Where do I start?
You need to speak to a specialist solicitor. You may feel hesitant or embarrassed to discuss your claim but if you have decided to speak to a specialist firm, you will be dealt with with great sensitivity, and should be afforded the highest level of care, attention and confidentiality.
Choosing a solicitor is probably one of the most important decisions you will make. Some key considerations include:
- whether they will handle your case sensitively and compassionately
- whether they have the skill and expertise in this complex area of law to give you the best possible chance of succeeding
- whether child abuse compensation claims are a significant area of focus for them, i.e. do they mainly or exclusively represent survivors of childhood sexual abuse?
- whether they are accredited, e.g. are they members of ‘APIL’ (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) and/or ‘ACAL’ (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers)?
- whether they have a proven track record in the area of child abuse compensation claims
- whether they have links and strong relationships with survivor support agencies and other experts including barristers and psychiatrists
What information will I have to give my solicitor to start a child abuse claim?
You should try and give as much background as possible e.g. the name of the perpetrator, whether they are still alive, when and where the abuse happened. If your abuser has been convicted, details of the offences for which they were convicted and their prison sentence will be helpful.
You will need to be able to give your solicitor an outline about what happened to you, and who was involved.
If it is possible to get family and professional support to help you around this time, do so.
Will I have to go to the police?
It is always advisable to report childhood sexual abuse to the police. That way, it can be checked whether the abuser is still alive, and if so whether they still has contact with children, which can then be immediately addressed. A good legal representative will advise and support you in making first contact with police.
It is unlikely that you'll be advised to pursue your civil compensation claim until after any criminal proceedings have been concluded.
You will be in the strongest position to succeed in a civil compensation claim if your abuser is convicted for offences against you.
Who can I claim compensation from?
You may have options as to who you can claim compensation from. You can bring a claim against the person who abused you personally, or their employer or the organisation they represented at the time.
Who pays compensation for child abuse?
You can sue your abuser personally if they have substantial assets in the form of property.
Examples of organisations that can be pursued for compensation arising from child abuse are:
- Religious organisations (where the abuser is a religious leader and you form part of their religious group)
- Local authorities (where the abuser is a social worker in a local authority children’s home, or a teacher in a school)
- Care homes (where the abuser is a care worker)
- NHS (where the perpetrator is a doctor, nurse or health assistant employed by the NHS and you were a patient)
- The Scout Association (where the abuser is a Scout leader and you were a Scout)
- Ministry of Defence (where the abuser is a cadet leader and you were a cadet)
- Charitable organisations (where the abuser holds a position of trust and you are in their care or in receipt of their services)
You may also wish to apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority for compensation.
How much compensation will I get?
If you win your case, you will be awarded compensation.
You will be awarded a lump sum (‘general damages’) for your pain and suffering, which relates to the nature of your abuse, how long it went on for, and any psychiatric diagnosis made about you.
This component of your award can be up to several tens of thousands of pounds. In addition, you can recover any out-of-pocket expenses directly related to your abuse (‘special damages’). Some of these financial losses can be easily valued such as traveling expenses to medical appointments and the cost of treatment, while others are more complicated. A lost earnings claim can be claimed if you can prove that your abuse has resulted in your not being able to work.
What time limits apply to a child abuse compensation claim?
The basic rule in English law is that if a person was sexually abused as a child a legal claim must be brought by a person’s 21st birthday. This is particularly difficult and unfair to those who have suffered abuse as a child, as often the effect of childhood sexual abuse is to inhibit disclosure until well into adulthood.
Judges do recognise this difficulty, and therefore have discretion to allow a claim to go forward if brought at a later time. The court must consider the survivor’s reasons for not coming forward sooner, the length of the delay and whether or not a fair trial is possible. When an abuser is dead this becomes particularly problematic.
The time limit problem is usually the biggest hurdle to overcome when bringing a civil compensation claim. The law is continuously changing and developing in this area and therefore it is essential that you seek the advice of a lawyer who is experienced and skilled in this area of law.
Will I need to go to court for a child abuse compensation claim?
Only a very small percentage of cases proceed to trial, and therefore it is unlikely that you will need to go to court. While it cannot be guaranteed that you will avoid having to go to court, most cases settle out of court.
Will I have to pay legal fees for a child abuse compensation claim?
Most firms offer funding arrangements otherwise known as no win, no fee agreements. In a nutshell, if you lose your case your solicitors would not charge you anything, and if you win your case, then a percentage of your compensation would go towards your legal fees but this is capped, usually at 25%. An insurance premium may also be payable from your compensation.
Will I be able to protect my identity?
It is a criminal offence to publish the name or any information leading to the identification of any victim alleging a sexual offence has been committed against them. If court proceedings are issued in your case it is common for an application for anonymity to be made, so that your name will not appear in any court documents.