News & Current Affairs
No excuse for cutting corners in abuse claims
Obtaining appropriate compensation for their abuse is being hindered not just by institutions using questionable legal processes to block progress through the courts, but by ordinary lawyers who are simply going through the motions to earn a fast buck from their clients.
Recently, I visited a correctional centre in regional NSW to make contact with inmates who had been abused in care. For several, it would be the first time they’d ever spoken about their abuse. It’s a deeply personal and often agonising experience for people to verbalise, particularly in the dog-eat-dog environment of a prison.
Since that visit, several inmates have reached out to me seeking help. This is from just one prison. The sad truth is that the number of sex abuse survivors languishing in Australian jails is likely to be multiplied hundred, even thousand-fold, if other correctional institutions are taken into account.
One of the people who made contact was 55-year-old Tim*, who was abused by a fellow inmate in a boys’ home more than 40 years ago. To seek redress, Tim had been working with a solicitor he barely saw, and who kept his matter running for nearly two years before advising him to settle for compensation that was not enough.
Tim sought a second opinion from us on whether the compensation offer was enough, and whether he should accept it. He was advised by his then solicitor to accept the offer immediately because the defendant (in this case the NSW Government) would not offer a penny more.
On reviewing his file, we found his solicitor had done a pretty ordinary job – she had never met with Tim face to face, had crafted a ‘cookie cutter’ statement of claim, failed to follow up subpoenas and had not progressed the matter as if she ever intended to take it to trial to get him the best outcome.
If I could see that, the other side also must have known Tim’s lawyer would never take the matter to trial, resulting in the lower offer to settle.
To add insult to injury, Tim was told his solicitor’s fees would swallow up more than 30 per cent of the money he’d be awarded if he accepted (though the solicitor could demonstrate fees payable of far less than she intended to charge).
We agreed to take on Tim’s case, with the guarantee he’d receive at least the amount the other solicitor had recommended for settlement, to ensure his anxiety and stress was managed. We set about preparing the matter for trial, issuing subpoenas, appearing before the court to progress the matter and chasing up those things the previous lawyer had not.
Only a few months later, we have obtained a settlement close to 50% more than the sum the original lawyer advised Tim to accept. We are now working to ensure he is charged fairly and only for proper and competent work his original solicitor carried out on the matter.
While our client does not have justice – no-one can give him back what was taken from him more than four decades ago – we have at the very least enabled him to obtain decent compensation that hopefully will make life a little easier when he is released, and to ensure that his legal fees are fair and reasonable. I am proud of that result.
That some lawyers (not all) are happy to cut corners in institutional child abuse claims is doing a great disservice not just to those who’ve suffered abuse, but to the legal fraternity which has an obligation to treat everybody, regardless of circumstance, fairly and justly.