK damages dwarf the US.

The other article announced that a group of 10 new claimants had come forward to make claims against Cardiff County Council for abuse committed by an employee called David Leighton Davies who had been convicted for offences at Cyntwell High School in Ely as long ago as 1977. The article made it clear that it was the insurers were responsible for meeting the awards, but still there was a worry that it might affect the finances of a local education authority.

My points were:-
  1. The attitude of the police to investigating past incidents of abuse has changed radically due to new guidelines brought out by Keir Starmer, and in response to cases like Jimmy Savile.
  2. There is a feeling by the authorities that celebrities were allowed license to abuse young girls in the gaze of those in authority many years ago, and that this should never happen again - hence Operation Yewtree and the many prosecutions of celebrities presently taking place.
  3. More disclosures of abuse is a good thing. Victims should not have to keep their secrets hidden for fear that the events were their fault, or that they will not be believed.
  4. Disclosure can be painful, but is better out than in. There is an abundance now of support by way of counselling and charitable groups that can assist any individual go through the process.
  5. It is now much more acceptable to admit that someone has been abused in childhood, indeed it is commonly on the news almost daily. Most victims remain, however, ashamed and silent. It is understandable. 
  6. What we are now witnessing in the media is still the tip of the iceberg.
I don't think we will ever reach the heights of American damages for victims going to the Courts of England and Wales. Victims do, however, deserve more than they get. Let us hope there is no backlash designed to squash genuine claims like there was around 2001 and 2002, when the Home Office launched an enquiry into alleged false allegations of abuse from children's homes - for which see my previous blog.

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