Why do you have to go to Court for a Child Approval Hearing?
Sadly there are thousands of personal injury claims made on behalf of children every year. All settlements of their claims must be approved by a District Judge in the County Court at a Child Approval Hearing. The process may sound daunting, particularly for a parent, guardian or carer whose child has been injured, but if the correct procedures are followed by their Solicitor, then it should be a straightforward and interesting occasion.
What is needed?
Before any settlement can be concluded between the Solicitor acting for the child and the Defendant (usually an insurer) the Solicitor must obtain advice from a Barrister about the value of the claim.
The Solicitor must collate all the relevant evidence including medical reports and any evidence of any financial losses that the child or their parent has suffered as a result of the accident. The financial losses are known as Special Damages and can take a variety of forms. The most common are things such as mileage to and from medical appointments, time spent caring for the child, the cost of parking at hospitals, paying for children’s pain relief (such as Calpol) or, in some cases, loss of earnings for a carer whose work pattern has been affected as whilst they care for their injured child.
What happens next?
Once the Barrister’s written advice is received the Solicitor should then negotiate with the Defendant. That process can be relatively short or, in cases where there is more at stake, can sometimes take many months.
Once the settlement had been negotiated then, provided the settlement achieved is as a good as or better than the valuation given by the Barrister, then the Solicitor should apply to the Court to approve the settlement.
Of paramount importance to the Court is to check that the child has made a full recovery, or has reached as full as a recovery as he or she is will make from their injuries. That information will be contained in the medical evidence but the Judge may also wish to speak to the carer and/or child (depending on their age) to satisfy themselves that the child’s recovery is complete.
A child’s litigation friend
The solicitor acting for a child will need to speak to the child’s family or carer to decide who is prepared to act as the child’s litigation friend. A litigation friend is non-legally qualified adult who will conduct the proceedings and instruct a solicitor on the child’s behalf. The Court rules state that anyone under the age of 18, who wishes to bring proceedings must appoint a litigation friend. This is also true in cases where an adult does not have the capacity to understand the nature of litigation and/or manage their own affairs, such as an adult with learning difficulties or a brain injury.
Once a decision has been made about which family member or carer will be the litigation friend their solicitor will make an Application to Court asking for the settlement to be approved. The solicitor will send to the Court all of the relevant medical evidence and evidence or other financial losses, together with a notification about who the litigation friend will be, and the Court will fix a date for the Child Approval Hearing.
Unless they are very young, (this varies from Court to Court but as a rough guide 3 years or over) then the child will need to attend the Court hearing with the litigation friend. The Solicitor will also attend or instruct a Barrister to go on their behalf.
The Child Approval Hearing
The Child Approval Hearing is nothing to be frightened of and, in my experience, the litigation friend and the child usually come away from it feeling like it was a positive and worthwhile experience and certainly not something you would do every day.
The hearing usually takes about ten minutes, and takes place in the Judge’s Chambers which are, essentially, the Judge’s office. The Judge will usually be dressed in a suit or other smart clothing. There will not be any wigs or gowns involved. The Solicitor or Barrister will start by introducing the litigation friend and the injured child and then ask the Judge to make an order approving the settlement that has been agreed.
The Judge may want to ask the child and/or their litigation friend a few questions so they can satisfy themselves that the child has made the fullest possible recovery from their injuries. Assuming the Judge is satisfied then the Judge will make an order that the child’s compensation should be paid into the Court Funds Office, or a child ISA or trust fund.
The Court Funds Office provides a banking and investment service for the Courts throughout England and Wales. It accounts for the money paid into and out of Court and looks after any investments made with that money. The Court Funds Office invests the money either invested in a high paying interest account or partly invested in an interest account and part into an Equity Index Tracker Fund on the stock market.
When the child is 18, the invested money (which, by then will have accrued interest) is paid out to the injured person to spend as they see fit.
It is possible to ask the Court for a “one-off” immediate payment but the Litigation Friend must be prepared to explain to the Judge why that payment is required. It is unlikely that a Court would approve such a payment unless the payment was for the immediate educational or health benefit of the child.
It is also possible to ask the Court to Order that a regular payment can be paid to the child. Again, the regular payments would need to be shown to be required for the child’s educational or physical wellbeing. Usually, this would only be likely in cases where the claim has a particularly high value.
At the end of the Child Approval Hearing the Judge will order the Defendant to pay the compensation into the Court Funds Office or to the child’s solicitors for onward transmission to a trust fund or ISA within 21 days.
It is very important that the child’s family or carers update the Court Funds Office if they move house or if they change contact details. This is because, when the child reaches 18, the Court Funds Office needs to know how to contact them to pay the invested money.
Taylor&Emmet have many years’ experience of dealing with personal injury claims for accidents involving children. For advice please do not hesitate to contact us by calling 0114 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org