The death of an abuser can serve to make pursuing a potential claim for compensation more difficult. It is still possible, in principle, for the police to investigate alleged criminal offences even if the offender has passed away. It cannot as such lead to a prosecution, but the position involving civil compensation claims is perhaps less clear cut.
Much depends on the individual circumstances of each case; the notes that follow are intended to give a broad outline of this general area but for anyone who wishes to pursue a compensation claim then it is always advisable to seek the guidance of a specialist legal advisor to provide guidance on specific circumstances.
In any personal injury claim time limits are always a matter of great significance but often in cases relating to historic allegations of abuse the courts are asked to decide whether a case should be allowed to continue out of time. Long periods of time between an event occurring and a case being brought before a court can be difficult problems to overcome but these general points apply regardless of whether the time limits have expired or not.
The courts, when deciding a case, will consider a wide range of issues and the availability of witnesses can be a key point. In that regard if an alleged abuser cannot be called to give evidence, through death or through other reasons, then it is possible that the court will not be able to assess the evidence properly. In those circumstances a case can fail. However, that is not the only factor that a court will consider.
Cases brought against an individual abuser may find the most difficulty as there is less likely to be additional evidence to help a court make a decision. A claim against an abuser directly is likely to be challenging as it is always necessary to confirm whether they have the financial means to satisfy a court judgment. On a persons death, while it may be possible where the alleged abuser leaves behind a significant and valuable estate, to make a compensation claim it is still necessary to address the barriers that may arise relating to evidence.
Other cases may be brought against organisations, such as local authorities and other groups. In these situations it is perhaps more likely that other evidence may be available, such as from eye witnesses or documentation that records incidents. This can be helpful but the fact that the abuser cannot be questioned directly remains a factor that must be taken into account by a court.
In that sense it is necessary to look at the wider situation. If, for example, the abuser referred to was the subject of a police investigation or convicted of abuse related offences and provided there is someone able to satisfy a court judgment then in theory it may still be possible to bring a claim.
Where there is strong evidence to support a case then it may still be possible for a claim to succeed and for a court to award compensation. The critical elements are the strength of any supportive evidence that can be gathered and there being someone, whether an organisation or individual, who can satisfy a court judgment. The acid test in many respects is whether there can be a fair trial and as noted the death of the abuser is only one, admittedly important, factor.
Large numbers of claimant’s making similar allegations, the conviction of an abuser prior to their death and the availability of documentary evidence among a range of other points can be vital supportive evidence. Individual circumstances can vary greatly and for that reason it is highly important to seek appropriate advice to make sure that these issues are looked at properly.
It is not possible to give a single overriding point of guidance on this area. Much depends on the facts and the evidence available. The death of an abuser whether suspected or otherwise, does have a significant impact but it must also be remembered that the wider issues are still relevant. There are many issues which must be carefully addressed but sadly the death of an abuser can make the process of bringing a successful compensation claim more difficult.