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Criminal injuries overhaul

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I listened with interest to a news item on BBC Radio 2 this week about plans to “overhaul” the existing Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme – due to the fact that running costs are spiralling out of control, having trebled since 1997 to almost £300 million.

For anyone who may have had the misfortune of suffering an injury as a result of a crime, and as a result had to submit an application through this scheme will know, the scheme is most definitely in need of an overhaul, but more in terms of how lengthy and difficult it is to get through. Claims through the CICA can sometimes take in excess of two years to process, and that’s even when you have expert assistance guiding you through it.

It is another area the coalition government have identified as a process which can be ‘de-lawyered’, and indeed reduced. This latest announcement from Kenneth Clarke indicates that in future criminals applying to claim for compensation through the scheme, will only get it in “exceptional circumstances”.

In reality, I think such proposals will generate very little impact, as in my experience, criminals can’t get compensation from the CICA now in line with the existing criteria. Currently the scheme criteria are that criminals are unlikely to receive any kind of award, even if the crimes they have committed are of a minor nature, such as driving offences. So this new proposal would have very little, if any impact on the current state of play. The announcement today appears to more of a headline grabber and one wonders what it is truly masking. From experience of the CICA in recent months, it’s clear there is an attempt to remove lawyers from the process, which I believe would have a devastating impact on innocent victims of crime.

I have represented a number of innocent victims of crime, who have previously attempted to submit their own application to the CICA, only to have them knocked back, but when we are instructed and submit an appeal, are then made an award, on some occasions, of very significant sums. Without our expert help and assistance they would have received nothing at all.

It’s likely that behind this announcement are plans to cut compensation for such victims, people who most need legal expertise and advice in submitting their CICA claims and navigating the lengthy and wieldy process. Dressing this up as excluding criminals from obtaining compensation from the scheme is misleading and incorrect. It also would have very little impact, if any, of reducing the actual cost of the scheme, although clearly, whatever the announcement today says, the aim is to reduce the cost of the scheme. This ultimately means one thing – depriving innocent victims of crime of compensation, for their often horrific and life changing injuries.

What really needs to be reviewed is the process itself and the length of time it takes to deal with an application through the scheme. The announcements are little more than gesture politics, aimed to please some voters, whilst hoping to detract from the real aims, which is to make deep cuts to a system, which for many innocent victims of crime, whilst incredibly flawed, is the only means of compensation.

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury or illness as a result of crime, then we at Stephensons have experienced staff who can assist. Call us for a free initial assessment on 01616 966 229.

By personal injury solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Kate Sweeney