Pursuing An Abuse Claim – The Fight For Justice

Lord Janner, who is accused of 22 counts of sexual abuse against boys aged 16 and under, dating from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, was ordered to attend a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court where, despite Lord Janner purportedly suffering from severe dementia, the Chief Magistrate ruled that his attendance was mandatory. This Order followed 6 victims’ requests for an independent review, overruling the June decision by the Director of Public Prosecution that Lord Janner was unfit to stand trial.

The independent review was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. However the Trial will not be an ordinary criminal trial but instead a “trial of the facts” as Lord Janner is deemed unable to give evidence.

This scenario is alas all too common now due to public bodies’ failure to investigate the facts in a timely manner in the 1980’s/90’s when Lord Janner was not suffering from dementia and when a fair trial could have been conducted, unhindered by ill-health of the accused.

Bringing a case now against Lord Janner has proved to be a controversial decision with some writers accusing the victims of seeking a prosecution that will serve no reasonable purpose, as there can be no finding of “guilt” or a conviction. Some submit that the alleged assailant cannot be properly investigated due to the length of time passed since the incidents took place and his ill-health. In other (high profile) cases there have been such investigations and trials even after the (alleged) assailant’s death.

So why are investigations and trials proceeding in cases such as that of Lord Janner, why an investigation into Edward Heath, former Prime Minister? Fundamentally because it is in the public interest to have proceedings before a criminal court- a victim’s right to be heard.

Teresa May’s creation of an independent panel to look into allegations of historical sexual abuse followed revelations that a dossier of child sex abuse allegations was sent to the late Leon Brittan, when he was Home secretary in the 1980s, and the dossier was ultimately ignored. The dossier has since been lost by the Home Office!

As early as 2012 the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit launched an investigation into activities AT Elm House Guest House in South-West London, and was known as Operation Fairbank, when it became a full criminal investigation it became “Operation Fernbridge”. Theresa May’s creation of an independent panel was the government’s overdue response to these criminal investigations and since her announcement a further “Operation Midland” set up in November 2014 is the police inquiry into claims powerful men from politics, the military and law enforcement agencies abused children in the 1970s and 1980s. There are believed to be more than 600 current police probes. The investigation covering England & Wales has sent notices to 243 institution to hold onto childcare records.

The Courts and the public are standing united to ensure that those who were already failed by society with the Politicians/ Care homes/ Churches allegedly facilitating sexual abuse and then the Leon Brittan dossier being ignored are not failed for a third time.

Financial compensation cannot make up for years of suffering both during and following sexual abuse but can be used as a platform for a new start in life.   Financial compensation for victims of sexual abuse can, to many, seem distasteful, and not the correct remedy for such a crime but unfortunately for the vast majority of sexually abused victims, the abuse can have life changing effects on the individual, their ability to enjoy meaningful relationships, to reach their potential in a work environment etc.

By instigating a claim a victim has already shown tremendous courage simply by speaking about their experience. Compensation can be put to good use to obtain medical help on a private basis which often becomes necessary as the NHS limited resources struggle to meet the demands of those with mental health problems.

Civil Law dictates that a claim for compensation must be brought within a certain time scale (ordinarily 3 years) and this is known as “limitation”. However for historic sexual abuse claims, the Courts can and frequently are using their discretion to extend these timescales to afford justice to the victims such is the judiciary response to the heinous crimes committed.

For many victims, should they be able to prove that there was a sufficiently close relationship between the person abusing the victim and e.g. their employer (or other third party through whom/which the abuse has been facilitated), be it a Church, police force, Council or NHS body then this will satisfy the principle of ‘vicarious liability’ and the Employers (or other said third party) may well be held responsible.

Instead of, or as well as a civil claim, the victim may have grounds for a claim for compensation from the government body, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). CICA claims again ordinarily have strict timescales for reporting to the police ( generally 48 hours as an absolute maximum) and for lodging claims (generally 2 years), however, like the judiciary, the CICA is taking a sympathetic approach with time limits, to reflect the horrific consequences these crimes can have on the victim. However as with a civil claim, reporting an incident as early as possible will facilitate police investigation and continued co-operation with the police is crucial.

Delay in reporting a claim can be the biggest obstacle to overcome – a victim still needs to explain why a claim has not been made earlier and this can entail reliance upon evidence of the consequences of the crimes in terms of the mental and physical health of the victims in years following the abuse and life events which may have prevented contacting police or legal representative or other personal issues.

Pursuing an abuse claim is not a mechanistic process but requires skilled and experienced Lawyers who can assist getting support from medical and mental health care professionals and charities and other support networks at the outset and help the client prepare for the journey ahead.

An experienced and sensitive solicitor will assist the client through their claim. Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd has a wealth of experience and appropriate contacts to facilitate successful claims in this complex and sensitive area of litigation.

Edel Whalley, Associate Solicitor, Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd