John Simpson, Crime Correspondent at the Times reports on a story about how bishops in the Church of England were ordered not to give full apologies to victims of abuse. The concern was that such apologies would open up the church to litigation, but apparently the church now has guidance which says that it is possible to apologise without accepting responsibility.
The issues of apologies in child abuse compensation claims is a vexed one. Many people will utter the familiar words "It's not about the money" but of course a Defendant might be happy to give an apology if it meant escaping paying any compensation. At the same time, people who have been abused in childhood do want their abuser to acknowledge what happens. Sometimes they do, but once they are in the hands of lawyers, a different attitude may emerge.
Many cases are settled without any admission of liability, which conflicts with the giving of any apology. One suggestion is to empower judges to order a Defendant to make an apology, or to extend the duty of candour which now exists in the NHS. Under this duty, a Defendant NHS Trust is supposed to show candour in admitting fault. The problem with the duty of candour is that it does not appear to be making much difference to the way in which litigation against the NHS is pursued.
Perhaps the most important thing is fact finding” getting to the truth of what has happened and learning lessons.
Certainly the Catholic Church and more recently the Church of England have tried to support complainants by the provision of pastoral care, whilst leaving the issue of compensation to their insurers or lawyers.
My own view is that one has to look at the issue from the point of view of the survivor of abuse. If an apology is going to improve their experience of litigation, in circumstances where it can be highly damaging, then it should be something within the court's power provided it is accompanied by compensation,
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer