APIL  (Association of Personal Injury lawyers) / ACAL (Association of Child Abuse lawyers) Abuse Conference

Date: Thursday 12th July 2018

Venue: Bloomsbury Hotel, London.

Catherine O’Neill, Chair of IFJ and Clare Park, Trustee of IFJ

Catherine and I had the pleasure of presenting at this conference last week. We were kindly invited for dinner the evening before in the Bloomsbury Hotel – an elegant boutique hotel located in the heart of London’s West End. The dinner was held in a private dining room – the Seamus Heaney Library.  As it was the night of the big England game against Croatia and hopes were high- the organisers amazingly arranged at very short notice (and with a great deal of effort) to have a screen set up in the private dining room so that all attending the dinner could watch it live. So just before seven o’clock a small group of us all presenting at the conference the following day, met in the library with a drink in hand to watch the first half of the match.  Spirits and hopes were high and laughter was exchanged after England scored early in the match – that was until Croatia equalised. We sat down to eat during the second half and all had a steady eye on the game. As time went on and then extra time – the conversation quietened as we all slowly realised the fate of our English team- that they were in fact coming home. It was made more difficult as one of the presenters at the dinner was Croatian and she was understandably delighted at the result. It was however a very interesting way to meet fellow speakers and I must say the mood was a little subdued by the end of the evening. However, some interesting conversations were had and some understanding gleaned about the content of the presentations the following day by the various speakers attending.

The following morning, we set up our table in the main reception/ registration area to display the different visual aids, figurines and assessment tools we use as RIs to facilitate communicate in the assessment / ABE / trial. There was interest shown in what we were displaying and specific questions about how we work. The presentation we gave later in the day hopefully explained and clarified the RI process further.

The day was very varied re the topics covered. The conference was mainly attended by practicing solicitors working in abuse cases although there were a few other professions in attendance including representatives from the Centre for Woman’s Justice. The representatives from this organisation approached us to talk directly about the work we do and were keen to understand our role further and how we may be of assistance to them. There was also a police officer there as well as a journalist from the Times. Topics covered included Human Rights Acts claims, The Centre for Woman’s Justice, a panel session about automatic victim belief, claims against Facebook as well as capacity and court protection. Catherine and I finished the day with a joint presentation about the Role of the Registered Intermediary. We discussed what we do, what our training is, who is eligible for an RI, the RI process from referral to trial. An overview about communication was given and the effect trauma can have on communication. Sensory and visual tools were introduced as a means to alleviate trauma including the concept of court dogs. We finished by presenting case studies with particular refence to the Eye gaze trial recently covered by Crimewatch Roadshow. This was a case of historical child abuse. There was much interest in this case and at the end a barrister and a solicitor approached us to say that they had been involved in the civil case of this gentleman against the church right at the beginning of the disclosure. They did not now that it had gone to trial as a criminal case and seemed quite moved by the case especially on hearing that the witness had died on the day of the verdict and that he never got to hear it.

It was a very interesting and also quite an intense 24 hours where we both worked hard to network and explain our role whilst further understanding the role of the solicitor in the legal process in these cases. There was very much an impression given by the attendees through discussions we had that there is clearly a big gap in the process with ensuring that witnesses are given the opportunity to communicate optimally. However, practitioners don’t always know the best way to meet the needs of their clients fully as communication difficulties are often so complex in the cases they are involved in. We hope that after our presentation and through discussion with various individuals throughout the conference that the role of the RI is now much better understood. Also, knowledge about IFJ and what it can provide and that hopefully in the future, practitioners will now know where to go to get the support for their cases when it is needed and optimum communication will be the outcome for all involved.

Clare Park, Trustee, IfJ