Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)

MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE

TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002

  420. What actually are these witnesses taught then?
  (Mr Garsden) What does that piece of paper tell you?

  421. It says here, "Courtroom Skills for Adults who have been Sexually Abused in Childhood".
  (Mr Garsden) It goes on to give a full explanation, does it not, of the make-up and content of the course. You have the advantage of me in that you are reading from a piece of paper I do not have, and the website outlines the course very clearly.

  422. Are you telling the Committee that at no stage does the coaching involve helping individuals to stick to a fabricated story in the witness box?
  (Mr Garsden) Absolutely not, no!

  423. You would stake your life on that?
  (Mr Garsden) Absolutely.
  (Ms Swaine) I have never attended that particular course but I am absolutely certain from other courses which have been run by ACAL nothing of that sort would take place. It is a professional organisation.

  424. It is a professional organisation so we can be reassured.
  (Mr Garsden) That is only one example. There are many courses.
  (Ms Swaine) Many of which I have attended, though I have not attended that one.

  425. If I can stick to the courtroom skills for adults course, how much does the course cost and how long does it last?
  (Mr Garsden) Once again, you are reading from a piece of paper that I do not have. I do not know.

  426. But I am not a member of the Association.
  (Mr Garsden) But you can tell me.

  427. I am sure we can glean that information if you, as a member of the Association, cannot tell us.
  (Mr Garsden) I can undertake to let the Committee know.[2] That is one the Association runs. There are several courses of that type throughout the country and it is done all over America and it is very common place throughout the world, particularly where the evidence is going to be very damaging. There is a big difference between putting evidence into witnesses' mouths and preparing people for a court trial, which is what this is designed to do. If you believe in the rights of the claimant and the equality of bargaining power, then you must believe in a system of proper preparation.

 

  428. So you can say in the name of the Association that witnesses are merely helped to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
  (Mr Garsden) Well, you are trying to put words into my mouth. I would repeat what I have already said, I do not think I can put it any differently.

  429. Can I move on to your own company's website where it states with great authority that your company continually invests in the employment of new staff, "which have helped generate increase in the work in progress." If all of a sudden the work dried up and no more complaints came along, and your company have already told us it is 100 per cent engaged in the compensation culture industry—
  (Mr Garsden) No, it is not actually.

  430. Well, a large proportion.
  (Mr Garsden) A large proportion.

  431.—it would be very damaging for your business profitability if there were no more victims?
  (Mr Garsden) It would, would it not? Yes.

  432. Therefore, do you not have a vested interest in ensuring there is a ready supply of complainants?
  (Mr Garsden) The best way I can answer that is to look at the history. When this first started in 1994 I had no concept of how the disease would grow, if I can put it that way, and how many staff I would need. It nearly brought me to my knees because I was trying to do it all myself. I vowed I would never make that mistake again, nor would I subject my staff to the pressure that I underwent. We have learnt that each member of staff can only cope with between 40 and 70 cases, so therefore when the cases do not settle and more keep coming through the door, to service the need, because there is a dearth of good quality lawyers in this area, it made sense to employ more people so the existing people were not under too much stress. I had examples of people leaving because they were under too much stress. I am meeting a demand. I have never advertised.

  433. I suspect people read about these cases. But you are saying that you need a production line of complainants in order your business can operate?
  (Mr Garsden) Yes.

  434. So where do these people come from? They do not come from nowhere. You have indicated earlier on there are very few solicitors engaged in this area so presumably it is word of mouth or whatever.
  (Mr Garsden) I have a reputation—my firm has a reputation—as being somebody who is deeply committed to being professional in pursuing these claims.

  435. But if the production line stops, your business ceases?
  (Mr Garsden) Arguably, yes.

  436. Also on your website you say, "There is undoubtedly investment in the future in that when these actions are successful and costs are settled, the mark ups we will be requesting are considerable . . .", so in this compensation culture what actually are you referring to there?
  (Mr Garsden) I am talking about the fact these cases carry with them an extra degree of responsibility both to the victim, to the expert, to the court, and in every other way they are very difficult and very responsible types of cases. It is very difficult to find people who do that type of work. Because the degree of responsibility and the amount of care required is greater, we are entitled to be paid more money for it. Quite frankly, if you look at my firm's finances, they certainly do not reflect somebody making a lot of money. I am working on a legal aid hourly rate which has not been increased for 12 years, so how we are expected to survive when the cost of living and salaries are going up and the legal aid which we are being paid, because these cases simply do not settle, I do not know. We have been forced to make repeated hardship claims to the Legal Aid Board for money to help keep us afloat and we are way over our overdraft limit. There you are. I have read the evidence and I have read, quite frankly, the defamatory evidence which has been given about me to this Committee on the occasion before last, and I simply have to correct it, because it is not true.

  437. Of the 700 to 800 individuals that you act for, how many of those are publicly funded?
  (Mr Garsden) 98 per cent.

  438. How much do you receive per complaint? We have been given figures which indicate if it goes down the line it can range from 12,000 to 60,000. Where are we in that ball park?
  (Mr Garsden) You have been given totally—

  439. I am asking you.
  (Mr Garsden) I know you are and I am going to answer you. The limit which is put on our legal aid certificates initially is usually 2,500. In a group action case we can push it up to 5,000. We really do struggle to push it beyond 5,000.

 


2   See Ev 75-6. Back

 
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