Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)
MR PETER GARSDEN AND MS FRANCES SWAINE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
460. You have not looked at mine because I have not got one.
(Mr Garsden) I know you have not got one, I did try to find it. It said you were still looking for a domain name.
461. I am not interested. I do not have a mobile phone or a pager either, as it happens.
(Mr Garsden) So be it. That is what websites are, are they not? They market you as an individual.
462. You are quite right. The point you make is a very fair one except we are politicians and we rely on votes for a living, and I think I am right in saying that nobody here would boast about an appearance on Radio 5. You explained to us at the outset, you see, how traumatic all this was.
(Mr Garsden) If you look at the news page of this particular website I am talking about, you will find that is not true.
463. Chairman, I really feel I have to defend myself here. I do not think I have ever appeared on Radio 5.
(Mr Garsden) I am not suggesting you have.
Bridget Prentice: But I may consider adding to my website the fact it has had such an impact that it has been raised on this Committee.
464. The reason I am raising this, and you may think fairly painfully, is that you described to us at the outset what a traumatic experience it has been for you, and I can well believe you, and you described it very credibly.
(Mr Garsden) I think there are articles on the website describing it.
465. But anybody reading the website would think you were rather revelling in all this.
(Mr Garsden) I think if you look at the website properly you will find there are many articles which talk about the traumatic experience which has taken place. Indeed on the ACAL website there are articles by Lee Moore and people from the Law Society which talk about how traumatic this is for members of the profession. It is a balanced website and you are simply pointing to extracts that support you, or try to support you. I do not really know what point you are making.
466. Just about the whole application for the Most Enterprising Firm of the Year and Litigation Team of the Year supports the argument I am trying to make, however inadequately.
(Mr Garsden) I think we had better move on, had we not?
Chairman: Yes, but before we do I think Mr Winnick has one point to make.
467. You have been telling a colleague on the Committee about the financial difficulties and hardships, but on this website which has just been mentioned by the Chairman, 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 and hopefully will compensate for financial hardship in the past. Prudent budgeting and financial management are essential with such massive growth." That gives one impression only, that you hope to have a very, very successful firm and financially as well.
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
468. You would not wish to deny that?
(Mr Garsden) No, I would not.
469. Based, of course, first and foremost on the cases which we are looking into?
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
470. And that has been the source of your growth and your hope for the future?
(Mr Garsden) No.
471. It must be, because these are the cases you are dealing with.
(Mr Garsden) No. I am doing this because it needs doing and the victims deserve high quality, empathetic, professional advice. That is why I am doing it. If I was doing it purely for money, I would not have involved myself in the amount of charitable work I do, for which there is no pay.
472. It is very commendable, of course, to do charity work, and people who give to charity and work in charity are to be commended, that goes without saying. I am not questioning at this stage your motivation
(Mr Garsden) Are you not?
473. What I am asking is, the growth which has taken place and which is much-advertised on the website has been due to the cases which we are dealing with?
(Mr Garsden) Yes.
David Winnick: Thank you very much.
474. There is nothing wrong with advertising, it is a free country, and that is what your website does. Where else do you advertise and promote the services you provide?
(Mr Garsden) Nowhere.
475. That is it. How do people get to hear about you?
(Mr Garsden) My reputation, I suppose. They read about me in the newspapers. I do not know. The only piece of direct advertising we have doneno, I am sorry, that was not advertising. We have paid for booklets from an organisation called Child Victims of Crime, who produce very useful booklets for parents in schools to warn them of the dangers of sex offenders infiltrating them. We have sponsored them. Actually there was no advertising in that, that was a charitable donation. I think we went along to a school and talked about it to the parents. If you call that advertising, we did that. I am sure we appear in various directories. I think the only piece of advertising we have done in the last five years is when we opened our new premises which you will see on the website. We had an advertorial running for one week in the Stockport Express at a cost of about £250.
476. If you have not advertised, how do you think you have managed to end up with 700 cases? It seems remarkable. All these people have come to you rather than other solicitors and you have never advertised.
(Mr Garsden) Yes, remarkable, is it not?
(Ms Swaine) My firm also runs what we would call multi-party actions where a lot of clients may come together, not in these particular cases but in other cases. When certain clients know your name and approach you in the first place, perhaps the first four or five, then it is very common for those clients to tell other people who were perhaps in the home at the same time that you are a solicitor who would be the right person to be doing the case for them. As to how the first, the initial, enquiry comes, I would suggest perhaps there are two or three very important legal directories which are available in public libraries, and certainly the police would have access to, which would set out the top people in the field, and I am sure Mr Garsden is one of those, insofar as this sort of area is concerned. So if an abuse case in a children's home arose in that area of England, the North West, I would find it very straightforward that Mr Garsden would be the person approached, unless there is somebody of similar reputation within a certain circumference. The same would happen with any of my multi-party cases in London, where people might approach us for similar reasons.
(Mr Garsden) I can answer your question, I have been thinking while Ms Swaine has been talking. A lot of cases are referred to us now by other solicitors who find themselves unable to deal with this type of case. Thankfully, now, because of the legal aid franchise and specialisation, you are not allowed to do this type of case unless you have a personal injury franchise if it is legally-aided, and therefore firms will refer cases to us because they do not want to deal with them because of the subject matter, and they just do not have the skill and expertise to do the work. The Law Society refers quite a lot of cases to us when people ring them. I am sure people gain access to me through the ACAL website and other websites which are linked into the ACAL website, because it has a very good reputation and has received a lot of praise for the amount of material it provides for survivors and lawyers and professionals in the subject area.
477. It is very difficult because, on the one hand, you want people to have access to justice but, on the other hand, when you read the list of on-going cases on your website to some extent it is almost an invitation to people who were at the same home to possibly think about joining in. We have heard evidence of people in prison bandying around tales of great riches in compensation, and that is what we are looking at and trying to work out if there is a concern.
(Mr Garsden) Yes, I appreciate that. I think what you have to look at is the system we have. I have heard about section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the right to a fair trial, which thankfully we now have in our legislation, and one has to be very careful about taking away fundamental human rights. Certainly things which have been suggested before this Committee would be in direct breach of section 6 and simply would not be possible, whether you like it or not.
478. Let us move away from the website.
(Mr Garsden) Thank goodness.
479. Can I raise one other point and that is, you have described to us how traumatic these cases are for everybody concerned, and also the fact they takehow many years to resolve?
(Mr Garsden) It varies.