Lambeth Council announces compensation scheme for former residents of Shirley Oaks - is there a lesson for football?
The BBC reported tonight in London that the London Borough of Lambeth has decided to set up a compensation scheme to compensate former residents of Shirley Oaks Children's Homes. The leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Pecks admitted liability. The announcement by the local authority follows the publication of a report on abuse at the former children's home by the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association.
The council leader said:-
"The investigation by the Shirley Oaks Survivor's Association has shone further light on the suffering of those entrusted into the council's care. Lambeth Council is preparing a new, far reaching redress scheme for survivors of historical abuse in the borough. It will allow them to secure compensation quickly whilst minimising legal fees."
Shirley Oaks has been the subject of a number of police investigations over the years, and claims for compensation including one that I handled around fifteen years ago.
However, this is an astonishing step for a local authority to take. Lambeth has given a full and frank apology and announced that substantial resources will be diverted to compensate former residents of the home. It also appears that the local authority has made this decision, after receiving a report compiled by the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which was "unofficial" but nonetheless highly effective.
When I handled the St Leonard's Cottage Homes litigation against the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 2002, the local authority did make substantial concessions in the litigation and people who brought claims received offers of litigation very swiftly after joining the group. In particular, Tower Hamlet arranged for treatment for survivors of abuse. Nonetheless the local authority reserved the right to require the Claimants to prove the abuse that they had suffered, and limitation was still technically an issue.
As yet the details of the redress scheme are not known, but they will be published in March 2017. It is reported that the level of payments will be rise depending on the seriousness of the abuse, and that the idea is to keep legal fees to a minimum.
Very possibly the scheme may be similar to that operated in Eire under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. Under that Act, an award could be made to a person who had suffered abuse in a residential institution, which award would be calculated dependent on four factors:-
1. The severity of the abuse and injury
2. Additional redress in exceptional cases
3. Medical expenses
4. Other costs and expenses - including the cost of legal representation
However if an Applicant accepted an award, they could not then bring a compensation claim against the institution where they had been abused.
There was also a redress scheme of sorts set up by the NHS, the BBC and the Jimmy Saville estate, to deal with the various claims made in relation to alleged abuse by the former TV entertainer. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority operates a "tariff" scheme, but I suspect that many of the former residents of Shirley Oaks would find themselves excluded from compensation, on the grounds that their claims were out of time, or there were no convictions. The CICA scheme has become increasingly restrictive over the years.
Abuse payments in civil compensation claims (that is litigation claims against Defendants in England and Wales) are generally made up of an award for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, together with the costs of treatment. It is possible to obtain a further sizeable award for loss of earnings and/or loss of earning capacity. As time has gone on, the awards in these case have got larger, and so it is quite common to see awards of over £100,000.
One of the aims of Lambeth is to try and limit legal fees. The Historic Abuse Litigation Forum, which I am helping to coordinate (see my blog of 4th December 2016) is tackling the issue of legal costs. It is quite common to see costs exceed damages. In one case I handled against a local authority, which settled on the day before trial, damages were around £15,000 but the costs were several times that figure. Courts are trying very hard at present to limit these costs by "budgeting" the amount that can be spent on a case, and limiting the amounts that can be recovered. The Forum is looking at ways in which costs can be kept down and cases speeded up.
The St Leonard's litigation proved that compensation can be obtained by survivors of abuse very quickly, if the local authority is determined to take that course. This seems to be what Lambeth is about, and they are to be applauded for adopting an honest and frank approach. This cannot be an inexhaustible pot and so limiting legal costs may well leave more money for survivors.
This brings me onto the question - could football set up such a redress scheme? In my blog of the 13th December 2016 I suggested that clubs set up a treatment fund for survivors of abuse. However would the Football Association persuade the clubs to sign up to a redress scheme, which compensated survivors of abuse quickly without incurring huge lawyers' fees.
The problem here is that football does not come under one organisation or association. We have the Football Association Premier League, which runs the top flight of English football, the Premier League. This is essentially a commercial organisation. We then have the Football Association which has a number of roles, including the administration of the FA Cup. Conflict has been reported between the two bodies. At the same time, there are of course hundreds of different clubs, both professional and amateur, at which abuse is alleged to have taken place.
Nonetheless Lambeth has taken a bold step. Perhaps football can learn from it.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer