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Written on 28th May 2021

In most cases, when a compensation claim is settled out of court, there is no need for the injured person to attend court at the conclusion of the claim. One of the exceptions to this is when the claim has been settled on behalf of a child. This article explains what the court does at an infant approval hearing, and why.

What is an approval hearing?

At Boyes Turner we regularly help children and their families who have been affected by life-changing injuries. Our medical negligence team has secured compensation for many children who have suffered significant injuries as a result of medical negligence at birth. In cases involving children the court needs to approve any settlement at a short hearing before the case can be concluded. This hearing is often referred to as an infant approval hearing.

When does an approval hearing take place?

In cases where a claim is brought on behalf of a child the court rules require that any final settlement is approved by a judge. The hearing is necessary to ensure that the child has been fully and fairly compensated for their injuries, based on the medical evidence and the circumstances of their case. Where the child’s compensation is to be paid by a lump sum, the judge’s approval of the settlement is needed before the compensation can be paid into the Court Funds Office, to be released to the child when they turn 18 years old.

What happens at an infant settlement approval hearing?

Once an agreed settlement figure has been reached, we instruct the barrister  in the child’s case to provide a written advice for the court, setting out the key information about the claim, the agreed settlement terms and confirming that they recommend settlement on these terms. In cases where children have significant injuries resulting in lifelong care needs, payment of the compensation settlement is often made by a lump sum and annual payments for care and case management costs for the rest of the child’s life.  The barrister sets out how compensation in the lump sum has been worked out, and how the annual payments will meet the child’s ongoing lifetime needs.

The judge will also want to see reports from independent medical experts, commenting on the child’s injuries and confirming their current symptoms, difficulties and restrictions and whether the injuries are likely to be permanent or there will be some recovery. The judge will need to know the child’s expected outcome to consider whether the agreed amount of compensation is likely to meet the child’s future needs, which may include care, aids and equipment and therapies.

We also provide the court with a bundle of key documents to help the judge understand the background of the case.

Does the child’s family need to bring anything to an approval hearing?

In cases involving children, a parent will usually have been appointed as their child’s litigation friend. A litigation friend deals with the legal claim on the child’s behalf and will need to attend the approval hearing. Sometimes, where possible, a litigation friend may be asked to bring their child to the hearing.

If the compensation is going to be paid into the Court Funds Office, parents may be asked to complete some paperwork for the court. We usually advise parents to bring their child’s birth certificate to the hearing, in case the judge asks to see it.  

How long is the hearing?

The length of the hearing can vary depending on the complexity of the case, the amount of the settlement and the medical evidence to be considered by the court. Usually, the hearing takes no more than an hour.

During the Covid-19 pandemic these hearings have taken place virtually. Under normal circumstances the hearing takes place in a court room.

Will the judge talk to me at the hearing? 

Our client families often want to know whether the judge will talk to them directly at the hearing or ask them questions. We attend the hearing with our clients, and the barrister, to represent the child. The barrister introduces the case to the judge and talks through the issues in the case and the settlement terms, and answers any questions the judge may have.

This type of hearing is not a trial, but the judge sometimes asks the parents some straightforward questions, such as how the child is doing, before giving their approval to the settlement for the benefit of the child. It is a formal court hearing, but we are there for our client families.  Most find it a much less daunting experience than they had anticipated.

What happens after an approval hearing?

If the judge approves the settlement order, this will be ‘sealed’ or stamped by the court and the child’s family are then sent a copy of the final order.

How the compensation is paid out will depend on the child’s needs and the terms of the settlement order. Our clients with significant brain injuries have an appointed Court of Protection deputy who manages the child’s compensation and helps the family access the money that is necessary to meet the child’s needs.

In other cases, the compensation must usually be paid into the Court Funds Office who manage the money until the child is 18. 

Whilst our support for our severely injured child clients and their families often continues (through our deputyship and educational specialists) long after settlement, the approval hearing is the final step in the legal proceedings in a child’s medical negligence or personal injury claim.

If you are caring for a child who has suffered serious injury or disability as a result of medical negligence, contact us to speak to one of our specialist lawyers, free and confidentially, about how we can help you make a claim.