In her review of the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (the Scheme) the Victim’s Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, has stated that her overall impression of the Scheme is that “the process of making a claim was often traumatic”.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) deals with compensation claims from people who have been physically or mentally injured because they were the victim of a violent crime in England, Scotland or Wales.
After speaking with over 200 victims, and others (including lawyers) Baroness Newlove concluded that the Scheme is being operated as a “transactional service” which has “lost sight of the very specific needs of those who are making claims”.
Baroness Newlove was told about delays, uncertainty and poor communication. To many people it seemed as though the Scheme was designed to “frustrate and alienate”.
She identified that many victims of serious sexual and violent crimes, or bereaved victims of homicide, were suffering from “significant trauma” and the process of claiming was often having a “detrimental impact on their wellbeing”.
She is calling for wide-ranging reforms to “de-traumatise and simplify criminal injuries compensation”. She believes that this can be achieved by: –
1. Avoiding the need for victims to have to repeat the details of the crimes committed against them.
Even though the CICA requests the information held by the Police, which will include full details of the victim’s complaint, the victim is expected to rehearse the facts in their application form. When I am instructed this involves repeating their experiences to me. Where possible, I try to avoid this by making a subject access request for the victim’s witness statement or interview directly from the Police. The Scheme could however, simply remove the requirement for the victim to rehearse their experiences in the application form altogether.
2. Allocating a named caseworker who will handle the claim and keep victims updated.
Typical examples of my communications with the CICA include: “The claim is with a decision maker; we cannot give you any time estimate for a decision etc…” I have had victims waiting more than 2 years for a decision without any updates or estimated timescales to conclusion being offered. The concept of ‘no news is good news’ does not apply to victims of crime looking for closure.
3. Giving free access to legal support to those vulnerable victims who cannot reasonably be expected to submit a claim without assistance.
Baroness Newlove found that support in making an application was found to be “patchy, and in some parts of the country non-existent. This is despite nearly 40% of victims feeling the need to rely on 3rd parties to make the claim on their behalf”. Whilst many lawyers operate on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, this means that victims are paying a sum equivalent to 25% of their compensation. The only realistic way of avoiding this is to either a) introduce legal aid or b) ensure reasonable legal costs can be recovered if the application is successful.
Whilst simplifying the process may remove the need for support agencies/lawyers in some instances, it is unrealistic to assume that all victims will be able to make the application themselves for various reasons: complexity, vulnerability etc…
It is vital that any advice received is independent. We have acted for several applicants who have originally been offered fairly low awards and have needed our help to fight for the right award. In one case our client was offered £25,000, but with our help and advice, they secured the maximum £500,000 award. This result was only obtained because the applicant sought, and paid for, legal advice.
4. Giving victims the option of not having to submit a claim before trial.
At present some Defendant Barristers cross examine victims in criminal trials about why they have applied for compensation implying that their complaint is spurious and/or money orientated.
5. Reviewing the ‘conduct’ and ‘unspent convictions’ clauses of the Scheme.
Having an unspent conviction yourself currently precludes or limits the level of compensation you are entitled to. This affects particularly vulnerable victims who may have offended as a result of the crime committed against them, for example, as a result of their early life abuse.
6. Ensuring that all victims are informed of their right to make a claim for compensation.
Baroness Newlove found that fewer than 2 in 5 victims recall being told about their entitlement to claim by the police or victim services. This means there could potentially be thousands of victims who fail to claim compensation because they are simply unaware of the Scheme.
I would welcome any changes to the Scheme which make it easier and quicker for vulnerable victims to claim compensation. Personally, I have helped many victims successfully review CICA decisions which had originally gone against them. The most recent case I successfully reviewed was for a sexual assault victim who was a minor at the time of the assault. Her application was initially refused because the Police decided there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to bring criminal charges. It transpired that the Police had decided not to interview the alleged perpetrator at all. I argued that this omission by the Police should not prejudice the victim and I reminded the CICA that successful claims can be brought even where no perpetrator is identified at all. I do not doubt that the victim would have walked away without an award if she was making the application herself.