A simple overview of the civil claims process
Survivors of abuse are often unaware that they are not limited to only seeking justice through the criminal process. Pursuing financial compensation in respect of the abuse they have suffered is also possible through the civil courts. This is known as a civil claim.
In this blog, I explain the civil claims process, so that any survivor of abuse reading this can assess whether they would like to make a civil claim and the process they can expect to follow when they are ready to explore their legal options.
In what circumstances can you make a civil claim for abuse?
You may have a claim directly against the individual who abused you, or if the abuser was representing an organisation at the time of the abuse, such as a teacher at a school, you may be able to make your claim against the organisation they represented. This includes but is not limited to:
- ‘Professional’ foster carers employed by social services to care for you,
- Leaders or volunteers within a religious community,
- Coaches or volunteers for sports teams,
- Leaders or volunteers in cadet, scout, or guide groups.
Pursuing a claim against your abuser directly can be difficult. This is because individual abusers do not usually have insurance, so instead we will need to establish that they either have assets, such as property, which can be sold, or enough money in the bank to be able to pay both your compensation and legal fees.
Conversely, organisations usually have insurance in place and can therefore pay you your deserved compensation and also cover your legal fees.
Are there any time limits to making a claim?
There are unfortunately time limits for making a civil claim regardless of whether you are making a claim against the individual abuser or the representing organisation.
For adult abuse claims, the claim needs to be issued at court within three years from the date the incident/abuse took place; however, if the abuse happened when you were a child, your claim needs to be issued before your 21st birthday.
However, due to the trauma experienced with abuse claims, it is not uncommon for these claims to be brought long after this time limit has passed. These claims can be allowed to proceed to trial, so long as the court thinks there can be still a fair trial and that there are good reasons for the delay.
These good reasons may include poor mental health and the difficulties of speaking up about something as traumatic as child abuse. At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we are very experienced in persuading the court to disapply the time limit and allow the claim to proceed.
What is the process of bringing a civil claim of abuse?
Understandably, it can be overwhelming thinking about the idea of pursuing a claim for abuse. Abuse can be extremely difficult and upsetting to speak about. However, you may find that speaking out plays an important role in your recovery process, helping you to move forward and secure justice.
At Bolt Burdon Kemp, a solicitor who specialises in abuse claims is always on hand to support you through the process of making a claim.
Set out below is the process of bringing a claim so that you can fully understand what to expect:
- An initial chat
Once you decide to contact a solicitor regarding a potential claim, your solicitor will first obtain the details of the abuse and advise whether a civil claim can be brought. At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we assess your claim free of charge and provide a full, confidential consultation.
- Arranging funding
If your solicitor can establish that you have good grounds for a claim, they will discuss their legal fees with you. At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we offer conditional fee agreements that are often referred to as “no win, no fee” agreements.
- Investigating your case
Next, your solicitor will begin to carry out initial enquiries including:
- If there has been a police investigation, we will obtain copies of your police records including any statements made by you,
- If your abuser has been prosecuted, we will get in touch with the Crown Prosecution Service and the relevant court to obtain the relevant documents to your case,
- If your claim is made against social services, we may need to review your social services records,
- We will also obtain and review any other relevant documents including your medical, educational and employment records,
- If necessary, we may need to speak to witnesses once agreed with you.
- Progressing your case
Once all these initial enquiries are complete, your solicitor will then arrange to meet with you, either in person or via a telephone conference to discuss your claim and agree a plan. We may instruct one of our trusted barristers who we use regularly to help formulate a strategy to progress your case.
- Setting out the details of your claim
Next, we will draft a formal letter to the defendant setting out the details of your claim. It is at this point they will be made aware that you are intending to bring a claim against them.
- Medical Evidence
We will instruct an expert psychiatrist to interview you when you’re ready and provide a medical report for the case. This will help us value your claim so that we can make an offer of settlement to the defendant.
Once we have a medical report from the psychiatrist, we will discuss this in detail with you, and value your claim accurately.
- Response from the defendant
By this point, we should have received a formal response from the defendant acknowledging your claim. If they admit liability, we may send them the evidence we have obtained and attempt to negotiate a settlement of your claim.
If they don’t admit liability, we will issue court proceedings and pursue the case to a trial if necessary. It is important to note the vast majority of cases (98%) don’t go to trial but are instead settled through negotiation.
We understand that financial compensation can never take back what an abuser has done, but it can assist survivors to rebuild their lives and provide some security for their future.
Bolt Burdon Kemp works closely with NAPAC to understand the effects of trauma on individuals and our solicitors are empathetic listeners who will always strive to make our clients feel heard, validated, and believed.
If you would like help discussing the different routes to justice, you can contact the abuse team at BBK any time for some free and confidential advice on the right option for you.