Heading the largest department of the specialist child abuse compensation law firm in the UK can take its toll. “The nature of the work can be very upsetting,” admits Peter Garsden, managing partner of Abney Garsden McDonald. And he should know. Garsden and his firm have a national reputation for expertise in a sector where trauma comes with the territory.
Child abuse compensation work was not on the horizon when Garsden co-founded Abney Garsden McDonald in 1985. He had been qualified for four years and wanted to run his own general practice. “I turned my back on pressure and money and wanted to act for real people,” he says. “I wanted to specialise in personal injury work, but to begin with we just opened the doors and handled whatever came in.”
Soon, though, Garsden found himself acting for a client who was alleging serious child abuse by an institution in the North West. “The claim didn’t go to trial, but it was the first of many child abuse claims that we took on, initially in the North West, but then all over the country,” says Garsden. Now, the dedicated child abuse team is
coordinating 26 group actions against local authorities and other defendants, a further 400 claims by alleged victims of abuse as well as acting for some 400 other claimants.
Two group actions have recently been settled: at Danesford Children’s Home in Congleton, where damages were £350,000, and Kilrie Children’s Home in Knutsford, Cheshire, with damages of £100,000. But this is a demanding area of legal work “where it’s not always easy to retain your objectivity”, according to Garsden. “The only way to handle the work is to be professional, otherwise you can’t help the client because you haven’t got the right kind of focus,” he adds.
When a case is particularly difficult, the lawyers “down tools and talk to each other”, says Garsden. “We all work together with a common set of beliefs, and we all know the score. The cases are traumatic for the clients but can be distressing for anyone who becomes involved, so we make sure we can always talk about them to each other.”
The firm also handles conveyancing and wills and probate work, and is looking to develop childcare work and expand its family department further. “We’re expanding into human rights and judicial review work, and we’re introducing a case management system, digital dictation, and bringing the website up to date,” says Garsden. “We want to use technology to lessen the paperwork so that we can concentrate on the law.”
Garsden calls himself an “angry, lobbying kind of person who can’t resist trying to change the law to make things better for my clients. It’s a fascinating sector, pushing the boundaries of psychology, law and civil procedure, and I want us to get to a position where we’re helping to influence present-day systems as much as helping historical victims of abuse.”
Not only does he appear to have a strong compassionate streak, Garsden also has a refreshing sense of his firm’s identity. “We’re a grass roots sort of firm,” he says. “Socialists with a small ‘s’. The common denominator is that everyone here believes in justice.”
|Abney Garsden McDonald|
|Managing partner||Peter Garsden|
|Total number of partners||Two|
|Total number of solicitors||13|
|Main practice areas||Child abuse claims, claimant personal injury, conveyancing, family, probate and wills|
|Number of offices||Two|
|Locations||Cheadle Hulme and Poynton|