A not-for-profit organisation
committed to injured people
A not-for-profit organisation
committed to injured people

Kim Harrison - president's speech

16 May 2024
APIL news

Good morning everyone and thank you so much to all of you who have joined APIL’s 2024 Annual General Meeting today to hear about the work that, with your help, our organisation has been doing to continue to fight for justice and better redress for victims of negligence in 2023.

Firstly, I would like to thank Jonathan for his hard work and service as president over the last year, which has certainly been a busy one for APIL, and in particular his huge input and effort into APIL’s recent judicial review of the Government’s fixed recoverable cost reforms – Jonathan, thank you so much for all you have done and I am very much looking forward to continuing to work with you over the coming 12 months as you take up the post of immediate past president.

Part of me still can’t quite believe I am standing here as president of APIL delivering this speech today, but a bigger part of me always knew from the moment that I joined the executive committee of APIL in May 2019, that one day becoming president was something that I might want to try and achieve, if at all possible, although I didn’t take it for granted that it would be.  That I am here today is in large part due to the comradeship, support and encouragement of all my colleagues on the executive committee and from the APIL staff as well, who, from the very beginning have made me feel so welcome and helped me so much during my time on the committee.

Many of you may know that I chair the equality and diversity committee at APIL and I am pleased with the start we have made to try and make APIL a more diverse organisation from top to bottom. But I am acutely aware that we have so much more to do to encourage people from all types of backgrounds to get involved and feel confident that APIL is for them.  When I was told that I had been successfully appointed as president, I went to the APIL website and took a look at the names of past APIL presidents and saw that from 1990 to the present day, APIL has had three female presidents.  I will be its fourth.   That’s something I am incredibly proud of but, at the same time, I am committed to using the time I have in this role to help inspire and encourage other women to believe in themselves and to strive to become the fifth, sixth, seventh female APIL president after me and well into the future of this brilliant organisation. I am hoping that my appointment as president will mark a turning point, so that other women will feel empowered, inspired and confident enough to believe that they too, can become president of APIL.  I want to be the fourth of many future female APIL presidents.

The under-representation of women also extends to our client base. APIL’s research on the ‘gender justice gap’ in relation to work-related injury and illness claims, published on the eve of International Women’s Day, found that women are three times less likely than men to claim compensation for a work-related injury or illness and that, despite women representing more than half of work-related injury and illness victims, they comprise just 27% of employers’ liability claimants.  The reasons for this are unclear, but what is clear is that this is not right and that we can never be complacent when it comes to gender equality.

We also have so much more to do for other under-represented groups in the organisation. In particular, our 2023 analysis of APIL membership data showed that the biggest representation gaps lie with black and Asian members and members under the age of 25. 

Increasing the representation of these groups is something that everyone at APIL is committed to, but we know that it is not as easy as saying it’s something we would like to do. We have to take concrete action to help make it happen.

I just want to share a little bit of my personal story to illustrate that anyone who is committed to our cause can become president of APIL. There really is nothing very special about me. Like many of you, I worked extremely hard to qualify as a solicitor.  I went to an ordinary State school in the East Midlands and the local college. One of my memories as a teenager is telling my careers adviser at college that I wanted to be a solicitor and she said that wouldn’t be possible ‘for someone like me’ and had I thought about teaching instead?  At the same period of time, I remember a girl in my college saying that she thought it was strange because I was doing so well at my ‘A’ levels and yet she didn’t think that ‘people with my accent’ were clever. However, I was determined to study law at university and so I pushed on, got the ‘A’ levels I needed and got into the University of Sheffield where I went on to get a first-class degree in law and a distinction on my LPC.  I started my training contract at Pannone solicitors in Manchester in 2003 and it went from there. 

I sometimes look back at the careers advice I was given all those years ago and think that I would like to see that adviser again now and show her what I have achieved through my own hard work and belief in myself, rather than doubting myself based on my gender, social class or background. Or, indeed, my accent.

I joined APIL as a newly qualified solicitor nearly 20 years ago and my early interactions with the organisation were very much centred around training, then, as the years passed, obtaining my APIL accreditation. I then started contributing to the odd consultation or two.  In 2017 I joined the editorial board of JPIL, the Journal of Personal Injury Law and met John McQuater, Brett Dixon and Colin Ettinger and thoroughly enjoyed my five years at JPIL, contributing to the journal.  It was Colin who kept pestering me to stand for election to the EC.  At that time, the EC to me seemed to be a very remote and mysterious body of people who I was sure would know an awful lot more about things than I ever could. It all felt a bit out of reach and difficult to understand what being on the EC would involve.  But as my confidence grew on the JPIL board and I got to know Brett and John, I started to believe in myself that it was something that I could have a go at.  So, I stood for the EC, to my delight got elected in May 2019 and here I am now. 

I want to thank Colin for believing in me and encouraging me when I really had no idea that I would be able to do anything like this.  Even if you believe in yourself, sometimes it just takes one other person to believe in you and encourage you to help you do something out of your comfort zone.

I cannot stress enough how much I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, my time on the EC. From the moment I arrived at my first meeting I felt so welcome.  The discussions we have on the board are so interesting and I love that everyone is listened to and can contribute their views.  I have met so many amazing and inspirational people and learnt so much and have had the opportunity to contribute so much to our APIL community through my EC role.  I cannot wait to continue the journey now as president and one of my main aims in the 12 months that I have the honour of this role is to try and encourage as many APIL members as possible to realise that, if I can do it, then so can you!  Just be yourself and anything is possible.

Enough about me and on to speaking about some of the incredible things APIL has done last year and the things we hope to achieve this year. 

2023 was such an action-packed year for APIL that I couldn’t possibly cover all of it in this speech. In any case, we have heard about lots of it at this morning’s AGM and in our annual report. But I just wanted to pick out a couple of things that, for me, have really stood out and illustrate the bold campaigning organisation that APIL is.

APIL’s judicial review proceedings against the Lord Chancellor in respect of aspects of the proposed new fixed recoverable costs rules were issued in August last year. There followed a considerable amount of work behind the scenes and then a Government consultation on the rules for including clinical negligence claims in the intermediate track, funding for inquests and restoring companies to the register. 

The JR was stayed pending the outcome of the consultation and then withdrawn following Government concessions which now mean that costs will be available for dealing with inquests and for restoring companies to the Companies House register and that clinical negligence claims will only be subject to fixed recoverable costs in the intermediate track if liability is admitted, in full, in the defendant’s formal response to the letter of claim.  The Government also confirmed that it was not its intention to reverse the current case law allowing parties to contract out of fixed recoverable costs when there is a dispute in settlement agreements, in favour of agreeing that costs will be subject to detailed assessment.  In respect of APIL’s concerns about the impact of the changes on vulnerable parties, the Government has committed to carry out a formal consultation on the impact of the new rules on vulnerable parties by no later than October 2026.  All of this was possible because of the continued support from you, APIL’s members, and will have a positive impact on victims of negligence.

The second thing that I want to highlight from 2023 is our Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign.  I am privileged through my role on the EC to know and work with the incredible Victoria Lebrec, whose story featured in APIL’s powerful film ‘Victoria’s Story’ and won a gold award in the best blog, podcast or video category at the Association Excellence Awards. It was also shortlisted in the 2023 Memcom Excellence Awards. I know many of you will have viewed the film and I urge anyone who hasn’t, to watch it, as Victoria talks about her own experience as a victim of negligence and how compensation supported her in getting her life back on track.  80 law firms have shared the film on their websites and social media channels, which is absolutely fantastic, and the film has so far reached more than half a million users across social media platforms. I was with Victoria last November in Parliament for APIL, speaking to MPs and peers about our campaigning work and everyone who met and spoke with Victoria was understandably moved by her story. Perhaps more importantly, they were impressed by her eloquence and tenacity to fight to achieve better redress and justice for other victims of negligence. I have really enjoyed working with Victoria and also Musa Garba as lay members on the EC.  The perspective that they bring to the table is invaluable and again has shown that increasing our board diversity in practice has given us a more rounded, stronger and effective EC.

Looking at our work more generally now, for us, like many organisations, the last few years have been fairly tough going, as we struggled through Covid and its aftermath. 

APIL has learned so much during the last four years since the start of the pandemic and, like others, we have learned from the changed ways of working during that time to enhance our offering to members, for example with hybrid courses and conferences to increase flexibility for our members.  On top of all of this, our sector has had to cope with the implementation of fixed recoverable costs. Other changes -  as always seems to be the case - are on the horizon and need to be faced.  The next big challenge for our sector will no doubt be the outcome of the discount rate review.  Those of you who have read the responses of FOCIS and APIL to that review will see the amount of qualitative, evidence-based work that has gone into producing such a comprehensive response to the review.  The background data members provide to APIL for reviews such as these is vital to our ability to robustly respond to proposed legislative and rule changes in our sector.

Now is the time to look outwards at the challenges, but also the significant opportunities that 2024 and beyond can bring for APIL and its members and most importantly, our clients and future clients.

Looking forwards to the remainder of this year and next, we have a General Election coming up at some point and with it a real and exciting opportunity to continue to campaign for the reforms that victims of negligence need to improve their lives after being needlessly injured or losing a loved one.

We have made great strides in raising awareness on our key campaigns such as reforming the outdated and unfair law on bereavement damages, the need to introduce new laws to support sufferers of asbestos-related lung cancer and also for the Government to get on and implement the recommendations arising out of the Independent Inquiry for Child Sexual Abuse (or ‘IICSA’) report.  These campaigns will continue to be at the forefront of the work that we do and I believe with what is likely to be a new Government by the end of this year, we have a real opportunity to continue to lobby MPs and peers for changes to be made that will assist injured and bereaved people.

All three of our key campaigns are close to my heart – for over a decade I practised in the area of industrial disease specialising in asbestos-related disease cases and I have sat on so many hospital beds, in hospices and in people’s homes taking witness statements from people dying from mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer.  Sufferers of asbestos-related lung cancer deserve to be treated in the same way as mesothelioma sufferers and to receive full compensation if they can trace one former responsible employer.

I currently specialise in civil claims for victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  Along with my colleague I represented over 100 victims and survivors at IICSA and was proud to represent APIL in the ‘accountability and reparations’ strand of that inquiry where we quite rightly argued that the unfair and outdated law on limitation in England and Wales be abolished and replaced with something similar to the current law on limitation for non-recent child sexual abuse cases now in force in Scotland.

I, along with other lawyers and campaigners, was pleased to see this recommendation in the final IICSA report, along with recommendations to improve the CICA scheme, and I’m delighted to see a consultation on limitation was finally published yesterday. Unfortunately victims and survivors are still waiting for the Government to act on other aspects of the proposals.  APIL will continue to campaign on this important issue.

Finally, the bereavement damages campaign, is a campaign I know all of you care deeply about as the sense of injustice is so obvious for all to see. The work that APIL have done to raise awareness of the unfairness appears to resonate with parliamentarians, if not the Government, which continues to be intransigent on the subject of reform. We are going to do everything we can to continue to drive the message home that the right to claim bereavement damages for the loss of a loved one is never just about the money. It’s about that family member getting some sort of redress, some sort of justice and above all, some sort of mark of respect for their family member - someone they loved – and who has been killed needlessly. Opinion-formers need to understand that to be told that, as an unmarried father, or a sibling or a grandparent, the law doesn’t recognise your right to claim bereavement damages, as if the relationship that you had with your child, or your grandchild or your brother or sister isn’t enough of a relationship to claim these bereavement damages by right is, quite frankly, insulting to those people, and just plain wrong and outdated. Here in England, Wales and Northern Ireland we desperately need to change the law to be in line with Scotland, where claims for bereavement damages are considered on a case-by-case basis, looking at the relationship a person had with their loved one and not continuing to use the random and restrictive categories of who can claim in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, currently in the Fatal Accidents Act, which are decades out of date.

Central to our ongoing work has to be the generating of a better understanding of personal injury and the needs of the injured people we look after, so that injured people are at the heart of policy-making, instead of so often being the victims of policy-making. That’s why our ground-breaking Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign is so important. This is a long-term campaign which is still in its infancy, but it is already starting slowly to build on our ongoing work to shift the mainstream media focus away from the language of ‘compensation culture’ and ‘ambulance chasing lawyers’ to a more thoughtful environment where it is beginning to be understood that victims of negligence have every right to bring a personal injury or clinical negligence claim to help them obtain some redress for what they have suffered and in many cases will continue to suffer through no fault of their own.  I was so inspired to read the Guardian article published in March of this year in which Victoria Lebrec tells her story.  Her words were so powerful in busting the compensation culture myth that I will simply quote some of them here:

“Legs cost £70,000. No-one could reasonably afford this without compensation,” Victoria said as she went on to describe how the defendant insurer hired its own medical expert to argue that she didn’t need as advanced a prosthetic leg as her lawyers were claiming for on her behalf, describing how she “had to try the rubbish leg for six weeks.  Because if I didn’t then it couldn’t be proven that my one was better for me.” 

“Obviously it wasn’t my fault, because the driver was found guilty, but the insurance companies will literally do anything to victim blame”.

As Victoria so rightly says when she tells her story, there should be no shame in obtaining compensation to get things like proper aids, equipment and decent prosthetics to help people rebuild their lives after being injured.

The next stage of Rebuilding Shattered Lives is now being planned and we want to build on it and take it from being a great campaign to an influential movement. Please look out for ways to get involved and help us do that through our communications channels PI Focus, Weekly News and our free update webinars.

We must always remember that APIL is on the right side in the fight for justice – we exist because we are determined to strive to make the lives of victims of negligence better and we are, and should continue to be, proud of that message, what we all do for victims of negligence every day in our working lives as claimant personal injury and clinical negligence lawyers and all we do to try and improve our learning and practice through the fantastic courses and conferences that APIL run throughout the year to help us all become better, more informed and more educated specialists in our field of work. 

I am so proud to be at the forefront of this incredible organisation that is APIL and am very much looking forward to the challenges ahead and working together with you, our members, to continue to make the organisation more representative of all of us, whoever we are and whatever our journey into personal injury and clinical negligence law has been, to continue APIL’s dynamic drive for positive change and legal reform to support and improve the lives of victims of negligence, and to engage as many of you as possible in the work that we are doing going forwards be it by attending courses, conferences and training, getting involved in our campaigning work and responses to consultations or simply just by using the community that APIL is, to allow you to network with like-minded people who all share the same vision – to improve the lives of injured and bereaved people to the very best of our ability.

Thank you.

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