The Litigation Friend
In all compensation claims involving children under the age of eighteen a Litigation Friend must be appointed to pursue the claim on their behalf. A Litigation Friend is someone who acts on the child’s behalf throughout the claim. The Litigation Friend is usually the child’s parent or guardian, providing there is no conflict of interest. For example, if the child was injured as a result of their mother’s negligence then the mother could not act as the Litigation Friend. In that case the child’s father or other responsible adult would need to be appointed, for example a grandparent.
The Litigation Friend must have no interest in the outcome of the case and is obliged to act in the child’s best interests at all times. The suitability of a Litigation Friend to act on behalf of a child must also be confirmed by the Court. The role of the Litigation Friend is extremely important and careful consideration must be given when appointing one.
If settlement of the claim is agreed prior to litigation then the settlement reached will have to be approved by the Court at an Infant Settlement Hearing.
Infant Settlement Hearing
The Infant Settlement Hearing takes place at a local county court. The purpose of the Infant Settlement Hearing is to ensure that the child is receiving the appropriate amount in settlement of their claim and that their Litigation Friend is acting in their best interests.
The hearing itself is short and informal and will need to be attended by the child and their Litigation Friend. Prior to the hearing a barrister will have provided a written opinion on the value of the claim. The judge will consider the medical reports, any claim for losses and expenses as well as the barrister’s advice. The judge may ask the Litigation Friend and the child some questions about the injuries, effects and any on going symptoms. Once the judge is satisfied that the compensation agreed is reasonable then the settlement will be approved. If settlement is approved the settlement monies will be invested by the court until the child reaches the age of 18.
The Court Funds Office is responsible for looking after the money on behalf of the child. An account will be opened in the child’s name where the funds will be held until the child’s 18th birthday (known as the date of majority), unless a court order instructs otherwise. If the child needs money for education, welfare or benefit before reaching 18 years it is possible to make a request to the court for release of funds.
It is important that the court is informed of any change of address by the child’s family/Litigation Friend. This will enable the court to keep their records up to date and contact the child when they reach 18 to process payment of the compensation plus any accrued interest.