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A guide to the key people in an abuse legal case

By David Greenwood

Published In: Child Abuse

A guide to the key people in an abuse legal case

It’s never too late to report abuse. There is no statute of limitations on criminal offences in the UK, meaning police can pursue a criminal conviction against abusers many years after their crimes took place. A conviction may not be possible due to challenges in securing evidence, but you may still be entitled to claim compensation. 

Historical abuse, often referred to as non-recent abuse, covers a wide range of harmful actions including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. It can range from a singular event to a series of ongoing offences.

Making a claim is a brave thing to do. There can be several motives behind reporting non-recent abuse. Some want to ensure the abuse doesn’t happen again. Whilst others may be seeking justice and closure. Most of the people I speak to have kept it to themselves for years. A time comes in life where a person finds the strength to talk or is triggered by the news or a life event.

Legal language can be hard to understand so we’ll try to provide you with an easy to understand definition of who the people and bodies are and how it all fits together.

We hope this guide will reassure anyone who is considering coming forward that seeking justice for abuse is possible, by explaining exactly who will be involved in the case and what their role will be. If you have further questions about historic child abuse or would like to speak to a solicitor about the possibility of compensation, our contact details are below.

Child crying on staircase


You are the most important person if you decide to disclose the abuse to your solicitor or the police. Your evidence is vital and perpetrators will never face justice without you.

Defendant in a criminal case

In an abuse legal case, the defendant is the person accused of crimes. This person will be arrested and interviewed by police about your allegations. They will be investigated and, if charged, go to court. You will not usually have to face the defendant in court. You would usually give your evidence from another room via video link. Any questions from barristers would be done months in advance, in a calm and controlled way. Gone are the days of barristers being allowed free reign to ask irrelevant, inappropriate and deeply personal questions. Police officers can help prepare you for the experience.

Defendant in a civil case

When a claim for past abuse is filed, the defendant has to respond to the accusations. If the defendant is a wealthy individual he may instruct a solicitor who will correspond with your solicitor. If your solicitor has sued the organisation the perpetrator worked for, such as a school or church, your solicitor will correspond with them. The defendant of their solicitor will investigate and make an assessment of whether to admit the case. In most of our cases a defendant will admit the abuse took lace and agree to pay compensation.

At Switalskis, we care about our clients and their individual needs. We'll talk about what you hope to achieve, whether that's compensation, criminal justice, an apology, we’ll get you the best result.

The defendant may face imprisonment, fines, or other legal penalties if they are found guilty. In cases where you’re pursuing a compensation claim, the most likely outcome will be that you’re given compensation from the defendant. This is calculated based on the pain and suffering you experienced because of the abuse, and any long-term effects the abuse had on your life. Switalskis will strive on your behalf to secure the maximum possible amount of compensation.

Woman testifying on court stand for child abuse


In cases where historical child abuse is being investigated, witnesses play a very important role. Their statements and any other information they provide can have a big impact on what happens and on any claims that are made. These witnesses could be other people who were also abused, people who saw what happened, or anyone who knew about the abuse in some way. They don't have to directly witness the abuse themselves, they could talk about how you felt emotionally or how the abuse affected your life. They might have kept a note of their suspicions at the time.

The role of witnesses is to support the accounts of others and add credibility to claims of abuse, or to the defendant's counterargument. Their testimony can help to construct a timeline of events, confirm the presence of individuals at certain times and places, or validate the emotional and impact of the abuse on the victims.

People who were abused and act as witnesses may also share statements about how the abuse affected them personally. These statements can be powerful in deciding what happens in court and figuring out what kind of punishment is appropriate. Witnesses might also provide or point out physical evidence, like letters, pictures, or journals, that supports what they're saying or gives more context to your allegations.

Expert witnesses

Experts like psychologists, psychiatrists, or doctors might give their professional opinions about the possible physical and mental effects of the abuse. They can help to explain how victims and abusers might have behaved, which is important when the abuse happened a long time ago. They might also give reports about any lasting physical or mental effects, which are important for deciding how much compensation someone should get if their claim is successful.

Solicitor speaking to child abuse victim

As well as medical specialists, others may be called in historic sexual abuse and physical abuse cases, including witnesses with expertise in:

  • Forensics: Forensic experts might be asked to analyse physical evidence from the past, such as clothing, photographs, or forensic samples, to establish facts relevant to the case.
  • Social work: These witnesses might provide insight into the standards of care at the time of the alleged abuse, especially in cases involving institutions like schools or care homes. They can provide contextual knowledge that helps to frame historic abuse and demonstrate its effects.

Your solicitor will help you to gather witness statements and build your case. At Switalskis, we have ongoing relationships with many relevant experts and we can help you to secure expert testimony if we believe this will support your claim.


The role of your solicitor in any historic abuse case is vital. They will help to build a strong case for you, represent you in court and, in some cases, negotiate with the opposing party for settlements or resolutions without going to trial. This can be particularly relevant in civil cases where you’re seeking compensation.

It's important to choose a solicitor who listens to you and is sensitive to your needs. After all, the claims process can take a long time and be a difficult emotional experience as you move toward justice, and you should work with someone you trust. The right solicitor can make it much easier to claim, by taking on the bulk of the responsibility for your claim, communicating effectively, and taking away stress from you.

At Switalskis, our expert child abuse solicitors support clients who suffered abuse to gather and analyse evidence, which may include medical records, witness statements, and other documents relevant to abuse claims. For historical cases, this might also involve tracking down records or evidence that are several years or even decades old. With our expertise we know what evidence your claim needs to have the best chances of success, and we can help you track down critical evidence to strengthen your case.

Because we've been doing this for a long time and have a history of success, we can tell you what to expect from your case and what options you have. We'll explain legal terms in simple language so you understand what's going on and can make informed decisions

We're transparent about costs and make sure you know what to expect financially. We also prioritise your privacy and make sure all communication is honest and confidential. Your lawyer will keep you updated on your case's progress and can connect you with counselling or support groups if you need extra help.

Local authorities (councils)

Each local authority is responsible for providing social services in its area. As such, local authorities may play a vital role in a historic abuse claim, as a source of evidence or, in some cases, as a defendant.

In the UK, local authorities are expected to maintain and provide access to historical records that may be relevant to abuse cases. This can include records from children’s homes, schools, and other services. They must balance the need for confidentiality with legal requirements and the rights of individuals seeking information about their past. As such, they can often provide useful evidence to support your claim. 

If there are claims of historical abuse against the local authority's employees or places they manage, they have to look into it carefully and fairly. This might mean working with the police or other groups. When they get a letter saying someone's making a claim, they usually have a few months to investigate before they reply. Local authorities have to take claims seriously and do everything they can to protect children from harm.

In some cases, ongoing risks may be identified during investigations into historical abuse. The local authority must take immediate action to safeguard any children who may be at risk, which could involve implementing new child protection measures or making referrals to child protection services. Throughout this process, the local authority is expected to act transparently and be accountable for its actions, both in terms of addressing past abuses and implementing measures to prevent future incidents. This is another reason that making abuse claims is important - it can help to safeguard children in the future by identifying ongoing risks posed by individuals or institutions. This applies not only to local authorities but also to religious institutions, childcare organisations, and other groups that may be responsible for child abuse.

If the local authority is found liable for historical abuse, it may be responsible for providing compensation to the victims. This could be through court-ordered payments following a trial or through negotiated settlements. Your solicitor will discuss the circumstances of your case, advise you on the outcomes you can expect, and talk you through the available steps.

Finally, these authorities may provide or facilitate access to support services for victims of historical abuse, such as counselling, mental health services, and support groups. In this way, they can play a different role in claims for child sex abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse.

Police tape across a crime scene

The police

The police might get involved if there’s a chance to bring criminal charges against the person accused of abuse. They’ll carefully review all the information available, including old records and any scientific evidence. Then, they’ll decide if there’s enough to go ahead with charges. 

If the police looked into the case when the abuse happened, they might have evidence that helps either side. If your claim brings up new information or they can use better technology than they could at the time, they might reopen old cases that were never solved.

While all of the figures above may play a role in abuse claims, every case is different. This is why it's vital to work with specialist lawyers with specific experience in this area. The child abuse law experts at Switalskis can discuss your situation sensitively and in confidence, to understand the broad range of factors at play. From there, we can talk about your eligibility to claim compensation and, if you decide to proceed, we can start the process on your behalf.

Call Switalskis today on 0800 138 0458 or get in touch through the website .

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David has worked in the legal sector for 30 years. He is a Solicitor, Director and Head of Switalskis' Child Abuse Compensation department.

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