The 11th hour decision of the government to back down on the proposed reforms to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme come as a welcome relief to innocent victims of crime, but for how long will there be a reprieve?
Any person who has been an innocent victim of crime and has pursued a claim for compensation will have been exposed to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. This is a government body whose responsibility it is to award compensation to innocent parties who sustain personal injury as a result of either being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being deliberately targeted as a victim of crime, subject to an appropriate application having been made. The Authority would like it to be thought that all the Applicant needs to do is to fill out an application form and the Authority “will do the rest”, with the appropriate level of compensation being awarded every time. Sadly that is not the case.
The Scheme under which each application is considered is fraught with pitfalls and applications are often reduced or refused through a strict interpretation of the rules. Pre-existing conduct, notwithstanding that it has no connection to the event which is the subject of the application is all too often taken into account and an application refused.
Similarly the guidelines followed by the Authority in valuing claims are all too often very strictly interpreted leading to low awards. The Applicant has to then decide whether to appeal and is meant to do so without legal advice. Should an Applicant wish to seek legal advice it is made very clear that the legal costs arising from seeking such advice will not be paid by the Authority. More often this leads to Applicants either abandoning a claim or accepting a much lower award than could be achieved with legal help.
Further, even where applications are accepted, invariably the Authority will seek to reduce what is already a maximum award of £500,000, notwithstanding what could be a catastrophic injury and which would have led to a multi-million pound settlement had the Applicant been able to pursue a civil claim against the third party assailant. Invariably this is impossible as the assailant is either unknown or has no means to meet any judgment entered against them.
Under the present Scheme any claim to be considered worth less than £1,000 is rejected. The government proposals sought to increase this minimum level to £2,500 as well as significantly reducing awards for claims worth less than £11,000. Consequently the government really had no option but to back down on the proposals. For the Scheme to have been restricted further would have led to increasingly inadequate redress for victims who have already undergone significant distress.