Examination of Witnesses (Questions 332-339)
MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
Chairman: Thank you both very much for coming and welcome.
332. Mr Garsden, could you tell us how long you have specialised in this area of work of child abuse and how you became involved in this work in the first place?
(Mr Garsden) I can indeed, yes. I was qualified 20 years ago, or just over 20 years ago in 1981 and for the first 15 years or so of my professional career I was a generalist type of lawyer, on the high street doing a mixture. I was on the duty solicitor rota, attending police stations for 12 years, but I specialised latterly in personal injury work. Then one day in 1994 an old criminal client of mind rang me up and told me that he had been advised by the police that he ought to seek legal advice, but he did not know why and that they had refused to tell him and, therefore, he was asking me. Those were the early days when the police were even mentioning obtaining legal advice, but I say that intentionally because I know it is an issue before this Committee. I set about obtaining Legal Aid which I duly got and that was one of the first in the north-west cases which turned into a huge child abuse investigation which I am sure you know. That one case turned into 20 and those 20 cases quickly turned into about 200 and the rest is history. I am now running the biggest specialised department in the country dealing with group actions and individual claims for compensation to not only the CICA, but, more importantly and more predominantly, the civil courts. The effect of reading all of those statements, the psychological effect of it upon me was quite severe, such that in 1997/98 I nearly lost my marriage and I was, not to be too melodramatic, almost a secondary victim myself. At that time there was no help or support for professionals doing this type of work. The law was new, the procedure was new and basically I helped develop that practice and procedure myself. I decided that no other professional should have to go through what I went through. I received six sessions of counselling and I am now a survivor, if you like, and I helped set up the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers which has been running since about 1998.
333. When you had your first case, did you have anybody else's previous experience or anybody else's cases to draw upon?
(Mr Garsden) No.
334. Nothing at all?
(Mr Garsden) No. I had a general grounding in personal injury law and I was then a personal injury panel member and had done my articles in a firm that specialised in personal injury law, though for insurers rather than claimants, but I had no previous experience. I had dealt with one or two criminal cases, yes, I had, I correct that, involving psychological damage and abuse.
335. From what you said earlier, it appears to me that these issues became a cause célèbre and it is the horror of what you read which motivated you to go into this area of work.
(Mr Garsden) I have always tried very hard to remain professional, but if you read the articles on the subject, you will find that there is a very fine dividing line between remaining professional and becoming emotionally involved enough to pursue these cases to conclusion because in the course of the last eight years I have seen many examples amongst my totally dedicated team of people who have fallen victim to the emotional effect that this sort of work has on the professional. I have managed to survive, I suspect, because I have a very strong family background and upbringing, but many others have not. I know of professionals who have suffered nervous breakdowns over being exposed to this type of work and being triggered into memories of experiences previously when they were young. One particular example is of a solicitor who is a survivor from abuse in care, but just like the subject matter, it attracts professionals who are dedicated in this way. I pride myself on my professionalism and I think it is very important, I lecture on the subject, I think it is very important to remain professional and I will do my best to remain professional and objective to this Committee.
336. The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers which you set up in 1996, was it?
(Mr Garsden) In about 1997-98.
337. How many members does this Association have?
(Mr Garsden) The membership fluctuates, but currently I think there are between 60 and 80 members nationwide. There tends to be a discrepancy between some solicitors who do an awful lot of this type of work and other solicitors who do very little. One of the main reasons we set it up was because we thought it was very important that the survivor of abuse had a sympathetic, but, more accurately, an empathetic hearing and we found that potential claimants were going to lawyers with no training and experience of the way to deal with a survivor, the way to deal with recovered memory, the way to fend off the emotional onslaught which hits you when this client comes into the office. Grown men break down in tears, people vomit, people descend into drink and drugs, people fail appointments because the experience of coming to see us is a triggering experience, just as the criminal process is a triggering process. We have developed a code of practice which I have brought with me which ensures that we give a quality service to any survivor of abuse and that is very, very important to us.
338. Would you call it a professional body, a support network or what?
(Mr Garsden) It is a professional body akin to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers which Frances leads, like the Association of Family Lawyers, the Solicitors' Family Law Association and it is recognised in exactly the same way.
339. How is it funded?
(Mr Garsden) Through membership fees and very badly is the honest truth. We would dearly like more funding. We have a chairperson who has run the telephone line five days a week and that has now been cut down to two days a week simply because we do not have enough funds. The truth is that there are not many solicitors dealing with this type of work and a membership of 80 does not sustain the running of an office. We often get calls from survivors who are disappointed because of the way their prosecution has gone or they want some advice and they want to be directed to a lawyer who cares, calls from all over the world, not only from England and Wales, and we have to satisfy that need. We also provide professional training for lawyers and others on how to deal with this difficult type of work, and three of our members have recently written a textbook on the law in relation to it, so we are a nationally and internationally recognised, highly professional organisation.
Chairman: Do you want to ask the same questions of Ms Swaine?
Mr Singh: I am happy with the answer.